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The following is the complete version of Mr. Sparrow's poem Names. To read the abridged edition, click here. --egh

by James Sparrow

In the season of the fall
We rendezvoused in 82

In the city
Of the commander in chief

For a week long
A quarter million strong

Some came silently and solo
Others came with Fanfare
And entire families

It was to be the great gathering!

This time we would be heard!
And we would march in the streets!

It belonged to us-- That city-- That week

Many came still whole and still very strong
Others came weak from fierce firefights
Far off the battlefield!

Some came missing an arm-- a leg --an eye

We came to honor
Those-- who filled our ranks no longer

We would bury our dead
With dignity
In Per-pe-tu-i-ty

A Chevron-- 500 feet long
A monumental black marble Memorial

Etched-- with the names of those who
now marched with that vast army
in the sky

Names!!-- 57,939

This would be the shield!
That we bore their bodies home on
As befitting the warriors they were

We came to see--hear--touch --The Names
We came in tight fitting uniforms --Faded field jackets--
3 piece suits

We came from the big cities and the small towns
We came from the low valleys and the mountains
We came from the farm lands --the range lands --the wood lands

We came with long hair --short hair-- clean shaven --bearded

No longer did we look the same
as we had
when we talked the talk!
and walked the walk!

Up all night-- in fancy hotel bars
Intricate handshakes
That dazzled the eye and ear


Crowed conversations clutter the air
"Semper Fi"
"Airborne all the way"
"Anyone here served with 3/7 in 67"
"Hey Remember me?"
"Man, am I glad you made it back, all this time I thought you got zapped!"
"What happened after I rotated?"
"Did short round make it back?"

Glasses clink, with arms held high
A midnight toast
"Here's to the best there ever was, and those of us that are left".

We were still young but old beyond our years
for we had walked in the footsteps of giants

Now we gathered-- to see--hear--touch --The Names!
To dedicate-- consecrate
Our name ladened marble memorial

For 3 days before
A vigil we held
by the light of candles
In the National Cathedral

From the altar
Read aloud
Names-- 57,939

More than 100 of us read the Names

Friends and family members
from thousands of miles away
They came to hear the names
The name of a buddy--brother--lover--son--husband

It was my turn
In the evening of the second day
To read aloud

Every pew-- full
Standing room only
A solemn task

I knelt on the altar
A velvet pillow-- beneath my knees
A sea of faces-- assembled before me

523 names
I read aloud
The first was Kosakowski, Gerald A.
The last was Lahna, Gary W.

I read a name and receive a reaction
from soft murmurs
to hysterical pain

I became those names
all 523
Koo-he-e-nooe, Moses I.
Kos-ko-vich, Michael L.

I read 2 Lafayettes-- 3 Kowalskis-- 7 Laceys
7 Krafts-- 10 Kruegers
And 12 Kramers
Joseph-Kevin-Leon-Raymond-Robert and Stephen

Each Name opening wide the mind's eye of memory
Of who they were and who they could have been

A man in a wheelchair
Medal of Honor
gracing his neck

With the sound of some names
Flowers were dropped at my knees

Mothers kissed me
Fathers touched me
Sisters and lovers hugged me

Brothers and buddies-- shook me

Kranz Jr., William F.
His Mother stopped me
When she heard his name
Tears in her eyes-- with a simple request
My signature next to his name
I humbly oblige

Teardrops from hundreds of eyes
Tug at my soul
My mind is flooded
with the pain
of so many Names

My knees ache
My body shakes --finished!!
I need a hand --just to stand

At week's end
We walk in the sun
Marching along
together again

Thousands of feet
hitting the pavement
not in unison at all

The same feet that waded
the paddies in Que Son
and climbed the hills in
the central highlands

The same feet that clamored
out of choppers

And the same such feet
that flew those birds
and drove those trucks
and built those bridges
and stood endless watch
against the terror of the night

Short timers canes
little American flags
Waved high
held in the hand

Sons and daughters
perched high
on shoulders
that bore the burden

Chanting!! --Shouting!!
while feet strode
down the avenue

"I don't know-- but I been told
Streets in heaven-- are paved with gold"

"Vietnam Vet and damn proud!!"

"Pick up your head and hold it high
5th Marines are passing by"

"Big red one!"-- "Tropic Lighting!"

G.I. beans-- G.I. gravy
Gee I wish I joined the Navy

"God Bless America"

"I know a girl who lives on the hill
She won't kiss me but her sister will"
"Sound off-- 1-2-- Sound off-- 3-4
Bring it on down

A high school band plays
When Johnny comes marching
home again-- hoo ra-- hoo ra

A Parade-- of emotions
down Constitution Ave. --to the end of the mall
Where our Wall-- Mirrors reflections
And contains the Names

Boat people-- Refugees-- Vietnamese
Line the top of the wall
A banner in hand-- Proclaiming brightly
"Thank you, Vietnam Veterans for
Defending Freedom and Democracy"

Speechless dignitaries
give speeches
"An overdue tribute
to those who performed well
in the most trying of circumstances"

came to bury our dead
with dignity
in Per-pe-tu-i-ty

Need no tribute
we know who we are

Are the men of Bedford-- Exeter-- Warwick--
Talbot-- Salisbury and Gloucester
That fought alongside Harry the King
Upon Saint Crispin's Day

Are that same band of brothers
That stood defiantly at Lexington!!
Conquered the Argonne!!
Sweated on the "Canal"!!
Chilled to the bone in the "Bulge"!!
And Froze in the reservoir know as Chosin!!

We listen
standing-- pressed together
elbow to elbow
asshole to belly button

We are one!!

Our souls-- stitched
tightly together with
the thick twine
of shared experience

We dedicate
in a moment of silence
then a surging forth
in a search for names

It's done-- it's there
for all the world to see--hear--touch
The Names

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Document last modified on: 02/12/1998

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