Poetic justice: A soldier’s thoughts put on paper one night in Vietnam

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 24, 2014

KANNAPOLIS — Charlie Beaver Jr. remembers writing the poem during one of his two tours in Vietnam.
It surprises him even now. In school, he was into hunting and fishing, not writing. In fact, this might be one of the few poems he has ever penned.
But finding yourself on the other side of the world fighting for your country and your life can lead to unusual things. Beaver says he wrote his “An American Infantryman” while pulling duty one night on a three-man listening post, making sure the Viet Cong weren’t trying to sneak up on his unit.
“I sent it home to my mother,” he said.
His mom kept the poem, and one of his grown daughters found it recently and sent it to the newspaper. The 22-line poem reveals a soldier who believes in what he is fighting for, and Beaver, now 67, confirms that’s the way he felt — and still does.
In the poem he speaks of being trained to kill, cutting no slack and never looking back. But he also writes you’d understand why he is fighting if you could see the South Vietnamese people full of hurt and fear.
The war was controversial at home, but Beaver fought with the belief he was striking a blow against communism. “It’s my feeling right there,” he says, scanning the stanzas again. “I wouldn’t change it.”
When Beaver completed his second tour in Vietnam and flew back to the States, landing in Oakland, he was one of those soldiers who came off the plane only to be greeted by war protesters.
They spit on Beaver and other soldiers and threw bags of dog waste at them. Beaver says it made him want to load the protesters on the plane and send them to Vietnam for a firsthand look.
Beaver saw his heaviest fighting during his first tour, as part of the 25th Infantry.
In one of his biggest battles, the Americans lost more than 100 men out of three companies. Beaver lost some good buddies. The U.S. soldiers also dealt a blow to the enemy.
The next morning they stacked up bodies of 467 Viet Cong, Beaver says.
The U.S. casualties actually led to a promotion for Beaver.
Because of all the wounded, the outfit needed more non-commissioned officers. The Army sent Beaver to NCO class in Vietnam, and it was announced the top two in the class would be promoted from private first-class to sergeant E-5 on the spot.
“And I was one of them,” Beaver says. He had been in the Army only 14 months.
After a year in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry, Beaver came home to Fort Bragg, but he would soon return to Vietnam for an additional eight months, this time with the 82nd Airborne.
His second tour came toward the end of 1967, and with his new outfit, he participated more in patrols and search-and-destroy missions.
Beaver wrote a lot of letters home — most of them to his mom. In turn, she sent him terrific packages filled with cookies, Texas Pete and even a country ham.
The Texas Pete came in handy the day Beaver pulled an 11-foot Burmese python out of a hole and killed it with a machete.
He skinned the snake and ate the meat with generous helpings of the Texas Pete. He also kept the skin, preserving it with foot powder, and he still has it today.
When they were in school, his three children would use if for show-and-tell.
Beaver came close to dying in Vietnam in a freak accident related to poisoning.
Some kind of plastic explosive had gotten into the food of several soldiers, including Beaver’s. It didn’t affect him until he was pulling guard duty near a small well and providing security for soldiers who were in a nearby waterhole taking a bath.
He fainted from the poison, fell backward into the well and would have drowned if not for the fast actions of a buddy, William Arnette of New York.
Arnette jumped into the well and was able to hold Beaver’s body far enough out of the water until other help arrived.
A medic brought Beaver back to life with CPR.
“I woke up three days later in a hospital in Da Nang,” Beaver says. He didn’t remember any of it, but he remained hospitalized for 22 days.
When his two tours and three years in the Army were up, Beaver left the service and returned home.
“I just felt — and I even told my mother this — that ‘I’m not going to die in this place,’” Beaver recalls of his Vietnam experience. “And I didn’t.”
Beaver grew up in southern Rowan County. He attended Bostian Elementary School and was part of one of the first graduating classes of South Rowan High School in 1964.
He worked six weeks at Cannon Mills, then took a job with the Brown Brothers in Rockwell laying brick. He enlisted in the Army in 1965, and his early training took him to Fort Jackson, S.C., Fort Gordon, Ga. and Fort Benning, Ga., where he had three weeks in jump school.
Beaver had only a 30-day leave before shipping out to Vietnam by May 1966.
After the Army, Beaver returned home and laid brick for 12 years. He married Sheena Koontz in 1974, the same year he and his father built the couple’s house off Goldfish Road.
Beaver constructed a monstrous stone fireplace along one of the living room walls.
He went on to operate heavy equipment for 27 years, including 11 years with Benton Grading and 16 years with Showalter. Meanwhile, the couple raised three children: Nicole Smith, who lives on Mount Hope Church Road; Joshua Beaver, who lives in Holden Beach; and Alisha Christian, a resident of Troutman.
The couple also have three grandchildren.
Just after he retired two years ago, Beaver suffered a heart attack. Call it fate, but he was the first heart attack patient taken to the new emergency clinic on Lane Street. It was a site Beaver had graded before his retirement.
Today, Beaver walks two miles a day in a nearby subdivision and he revels in the deer, turkey and fish everyone in the family seems to be killing or catching. His place has become home for a big Beaver family reunion every year.
“I’ve been blessed,” Beaver says. “I’ve had a lot of close calls.”
It’s the stuff for poets.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.