“Any Kind Of Writing Is Cathartic”: Why Former Naval Aviator Don Purdy Uses Poetry to Describe His War in Vietnam

“We launched day and evening

From a seaborne lair

Hovering to battle

Within the war-torn air

Our braveness a lever

In a political sport

Nonetheless we gave the final full measure

And stuffed a Wall with our brothers’ names.”

—”The Final Full Measure” by Don Purdy in The place the Excessive Winds Sing: A Naval Aviator’s Poetry of Warfare and Reflection


Former U.S. naval aviator Don Purdy flew the A-4 Skyhawk assault jet on 218 fight missions over North Vietnam from July 1967 to February 1969. He was a member of Assault Squadron VA-164, the “Ghostriders.” Purdy’s ebook, The place the Excessive Winds Sing: A Naval Aviator’s Poetry of Warfare and Reflection, gained a gold medal for poetry offered by the Army Writers Society of America in 2021.

Within the ebook Purdy remembers his troublesome Vietnam experiences, together with fight and its aftermath, by poetry and paintings. His squadron was a part of Service Air Wing 16 aboard the USS Oriskany and Service Air Wing 21 on the USS Hancock. Air Wing 16 suffered the best loss fee of any Navy air wing in the course of the Vietnam Warfare, Purdy says.

Purdy’s poetry is resonating with different Vietnam veterans and provoking them to write down about their very own battle experiences. Purdy spoke with Vietnam journal about his writing and paintings and the way they provide kind to the echoes of warfare which may appear not possible to precise.

Purdy created this sketch for his poem “The New Man,” featured in his ebook, “The place the Excessive Winds Sing.” / Courtesy Don Purdy

What launched you to writing poetry?

I learn some World Warfare I poetry, and I used to be impressed that these younger guys in essentially the most god-awful circumstances you could possibly think about have been writing poetry about it that was extra evocative of the horror than some longtime professionals than I had learn—guys like Wilfred Owen, [Rudyard] Kipling. That form of gave me the beginning.

The opposite factor is that I wouldn’t have the main target to take a seat down and write both a novel or a memoir. Poetry is extra suited to my restricted focus.

To let you know the reality it form of shocked me after I first sat down and tried to write down some poetry. As I used to be writing these items down, it was like, “Geez, the place did that come from?” Typically if you’re writing the road simply involves you.

What impressed you to write down the ebook?

I assume issues had been rolling round in my head for a very long time—as a result of it’s been a very long time since Vietnam. I actually hadn’t gotten into poetry till the final 10 years. I simply began writing issues down.

It was to my very own amazement that some of these items got here out. I feel poetry comes from someplace down deep the place there aren’t any phrases for it—it’s extra like emotions and the method of placing phrases to that. That’s what I attempted to do.

I’d say that I’m not a great painter nor a great poet, however I do know what good work appear like and I do know what good writing seems like, so I simply put down stuff and begin eliminating what doesn’t sound good. I do a variety of revising.

One other think about my writing was that I didn’t maintain any kind of a journal or diary throughout Vietnam. I subsequently misplaced a variety of particulars through the years, however I didn’t lose the sentiments and deep impressions that may nonetheless lend themselves to being expressed in poetry.

How lengthy have you ever been portray, and the way did you begin?

A very long time. In all probability 20 to 30 years on and off. It was principally only a passion. I like to color every little thing. I went to the Coast Guard Academy earlier than I went over to the Navy when Vietnam began. I began out with maritime themes and branched out. In fact, I painted aviation, however I did an entire collection on rodeo stuff. It developed through the years.

I’ve work within the Navy take a look at pilot middle in Maryland and one on the naval air station in Fallon [Nevada]. They [the paintings] are scattered right here and there.

A P-3 Orion “sub chaser” aircraft flies above a submarine in a painting by Purdy titled “Gotcha!” / Courtesy Don Purdy

Did you create all of the illustrations on your ebook?

Sure. I did all of them, together with the one for the duvet.

How lengthy was the ebook within the making?

I’d say it was a few yr. I already had just a few poems, like possibly 5 or 6. Then issues began to coalesce into the truth that possibly I might put sufficient of them collectively and get one thing right into a ebook.

I feel the true impetus was after I went to a poetry workshop. You’ll be able to’t put issues off when you might want to have one thing carried out the following week and everyone critiques it. That basically helped.

Are there any specific navy writers you admire?

Primarily writers from World Warfare I. I obtained an anthology ebook from the library, and it actually impressed me how these guys might write about that so graphically. I feel a few of that got here by in a protracted poem in my ebook, “Songs of Warfare,” a few man getting shot down.

There’s a naval aviation journal known as The Hook, and a man there reviewed it for me. He mentioned he needed to put the ebook down when he was studying that poem as a result of he couldn’t get by it in a single sitting—he had to return to it. I assume it was that highly effective for him. It’s wonderful to listen to someone say one thing like that.

Are you able to share some background on among the poems?

The poem known as “The Debt” was the primary one I wrote. I used to be advised by a writing professor at Berkeley [University of California] that she thought it was the center of the ebook, and that’s what it’s all about—the lack of different guys and what which means.

There’s one other one known as “Matryoshka Doll.” That was primarily based on a Marine I met who was within the barracks in Lebanon that obtained blown up. Tons of of men obtained killed in that factor—and he was truly buried beneath an entire bunch of different guys. He was one of many solely ones alive. That was rolling round in my head for years. I assumed, “I actually wish to write one thing about that.” I obtained the concept of a Matryoshka doll with personalities one inside the opposite. He’s a multilayered form of man.

Concerning the poem “Duel with a Flak Web site”—that was the primary time in Vietnam I knew I had in all probability killed someone. There was like a 90 % probability. That was one other factor that was good for me to get out.

One other poem known as “Knockin’ on Hell’s Door.” When you learn something about Vietnam, you’ll know the futility of the way in which focusing on was carried out in the course of the Rolling Thunder operation. It was simply going again to the identical targets day after day. The entire idea of micromanaging it from the White Home was absurd. There was no focusing on discretion left to the folks on scene. It was all directed from Washington. It was silly. We misplaced a variety of guys out of the sheer stupidity of the way in which it was run.

Purdy (back row, far left) and his squadron stand for a photo with the Lady Jessie, an airplane named in honor of Jessie Beck. / Courtesy Don Purdy

The final poem within the ebook was written for Woman Jessie. She [Jessie Beck] owned a on line casino in Reno. One of many pilots within the squadron labored for her when he was going by school. She began sending care packages and stuff to all the blokes. She despatched a lot that we began giving it to our sister squadrons and all the opposite squadrons on the ship, after which even giving it to different ships! She branched out and gave stuff to the Military and Air Drive. At the moment it was attending to be a somewhat unpopular warfare. We have been form of on the market on our personal—it wasn’t like World Warfare II when the entire nation mobilized. She was an incredible woman.

We had one airplane that had “Woman Jessie” written on the facet. That was at a time when there wasn’t purported to be any nostril artwork on Navy airplanes. The CO [commanding officer] of the squadron mentioned, “Effectively, we’ll simply do it, and never ask for permission.”

Then Dick Perry, the man who labored for her, obtained shot down and killed in Haiphong. She continued. PBS did a documentary on Woman Jessie and Dick Perry—it’s known as, Woman Jessie: A Vietnam Story. They [the filmmakers] did a extremely good job.

Did you get a variety of help from household whereas writing the ebook, or was it a non-public venture for you?

My spouse’s very supportive. However the course of for me—the primary a part of it, getting going—is actually powerful. I’ll maintain at it, and at last some stuff will begin to gel. Then I get to the stage of obsessing, and that’s not too good as a result of I can’t stand to be interrupted after I’m in that stage! She [my wife] is aware of now to go away me alone as soon as I’m in “obsession mode”!

Are you able to inform us about among the suggestions you’ve obtained?

I did get some good suggestions. I’m in a Vietnam veterans group in Oakland and was in a position to share it with them. It prompted among the guys to begin writing. I used to be actually pleased with that side of it.

I feel the overarching factor was guys saying they thought it in all probability took a variety of guts for me to put it out like that. Particularly in naval aviation—you don’t admit to any frailties, it’s all bravado. However to confess you have been affected by loss, by survivor guilt—I had a number of folks say it was good to listen to someone say it.

For me personally one of many wonderful issues was a letter I obtained from my sister. She’s 18 years youthful than I’m. She knew I used to be over there however had completely no idea of what it entailed. I obtained this very nice letter from her.

Would you advocate writing poetry to Vietnam veterans?

Any form of writing is cathartic. I’ve been amazed on the suggestions that I’ve gotten from guys.

I feel it’s as a result of our greatest concern is concern of the unknown. When you can pull issues up, identify them, determine them, write about them, then you definitely’ve taken a reasonably large step of overcoming that and transferring on. I feel that’s what writing does. It lets you begin going through issues—at the very least figuring out them.

I actually imagine that everybody, notably vets on this occasion, has a narrative to inform. And if I can put my ideas into an article or ebook, anybody can. V


“He says it was coated in bloody gauze

But he can see that youthful face unblemished now

He says they have been misplaced within the din of battle

But he hears these final phrases clearly now

He says a chopper lifted the lifeless physique away

But he nonetheless feels the burden someway

He says the time and place don’t matter now

But he can not neglect

1968, Tet

5 klicks northwest of Vung Tau.”

—”He Says,” by Don Purdy in The place the Excessive Winds Sing: A Naval Aviator’s Poetry of Warfare and Reflection



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This text appeared within the December 2021 subject of Vietnam journal. For extra tales from Vietnam journal, subscribe and go to us on Fb.


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