Vince Kaspar

Vince served with the 4th Medical Battalion, 4th Infantry Division from 1968 to 1969 in Pleiku and An Khe, Viet Nam.
He was a soldier, a poet, a teacher, a friend to all who knew him.  Vince passed away in 1995. 



Enough Hugs


On Father’s Day near the wall, a young woman saw

the insignia I wore and asked, “Were you with the Fourth Division?”

When I nodded “yes,” she said, “My father was in the Fourth.

He was killed in 1970. Can I give you a hug for him— for Father’s Day?”

I hugged her with a father’s joy, though the tears blinded me. 

A little bit of healing happened for both of us that day.


On Veterans Day near the Wall, a Gold Star Mother saw

The insignia I wore and asked me, “Were you in Vietnam”

When I nodded “Yes” she said, “ Will you stand-in for my son

and give this old lady a hug?”  I hugged her with a son’s love,

though the tears blinded me.  A little bit of healing happened

for both of us that day.


In Canberra, at the dedication of the Australian Vietnam

Veterans Memorial, I saw an Aussie vet standing in the crowed,

Staring at the Memorial.  I knew the look—

His body shook with emotion, the tears blinded him.

I put my arm around him and asked, ”Are you all right?”

We hugged in the warmth of brothers and wept together

And I took off my insignia and pinned it on him.

A little bit of healing happened for both of us that day.


People ask me when the ghosts of Vietnam will finally

Be put to rest. The answer is simple—when there are

Enough open arms,

Enough open hearts,

Enough hugs to heal all the pain.


Arlington, Virginia, 1992


Bill’s Candle


The First Sergeant stood in the doorway for a long time,

Watching Bill.  I’m sure he thought he was watching

Another G.I. high on drugs.  I stayed close, ready to run

Interference if I had to, but glad when it wasn’t necessary—

The Sergeant snorted, shook his head, and left the hooch

In disgust. I could have explained what Bill was doing,

But I don’t think the Sergeant would have understood. 

Bill and I had both been drafted, and each of us had left

Behind a bride when we went off to war. Friendships

Could be built on lesser things, especially in 'Nam—

But even I didn’t know about the candle for the first few months.


Every Saturday night at 9 o’clock, while the rest of us

Were chugging down beers at the movie, he’d stick

A lighted candle on his footlocker, lay on his bunk

in the dark, and stared at the flame.  I found him

that way one night after looking all over camp for him.

I waited, wondering at 10 o’clock he stood up dazed,

like a psychic coming out of a trance.  He told me about it

as we as we sat and drank the warm beers I was carrying. 

They’d figure out the time difference, and while Bill stared

 at his candle in Vietnam, his wife was also staring at a candle

in a dormitory in Ohio. 


“I can’t explain it, Vince” he said,

“But I was with her. I really was—though I couldn’t tell you

Where we were.”  What could I say? I believe him. 

After that, I tried to be around when Bill lit his candle,

so that he and his wife would not be disturbed.  Sometimes

some guys would come back from the movie early,

and ask me, "Where’s Bill?"  “Don’t bother him,”

I’d say. “He’s in Ohio.” And they’d laugh and walk away,

making jokes about us drinking too much beer.


Because I was in love, I could believe him. 

Maybe I just shared in his delusion—I don’t know. 

I know envied him.


In fact, one night I got a candle and tried it myself—

But it didn’t work for me.  Of course, I hadn’t written

To my wife about it—I was afraid she’d think the war had

Finally robbed me of all sense.  It didn’t work for me,

But that proves nothing.  Perhaps, like love, the miracle

Depended on both sides moving toward the center,

moving gently by candlelight to a place where only

souls can touch.  For the rest of my life, I regret

my lack of faith in love.


An Khe 1970/Chicago 1986





Whether it's a drunken driver who's just crashed

and burned on the expressway, or a distraught husband

who's just used a bread-knife to end his wife's adultery,

or a nut who claims that aliens from the planet Pongo

made him superglue the tails of those six puppies together,

whenever something bad happens, someone always says,

"He hasn't been the same since he came home from Vietnam."


Whenever something bad happens,

the reporters fan out and interview everyone in sight. 

And no matter what the story, eventually they all find the same person:

The fat-thin person,

The tall-short person,

The bald-headed, blond, brunette person,

The African-Asian-Caucasian person,

The person that claims that she is a relative,

That is a friend, the master of disguise

Who looks into the camera and says:

"He hasn't been the same since he came home from Vietnam."


Well, I'm tired of all that.

I think it's time to change the headlines,

To change the stories,

To change the captions.

Tomorrow, I'd like to open the paper and see

this headline on page 1.


Vietnam Vet stands in field of flowers, singing.

Birds flock around him as his old friend says:

"He hasn't been the same

since he came home from Vietnam."



Vietnam Vet acknowledges the value of human life--

Hugs every person he meets and blesses them.

His neighbors say:

"He hasn't been the same

since he came home from Vietnam."



Vietnam Vet watches the sun rise

over a white-sand beach

and thanks God for the dawn of a new day,

Thanks God for the beauty all around him,

Thanks God for everything.

And his family says:

"He hasn't been the same

since he came home from Vietnam."


3 a.m. on the Perimeter


Night is the hand of a friend

Leading me to the ramparts

To search for quiet fires

Of purgation, like one of

A Chosen Few awaiting an

Anti-Christ who may not come.

What I fear is ghosts:

Aborted thoughts and children

Never born, dead friends

Not old enough to die,

And songs I did not hear

In the hearts of mutes;

And night is the hand

of that Judas-friend

Leading me to memories.


Pleiku 1969


God's Report Card


Those who care about history or politics

Or who want to believe in a fallible God,

can come to the Wall and search for

Certain significant names.

There are 3 Kissingers on the Wall,

5 McNamaras on the Wall,

10 Nixons on the Wall,

521 Johnsons on the Wall,

And damn it!--those were all the right names,

But all the wrong people;

They weren't even distant relatives!

So, while you've got to give God an A-plus for

Trying, you have to give Him an F for accuracy.



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