Losing Private Sutherland

by Jerry Kilbride

Steven Spielberg’s searing indictment of war—the bloody and horrendous carnage at Normandy Beach—was difficult to watch as I sat in the dark theater during a weekday matinee. Then, unexpectedly, the 506th was mentioned and I found myself on the verge of breaking down; that number identifying our basic training regiment triggered the old and unassuaged grief at Sutherland’s death. A magnificent human being wasted in a forgotten war; the youth and promise of a good friend forfeited. I can still see him standing in combat boots smudged with Kentucky mud . . . a residue of cold rain dripping from his helmet and poncho . . . a cigarette in his mouth that he lights for me . . . and then another he lights for himself. Pentimentoed under this memory, carried for almost fifty years, is a body riddled with bullets as it is washed away in the flashing rampage of a Korean river, and there follows a scene long and relentlessly willed to stave off madness . . . sediment settles gently on my friend’s handsome face . . . peacefully . . . softly . . . quietly. . . . Yes, the soldier can no longer hear gunfire; the young soldier can no longer hear the river thundering into his throat. He is quiet . . . as I soon will be quiet . . .

the flag folded

something of myself is lowered

with his coffin

Jerry Kilbride was head bartender for many years at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. He cofounded the Haiku Poets of Northern California and the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento. A former vice president of the Haiku Society of America, he published his prize-winning haiku in numerous books and journals for three decades. Jerry was a dear friend. He passed away in 2005.