Poem of the Week | August 03, 2020

This week’s Poem of the Week is “A Soldier of The 100th: The Lost Battalion The Vosges” by David Mura!

David Mura has written four poetry collections: The Last Incantations, Angels for the Burning, The Colors of Desire which won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Chicago Public Library, and After We Lost Our Way, a National Poetry Series Contest winner. He’s written two memoirs: Turning Japanese and Where the Body Meets Memory: An Odyssey of Race, Sexuality and Identity and the novel Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire. His most recent book is on creative writing A Stranger’s Journey: Race, Identity and Narrative Craft in Writing.


A Soldier of The 100th: The Lost Battalion
The Vosges (1944)

the eyes Japanese
the forest dark as shadows–

a jerry up the hill opens
his fly and his stream’s so far

I barely see but still smile
the first smile in ages

and hidden in the dawn camouflaging our approach
pines and oaks bramble mortars machine guns snipers

and the lost Texans further on
but now all of us

jump lungs breath
vanishing with bird

songs shell after
shell bursts

and we burrow deeper
tendril cheeks rooting us

mouths crammed with loam
and Mas cusses and George grunts

and I recall Purple Heart Valley
and Yaha’s brittle smile

when I turned his torso
and he didn’t say “go for broke” or “okaa-san”

but breathed
once twice and

a mortar shatters the next trench
a hand flies up

a forearm lodges
in pine branches

and I hear this stinging erupt
stomach bile churning my throat

jagged steel flashing into flesh
and if there’s somewhere to run

I wouldn’t
someone to blame

I couldn’t
a reason to be here

I’d know it deep in my
spine head neck buttock belly leg

paralyzed praying
to this silence that glistens

like the bloody arm waving me on
and so

minutes hours years

my soiled ghost barrels from earth
each breath tearing his

brown faced body without roots
or home

and slowly unbowed undead
the few of us left

start our trek up
to nothing but

this hill of flak and jerries
buddhaheads marching smack into

the Texans who will spy Japs through
the Vosges woods

and wonder how where
did they come from

are we hallucinating
are we saved


Author’s Note

“A Soldier of The 100th: The Lost Battalion” is in the voice of a Japanese American soldier fighting in the Vosges Mountains during World War II on the mission to rescue “The Lost Battalion” of Texans who were trapped behind German lines. After suffering high casualties and six days of fighting, the all Japanese American 100th Battalion broke through and some of the Texans were bewildered by their appearance. The 100th was part of the 442nd regiment, the most decorated unit in Europe, and was made up of Japanese Americans from Hawaii and from the mainland; the families of the latter were imprisoned in internment camps during the war and deprived of their rights as citizens. I once interviewed a soldier from the 442nd and he said that the 442nd would continue fighting with casualty rates that would force other units to turn back. Generals fought over this unit to have them under their command.