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The Door Gunner

by J. Allen Whitt
From a cattle ranch near Kalispell,
He came to the Battle of Khe Sanh.
There they named him the Montana Kid
in that war not called a war.
His buddy Hipshot had a dream
and screamed himself awake one night.
He came into the mess at dawn
and told the Kid his dream.
“And my boots were empty, man.”
The coffee trembled in his cup.
“I don’t feel good about that dream.
I think my time is up.”
The Kid leaned close and spoke real low,
“You know it don’t mean nothin’, Hip.”
But the Kid then felt a chill inside,
and prayed he’d told the truth.
Hipshot managed a hollow smile,
and told their usual joke,
“They say we’ll get a flag, at least,”
and went out to the line.
The turbine’s whine became a howl,
and rotors gleamed beneath the sun,
as Hipshot’s Huey cleared the trees,
skimmed low, and vanished east.
Out near Hill 861,
the Huey dipped beneath the clouds,
and there a sniper took his aim,
and waited for his time.
The Huey made it back to base,
but on the pad it touched down hard,
 its windshield stitched with bullet holes,
and an empty gunner’s door.
The Kid ran quick out to the line,
where Hipshot lay among syrettes,
without a jaw or tongue to tell
of the war not called a war.
The medics brought the body bag.
and the Kid requested time.
His hands closed Hipshot’s eyes.
His hands zipped up the bag.
Now silence heals among the pines
as 40 years have drifted by,
and hands tie caddis flies and nymphs,
where Blackfoot flows beneath the sky.
Yet sometimes eyes that will not shut
stare through the shroud of night,
and solace lies beyond the stars,
’til dawn restores the light.

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