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 recreation

Nonetheless we gave the final full measure

And crammed 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 Struggle 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 e book, The place the Excessive Winds Sing: A Naval Aviator’s Poetry of Struggle and Reflection, gained a gold medal for poetry introduced by the Army Writers Society of America in 2021.

Within the e book Purdy recollects his tough 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 very best loss charge of any Navy air wing through the Vietnam Struggle, Purdy says.

Purdy’s poetry is resonating with different Vietnam veterans and galvanizing them to put in writing 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 that may appear inconceivable to precise.

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

What launched you to writing poetry?

I learn some World Struggle I poetry, and I used to be impressed that these younger guys in probably the most god-awful circumstances you would think about have been writing poetry about it that was extra evocative of the horror than some longtime execs than I had learn—guys like Wilfred Owen, [Rudyard] Kipling. That sort 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 inform you the reality it sort of stunned me once I first sat down and tried to put in writing some poetry. As I used to be writing these items down, it was like, “Geez, the place did that come from?” Typically while you’re writing the road simply involves you.

What impressed you to put in writing the e book?

I suppose 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 things got here out. I believe 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 might say that I’m not a great painter nor a great poet, however I do know what good work seem 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 quite a lot of revising.

One other consider my writing was that I didn’t hold any kind of a journal or diary throughout Vietnam. I due to this fact misplaced quite a lot of particulars over time, 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. Most likely 20 to 30 years on and off. It was principally only a pastime. 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. After all, I painted aviation, however I did an entire sequence on rodeo stuff. It advanced over time.

I’ve work within the Navy check pilot heart 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
A P-3 Orion “sub chaser” plane flies above a submarine in a portray by Purdy titled “Gotcha!” / Courtesy Don Purdy

Did you create all of the illustrations on your e book?

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

How lengthy was the e book within the making?

I’d say it was a couple of yr. I already had a number of poems, like possibly 5 – 6. Then issues began to coalesce into the truth that possibly I may put sufficient of them collectively and get one thing right into a e book.

I believe the actual impetus was once I went to a poetry workshop. You’ll be able to’t put issues off when you might want to have one thing completed the subsequent week and all people critiques it. That basically helped.

Are there any explicit army writers you admire?

Primarily writers from World Struggle I. I acquired an anthology e book from the library, and it actually impressed me how these guys may write about that so graphically. I believe a few of that got here by in a protracted poem in my e book, “Songs of Struggle,” a couple of man getting shot down.

There’s a naval aviation journal referred to as The Hook, and a man there reviewed it for me. He stated he needed to put the e book 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 suppose it was that highly effective for him. It’s superb to listen to any person say one thing like that.

Are you able to share some background on a few of the poems?

The poem referred to 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 guts of the e book, and that’s what it’s all about—the lack of different guys and what which means.

There’s one other one referred to as “Matryoshka Doll.” That was based mostly on a Marine I met who was within the barracks in Lebanon that acquired blown up. A whole lot of fellows acquired killed in that factor—and he was truly buried below an entire bunch of different guys. He was one of many solely ones alive. That was rolling round in my head for years. I believed, “I actually wish to write one thing about that.” I acquired the thought of a Matryoshka doll with personalities one inside the opposite. He’s a multilayered sort of man.

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

One other poem is 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 completed through 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 quite a lot 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
Purdy (again row, far left) and his squadron stand for a photograph with the Girl Jessie, an airplane named in honor of Jessie Beck. / Courtesy Don Purdy

The final poem within the e book was written for Girl 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 fellows. 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 battle. We have been sort of on the market on our personal—it wasn’t like World Struggle II when the entire nation mobilized. She was a tremendous woman.

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

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

Did you get quite a lot of assist from household whereas writing the e book, or was it a personal mission 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 hold at it, and eventually 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 once 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 a few of the suggestions you’ve acquired?

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 a few of the guys to start out writing. I used to be actually proud of that facet of it.

I believe the overarching factor was guys saying they thought it in all probability took quite a lot 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 any person say it.

For me personally one of many superb issues was a letter I acquired 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 acquired this very nice letter from her.

Would you advocate writing poetry to Vietnam veterans?

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

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

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


“He says it was lined 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 load someway

He says the time and place don’t matter now

But he can not overlook

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 Struggle 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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