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A Poem From Major Michael Davis O'Donnell

The Vietnam War is probably one of our most controversial conflicts in American history. It’s one that severely damaged the reputation of the military, and prompted more than a few left-leaning college students to label Vietnam veterans as baby killers, murderers, or worse. Regardless of one’s opinions for the war, over 500,000 men were sent to Vietnam. A little over 58,000 never made it back home. There are legitimate debates surrounding the Vietnam War, but Memorial Day is about remembrance. The vast majority of Americans served with honor in Vietnam, though there were periods when our troops did engage in war crimes.


Nevertheless, that’s not what we’re supposed to dwell on today. If you ever have a chance to see the movie Hamburger Hill, I highly recommend it. It deals the usual brotherhood-in-arms themes, but also touches upon how soldiers were treated upon returning to America. It ends with the following poem, which could be applied to any American military venture.

If you are able,

save them a place

inside of you

and save one backward glance

when you are leaving

for the places they can

no longer go.

Be not ashamed to say

you loved them,

though you may

or may not have always.

Take what they have left

and what they have taught you

with their dying

and keep it with your own.

And in that time

when men decide and feel safe

to call the war insane,

take one moment to embrace

those gentle heroes

you left behind.

Major Michael Davis O'Donnell

1 January 1970

Dak To, Vietnam


Major O'Donnell was listed as missing in action in 1970 while in Cambodia. His remains were returned to the United States in 2001.

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