The Thunder Rolls

This poem is a tribute to my step-pa, Ray Brown, who is on his way to DC to take part in Rolling Thunder Inc.’s 25th anniversary of their Memorial Day Demonstration in Washington, D.C., May 25-27, 2012. Ray is an army veteran, and this is a once in a lifetime trip for him. May the Lord ride with him, providing good weather, safe passage, and a wonderful time with other riders and veterans on the road, and in our nation’s capital! Roll on, Ray Brown! You da man!

The Thunder Rolls

He grew up in a small town

Or a big city

Maybe even on a farm

The important thing was he grew up free

He was born in the U.S.A.

 

Maybe he didn’t know God

Not personally anyway

But he knew about Him

Because he heard his name everyday

When he said the pledge to the flag

 

He graduated from high school

In the mid sixties

Good grades, but not great ones

Looked at his chances; slim and none

Then signed the papers and went to war

 

I remember being really scared

He says, eyes wide and wet

Talking about foxholes and gunfire

Sleeping in mud and sweat

Hugging a rifle to his chest

 

Came home to angry mobs

No jobs, no one glad to see him

Dreamed of riding a Harley

Away from it all

Wanting the freedom he thought he’d fought for

 

Life was a struggle

But he fought on

Keeping his dreams inside

Never let them see you cry

Make no sounds, lest the enemy hear you

 

He made it

Not in a big way by the worlds standards

But big enough for him

Finally bought that Harley at sixty-one

Then hit the road for DC at sixty-three

 

An old man riding his dream

To the place where the memories live

The wall filled with names

Of those who didn’t come home

It is for them, the thunder rolls

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2012 C. Mashburn

All Photographs by Ray Brown – Vietnam vet and American hero

 Sharing this with the good folks at dVerse Poets Pub, for Victoria’s Memorial Day – Poetry Prompt

85 Comments »

  1. Sherry Mashburn said

    Great!! Good pic of Ray, too. Let that thunder roll.

  2. Good News said

    This is great Charles… I really Like this… Blessings.. Bro Pat.

  3. smiles…much to like of the man and also what he worked for , for himself and for all of us…nice character sketch…and i hope he has a great ride to honor those names…

    • The poem is a tribute to Ray, but it is also all inclusive, and the guy I talk about is a composit of every kid who grew up in the sixties and went off to that god-awful war.
      Thanks for the comment, Brian! Much appreciated!

      • remember this from the other day…thank god for men and women like ray…that were willing…happy memorial day man…

      • Thanks for stopping by again, Brian!

  4. claudia said

    so very cool…love that he bought that harley finally..that he finally rides his dream..hope he’s having a great time in D.C. and hope you gonna read that poem to him as well…

    • He’s already seen the poem; said it brought a tear to his eye. I told him, “Nah, Ray Brown. You prolly juss run into a bug.” He’s a wonderful man.
      Thanks for the visit and kind words, Claudia! Me & Ray appreciate them!

  5. So glad he finally got to realise a dream. They were treated so badly when they came home from Vietnam. It’s not much better now either.
    Great writing Charles. Lovely tribute to a true Vet!

    • He IS a true vet, and he seldom gets the respect and honor he deserves. He’s worked hard his whole life, and he’s done the right things. There should be a wall somewhere to put the names of guys like Ray Brown on.
      Thanks for the wonderful comment, Daydreamer.

  6. This really touched me, Charles. It hurts me to think what our Nam vets went through…both in the war and after. I’ve cared for them (in nursing) over the years and, as you know, their wounds go far deeper than the surface. Not sure if this is the same group, but some of them rumbled through Reno last week on their way to DC. Bravo to all of them who found this comfort/freedom.

    • I’ve had reports of them rumbling through many places this past week, Victoria. They go to DC to do a good work, and should be saluted for it. These are the guys who fought for the freedoms we so easily partake of. Some of them went through hell,then came back to jeers, no jobs, and loneliness. Many of them have nightmares to this day of the horrors they endured. I could go on, but I’d just get all wound up.
      Thank you so much for the heartfelt comment!

  7. Charles–this is so powerful, especially the last line. My husband is a vet, also, from the Vietnam era….maybe some day WE can get to D.C. for Memorial Day.

    • My hat is off to your husband, Jody Lee! I hope someday you and he get to make the trip.
      Thank you for the visit and comment!

  8. tashtoo said

    Okay…so we’ve got tears AND smiles with this one Charles! What a wonderful tribute…and to see such a sincere dream, grounded in the heart of a man, obtained…gives all of us hope…and perhaps a pause to consider those dreams we’re really dreaming. Got a feeling a few will be switching up their priorities after reading this one. Loved it!

    • Thanks, Tash. I appreciate the heartfelt comment. Lots of emotion in this one; I was sobbing when I finished. I’m an old softie when it comes to these men and wommen who go to far off places and suffer so we can be free and live this life of ease we’ve been given.

  9. Laurie Kolp said

    Amazing how he recaptured the freedom so many years later. Goes to show you dreams never die and (good or bad) memories are life-sustaining.

    • He, and so many others, never gave up, Laurie. Many fought all kinds of adversity, but with a strong work ethic and a good moral base, they rose to the top. That’s Ray Brown! What a guy!

  10. Ray said

    Thanks to all that commented I am truly touched as Charlie said right now I have a lot of bugs in my eyes I am really enjoying this trip thank you

    • We love ya, Ray Brown!
      For those who might not get it, I have addressed Ray as “Ray Brown” as long as I’ve known him. Just one a them weird things I do!

  11. Mary said

    Charles, this brought tears to my eyes. Those vets were so unappreciated, in fact often despised for being in a war so many were against (even though it wasn’t the vets’ fault). I am glad that your friend came home alive and also that he has his Harley and is living his dream. When, if not now???

    • It’s a dream come true for Ray, Mary. He just called me, and he’s having a wonderful time. Got into some rain in Tennessee, but he’s going to wole up at hotel there, and hit the road again in the morning.
      Thanks so much for the wonderful comment!

  12. I loved this in the way that I love the desire to feel free of life’s constraints–It spoke to me!

    • This week, Ray Brown is free as a bird on a blacktop highway. A once in a lifetime experience for a once in a lifetime guy!
      Thanks, Audrey! We appreciate the visit and comment!

  13. What a lovely tribute ~ I hope he finds the closure and keep the memories alive in his heart ~

    Happy day to you ~

    • I don’t know that the wounds these men carry can ever truly be closed, but maybe they can find some peace in the exercise of honoring their fallen brothers.
      Thanks for the visit and kind words, Heaven!

  14. chris said

    A great tribute to Ray Brown and to all the others like him. Operation Rolling Thunder was supposed to demoralise the Northerners, but I think a lot of the men who flew it came home just as demoralised, especially when they came back to such a negative reception. And they lost so many of their fellow men on those missions. Those guys were really stuck between a rock and a hard place. Hooray for Ray Brown riding the blacktop on his Harley.

    • Thanks for the awesome comment, Chris! We appreciate it very much! And I agree; Hooray for Ray Brown!

  15. Truedessa said

    Hi,

    I liked the flow of this as it told a story.. the fight for freedom abroad and within..I am sure the ride was exhilarating and liberating but, I’ve seen the wall of names and that does bring tears.

    • Thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I did try to make it read like a story, and I’m pleased you see it. I’ve never seen the wall, but know some of the men whose names are on it. I need to go one of these days.

  16. leahJlynn said

    My heart goes for this poem. my goodness thank you for this wonderful write. Blessings
    ,http://leah-jamielynn.typepad.com where my dVerse poem is at

    • Thank you very much, Leah! I’m glad it touched you. It was a very emotional writing experience for me.

  17. WoW….Awesome and wonderful words of tribute to Ray Brown, his Harley and the men of war. I also, like Victoria, nursed the men of war…
    at the Veteran’s Home in Bangor, and know some who can’t understand why their efforts were so negatively received. May the Harley’s roll on with Ray Brown’s of the world … I’ll think of them as the Harley’s roll by my house this weekend

    I hope I expressed myself clearly…this is such a wonderful tribute.
    Peace,
    Siggi in Downeast Maine

    • You expressed yourself wonderfully, Siggie. And Ray Brown, and I really appreciate the kind words.

  18. shanyns said

    So good, really really well written tribute!

  19. Echoes from another time, really enjoyed this. My favourite line? ‘Looked at his chances, slim and none’ love that! Sorry I didn’t get over sooner, am up to my eye balls in writing stuff so am trying to dip and in out and work my way through the list over the next few days.

    • Busy busy busy! Slow down, kiddo! It will all get done!
      Thanks for the fly by and the comment! 🙂
      (If you have time , I will have a guest post story on the Blissful Adventurer again today. I think the story will make you smile! Watch for it at about 10:15 this morning!

      • Ohh am intrigued, dont know if you saw my short story a day or two ago but I posted it assuming I hadn’t been shortlisted and now I have just heard that the winners haven’t been notified yet and I may have just blown my chances… doh!

      • Oh no! I must have missed it somehow. I’ll check it out in just a bit!

      • Just took it down in a panic, will repost next week… oops, that’ll teach me.

      • okay! I’ll be watching for it!

  20. Great tribute for a man that seems worthy of such. I hope he gets to see this, it’s fabulous. “Wanting the freedom he thought he’d fought for” … loved that line.

    • Thank you for the awesome comment, Alex!
      Yes, Ray has already seen it, and is much appreciative, not only of the poem, but all the great comments.
      He is absolutely worthy!

  21. Charles, excellent tribute paid to a man who’s worth his salt. I am a pacifist who NEVER put down the troops and still don’t. As much as I am opposed to war, I honor every member who’s ever donned a uniform and put themselves in harm’s way. It is not contradictory! Also, I had a pen pal in school, a soldier whose name I grabbed out of a bag… we began a correspondence, and my mom joined in. Paul King was MIA until three years ago, his remains finally identified, and now his name is on the Wall. What a tragedy that the troops were treated so disrespectfully when they came home… we are better schooled about war profiteers nowadays, and people don’t blame the troops… I sure never did. Guts. Determination. God bless him. Thanks,Charles. Peace, Amy
    http://sharplittlepencil.com/2012/05/23/wp-restores-choices-and-poem/

    • Great response, Amy. What a tragic story about your pen-pal, but uplifting to know you never forgot about him.
      Thank you for the wonderful comment!

  22. Hema said

    Thats a lovely tribute Charles!

    • Thank you, Hema! I updated it this morning, adding pictures Ray took on his trip. Take another look if you have time.

  23. Bravo for crafting and sharing this. A wonderrful tribute to a hero. Ride on.

  24. Very touching Charles. The Vietnam Vets had it tough when they came home. I’m glad he finally got the Harley.

  25. It must have been awful to fight for your country and then come home and feel unwelcome. So happy Ray was not broken!
    A great poem-story of a soldier.

  26. ayala said

    It is for them, the thunder rolls….Love it!

  27. Just wonderful. Thanks for sharing his journey!

    =)

  28. excellent tribute, very well done.

  29. So saddening the lack of respect for what they’ve done. While I wish it needn’t be at all the facts are war is and for a reason. Great tribute, Charles.

  30. Mary said

    Visiting again today, Charles. Had visited when you posted it initially, but came to see the photos you added. Glad I did.

    • Thank you for stopping by again, Mary. I thought the photos added a nice touch to the post.

  31. Victoria said

    Happy to revisit this, Charles.

  32. Susan said

    I love this poem. Gracious! What a man! How well you see and honor him. Win.

  33. This is a beautiful tribute, Charles. Thank you for sharing it.

  34. zongrik said

    what a life!! but at least he got to ride his Harley!!!

    four memorial day senryu

    • Yes, he did, and he had a great time. On his way back home now.
      Thanks for the visit and comment!

  35. seingraham said

    This is wonderful Charles! And what a great guy Ray Brown sounds like; being a fellow Harley enthusiast, I can appreciate this trip he’s on. My philosophy mirrors Amy Barlow’s so closely I’m not going to repeat what she’s already so eloquently stated – it’s too difficult to explain how you can be a peacenik and still support the boots-to-the-ground troops, anti-war but never against men and women in the armed forces who fight and die for our way of life. I know it’s even more difficult for American pacifists but it’s becoming as ticklish for Canadians … it’s Memorial Day and I honour that.

    http://seingrahamsays.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/th_memorial-day/

    • I understand the peacenik thoughts, because I detest war, and think it is sad that so many are fought for political and monetary reasons. I won’t get wound up on it, but suffice it to say I feel the same way you do. But! If I had to go to war today, to protect my freedom and yours, I would not hesitate to do so.
      Thank you for the thought-filled comment.

  36. Hi Charles -Vietnam also my war in terms of impact on my personal history and emotional life. (I don’t mean that I truly did anything – I was a kid but it was the war that affected me growing up.) A really terrible war, causing crazy divides.. I too felt/feel so sorry for returning vets as many were already so disheartened by that war, its terrible waste of them especially, and then the confusion of anger over the war with lack of respect for vets (although I hate to say it that in all these foreign wars since WWII – there sometimes seems more lip service paid to honoring vets than action–)

    But in the case of Vietnam, I feel a bit like the polarization came from both sides–certainly the antiwar people could be pretty awful, but Nixon’s “my country right or wrong” was also very divisive, since a lot of people against the war were not unpatriotic–they just didn’t want Americans killed and killing for something so nebulous and with no clear connection to our freedom.

    I felt so sorry for soldiers as they went earnestly, but I do think that there was terribly cold and awful calculation at the top. (I don’t even blame Johnson here so much as he got stuck with it.) But I don’t have a lot of good feeling for McNamara or Kissinger (Kissinger especially low.) Sorry, to get so specific as your poem is a lovely tribute to someone who suffered directly and without calculation.

    • I agree, Karin–almost word for word with what you said here. I felt lucky in a way that I could not go, but felt a sense of guilt that so many I knew and loved had to endure the atrocity of that war, while I waited in comfort and safety for them to return. And, some of them didn’t. I won’t go into details, because you pretty much covered it, and all I could add is a personal rant. But, yes, a lot of the honoring IS lip service, but that’s not my concern; I mean every word I say, and I cry in my soul for those lost, and those who survived bit lost much in a very different way. To coin a phrase, “War is Hell”, and I hate it with a passion. But, even at my age, I will fight for freedom if I have to. Man… so much I could say, but I know you know what I mean.
      Thank you for your comment, and thank you for the poem. Both are good, and struck a chord with me.

      • Thanks – I have a flag villanelle (about Vietnam) which I’ll post sometime – or repost – won’t trouble you with it now. I know you are not paying lip service – but I get very angry at the lip service and then wanting to cut VA hospitals! Or other benefits! My dad served in both European and Pacific Fronts in WWII and then in the Korean War, and then continued in the reserves for many years. Luckily, these were more popular wars and although he got cuts on some sides, he was not in these later generations where there’s such a dichotomy of support. k.

      • I’d love to see the villanelle.
        Thanks for the follow up. Good conversation is always welcome here!

      • http://manicddaily.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/more-on-obama-at-dover-another-villanelle/

        It’s a villanelle so it’s hard to deal with nuance the way one would like – and really only people conscious of the Sixties would understand. I am very pro-flag, and have been disturbed, frankly, to see it on cars and antenna and jeans and as a logo–you remember how careful we were long ago – I was a flag patrol! K.

      • Thanks! I enjoyed it, and agree with what you say about the flag.

  37. yoga-adan said

    having grown up in the 60s (born in ’50) this really struck home charles

    “Never let them see you cry

    Make no sounds, lest the enemy hear you” –

    and that one, whew! no wonder so many of us have to re-learn how to breathe deeply & freely again

    thank you so much charles

    • I was born in 1950, too, so we breathed the same air from probably very different places. We saw the same things, heard the same things, and wondered “why” about many of them.
      Thanks for the great comment.

  38. Reblogged this on Marbles In My Pocket ~ The Official Blog of Charles L. Mashburn ~ Poems, Short Stories, and random thoughts from the author of "Be Still… and know that I am God" and commented:

    There was no thunder this morning, but Ray Brown–the Harley in the back of his big ol’ truck–rolled out of our driveway and headed back to Oklahoma City. Just got a text that he made it safely home. The next chapter begins.

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