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The Men In The Boats

The mist of the morning cools and softens the air
     The last of the soldiers have gone down the steel stairs
He crossed the barge that lay along side the big ship
     And boarded the craft making sure he did not slip.

Now all assault craft and boats are well under way
     They are executing the plan briefed yesterday
The boats flow out smoothly and take their place in line
     From the air their formation is dark serpentine

Up the brown muddy river they move with the tide
     Some sense the jungle beauty on this their first ride
Some seem not to look, unaware of the beauty
     They limit their thoughts to just those of their duty

They are veterans, they have been out here before
     They have seen the hot fights, they want not to see more
But if a fight come these men are very good
     Their skill by their foe is very well understood

Their force is our history is not often seen
     They fight from the water and are called riverine
Grant used them at Vicksburg in the great Civil War
     The French used them also on the Red River shore

They combined the power of Army and Navy
     Their thoughts of each other at first were quite cagey
But that didn't last long when there was a real fight
     Petty Officers and sergeants know what is right

Soldiers saw water as moats around a castle
     An obstacle that would cost them in a battle
Sailors saw these moats as the track at Daytona
     Take some care for mines and then blast right on down 'em

Attacks from the water their foe was not used to
     They aimed at highways and watched for landlocked crews
For riverine it was the way to start a fight
     To attack with surprise from water at first light

And this they were doing on their attack today
     They though would their plan work or go some other way
Very early some doubt about the plan arose
     When they learned they'd be running right by Snoopy's Nose

An elaborate plan that probably worked well
     But for boat crews and platoons it was hard to tell
The artillery was firing, of this they'd been told
     A battalion in choppers found an LZ cold

But what is that pounding on the side of the craft
     And where we were once heading is now pointing aft
The antitank rocket that exploded top side
     Has sprayed steel on a platoon but they're still alive

There's a monitor turning in a stream ahead
     No one at the helm, just a slumped figure instead
The assault craft turns wildly , rams into the bank
     The captains quick decision before the craft sank

The infantry platoon and the whole boat crew too
     Scramble ashore where their last artillery blew
Their foe is retreating crawling over a dike
     That's getting chewed up by a boat's forty mike

There's plenty of action, the new guy's have their fill
     The artillery pounding, the jets streaking shrill
Guy's still in boats to their foe must see evil
     Blazing away in clouds of cordite and diesel

But the noise of battle passes slowly away
     There are men to be cared for and some need to pray
Some pursue the enemy by chopper and boat
     Medics work wonders but there are lumps in their throats

It seems forever, but then they're back on the ship
     They talk of light hurts, swollen finger and bruised hip
But they're thinking of Willy who made them all laugh
     And of Stan, Jose and Bob who did not come back

They laugh at Frank's letter that he just got from home
     The candy his wife sent has been missent to Nome
The mail man said he he'd sent it on though quite tattered
     They knew for Frank that the letter was what mattered

They laughed and they joked and there were a lot of pranks
     And a few good jokes about guy's in higher ranks
But they were glad to know that the brass had announced
     It was a main force enemy that they had trounced

That was good, they'd put that fact in their next letter
     But what mattered most was they had fought even better
There was this deep sense of sharing great danger
     Of meeting a test, risking life for a stranger

Most pictured the stranger as a child, maybe six
     Who didn't want much, food, home, and not to be sick
And of course for their lives is what most of them feared
     It was worth fighting in hopes they would not be scared

Many years have passed since the days of these battles
     For each old Raider and Rat the memory still rattles
And a few of these warriors have even gone back
     For with they recall there is something they lack

Not as a warrior they feel good for their people
     It was always their aim to free them from trouble
And they are warmed by smiles of kids three or four
     But in old U S A they have even more

But the main experience that gives them a chill
     Is to fly over the land, lush, green and still
To feel tears sting their eyes looking down at brown moats
     Feel the chest swell thinking of the Men in the Boats

This story was written by:
Lt/General Johnnie Corns US Army (Ret.) Operations Officer 2nd/de 1967-68