SOUTH CHINA SEA (June 13, 2015) Lightning strikes the water as San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage (LPD 23) navigates between storms. The Essex Amphibious Ready Group is currently operating in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Liam Kennedy/Released)

Guilt Returns

by James Hugo Rifenbark

Long hair, beard and jeans help
me blend, waiting to check out.
Like a second skin, my Army-issued
field jacket, keeps me warm.
Woman in front suddenly turns
Her face a road map, eyes red
county roads, lines on cheeks
highways.

“Were you there, or a damn protester?”

“Yes ma’am, I was.”
Tear reflects light, she wipes it off

“My boy was in the 11th Cavalry,
he never came home.”

Another tear forms, runs down
a highway, falls to the floor.

Dry tight throat catches my words,
“The 11th Cav. never backed down.
I’m sure he did them proud.”

Her shaking finger traces my
1st Signal’s lightning bolt sword,
then squeezes my arm.

“Thank you for listening. Sorry
I thought you were one
Of them.”
She walks out.

My tour in ’71 was on Long Binh,
I never saw combat and yes, I was
One of them.