David Baillie was raised and educated in New York and Massachusetts. Baillie left high school to enlist in the army, under age, and later become an infantry instructor at Fort Benning, Georgia. He did several tours of duty in Korea. Following the war, he served with the New York State National Guard and the Army Reserves. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, Baillie continued his education and earned degrees in counseling and education. The poems that follow are from his book, Dry Tears.
Blare of bugles send chills through early morn mist,
ghostly figures form row after row on distant shore,
river fog rises to hide terror’s view, from their quest,
numbers grow and grow as bugles blare, a 100 an 100 more.
Suddenly all is still just before the rows of gray launch,
fires of death race across their ranks, from our tanks,
muddy river turns blood red as row of gray, fire breached,
human form 100 and more become mounds upon sandbar, death ranks.
More still more closer, closer rows of gray breach the shore,
fifty yards, twenty closer too, sounds of death to hear,
point-blank in the rows of gray, they still come as before,
200 and 200 more, over others laying on shore, in no fear.
Bugles blare, into brightness of day, lives lost in Malay,
sweat and tears, bodies worn, fire more from morn to dusk,
to stop would be to betray a trust, red hot guns in the fray,
fallen comrades still, that line of steel can’t go bust.
Like lighting fire-flies rounds of death streak across river,
from this side to that snuffing out life in their flashes,
steel blades to hold the line from evil across the river,
no tears for fallen, no time to stop flow of life from gashes.
No young men here now all as old as time itself, for evermore,
moment to moment recalled forty ears from now is true,
gone the baby face smile of youth, swallowed, by horror’s gore,
dreams of the river clear today, nor sleep the night through.
Dusk revealed gray mounds along the shore an all was still,
distant sounds from human forms heard to replace bugles blare,
night’s darkness hide the sights from eyes that would chill,
no life, soul or breath to give, question if God is still here.
Forgotten but by a few, this river crossing of life and death,
memories all too clear for young men, now old ones too,
the day was saved, the cost too high to equate, in a breath,
the river that turned red for a long, long day forgotten too.
The smell of death all around, will there be an end,
short timers don’t even smile, they been in country too long,
a new phrase then but now known by all friends,
deep in rice paddy mud, time left is too long.
Rain and sweat soak you through and through, blood too,
there are no safe places to hide if you could, and would,
mounds of empty shells fill the field, body bags too,
one more day, each day after another, go home you should.
There are some who stay in country for times over due,
they think if they do one less new is needed to come over,
to save a life anyway they can is the plan and that’s true,
another time, have been a great country with green cover.
Now all one thinks about is to get out of, in country,
each day is counted off to the hour short or long to go,
last sight seen is it fading beneath the clouds, in country,
back into the real world, what’s that? Anyway we go…
Questions for Reflection: “Naktong River” and “In Country”
- Describe life across the banks of the Naktong?
- How does the physical scene presented by Baillie in his poem, “Naktong River, hide the enemy?
- Baillie uses the phrase, “in no fear.” What does this imply?
- What significance does the blare of bugles play in the poem, “Naktong River?”
- Talk about the soldiers at Naktong River. Who are they? Who have they become?
- Describe in your own words what you think is meant by the concept, “in country?”
- Talk about the significance of time in Baillie’s poem, “In Country.”
- How can a person return home when he is “in country?” Why would it be important to do so?
- Explain why people stay “in country?” Who is the “new” that is referred to in the poem?