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Then-captain John Borling “wrote” and memorized poems to keep his mind sharp and his spirits up. He shared his creations with fellow captives by their only means of communication—the forbidden POW tap code. Rapping on the cell walls with his knuckles, Borling tapped ...
Then-captain John Borling “wrote” and memorized poems to keep his mind sharp and his spirits up. He shared his creations with fellow captives by their only means of communication—the forbidden POW tap code. Rapping on the cell walls with his knuckles, Borling tapped poems—certainly of pain and despair, but also of humor, encouragement and hope—to keep everyone’s strength and spirits alive.
With a foreword by fellow POW, Senator John McCain, Taps on the Walls contains all the poems General Borling created during his confinement. Readers will discover remarkable stories of endurance, life lessons, and means to achieve personal triumph.
The pen is truly mightier than the sword. No matter that the pen was only a mind and scarred knuckles and the sword, painful and interminable captivity.
The more technical among you can rightly take me to task about this ode. For several reasons, I decided to call it an ode. When I was in North Vietnam, no one knew what an ode was so it didn't make any difference, and I needed one anyway just to round out the collection. In any event, the T-33, that fine aircraft, should have this ode in its past, as well as the other skeletons.
Ode to a T-Bird
O T-Bird, noble aircraft, timeworn true,
Fair ramply fixture gracing every base,
Now lost within, as you have traveled through
The vast immensity of time and space.
And who shall feeling call thy sainted name,
Now that thy service lifespan finally done?
And where remembered resting place and fame?
A common grave beneath the desert sun.
Yet if of ere a nosewheel has been cocked,
A bucket blown or bulky seat pack sore,
As sure as thy J-8 has precessed locked,
Extended be thy presence evermore.
So long I hold, there be parts-pickup hops,
Somewhere, a T-Bird's parked in front of OPS.
Sonnet for Winged Man
The amber-throated days of summer run
A single race, surprising short to fall.
Old passions mellow with the cooling sun,
And rising smoke from burning leaves a wall.
Though tender held, the shawl of autumn slips
And bares the trees to mufflered winter cold.
No more on placid ponds the painted ships,
To leeward helm bound home with weathered gold.
Yet if the fleeting season short for some,
For winged man more cruel the second hand,
With final landing logged will winter come
To icy grip, now shackled to the land.
But till last storm, he'll wait the banshee cry,
Run quick to look, his heart still in the sky.
A friend is a wingman.
A friend can be lead.
A friend is there when there's a need.
Who Is It?
Who is it sits in summer sun,
With air conditioner that won't run?
Who is it chill now winter come?
The heating unit on the bum.
Who is it sits with propped-up boot,
In salt-encrusted flying suit?
Who is it smokes fag after fag,
And reads the latest flying mag?
Who is this man who talks so crude?
The chosen one, grease pencil screwed.
Who is this chap who seldom speaks,
Yet monitors so many freqs?
Who is he not caught unawares
With loaded Very pistol flares?
The coffee drunk lukewarm and black,
By him who logs 'em off and back.
By now you've guessed our mystery friend,
If you've pulled time at runway's end.
That yellow box on wheels still waits
For you, perhaps, or squadron mates.
So watch some grease, some barely hack
A landing that would break your back,
But what the hell, they all got gear.
Thanks be to thee, dear mobileer.
This One Is for the Birds
(Use a Southern accent and syncopate
in latter portion of line.)
Well, way down south on the Texas flat,
Where prickle pear and jackrabbit at,
Lived two woodpeckers in a sawed-off stump,
A-lookin' all the day for sumpin' to thump.
Now, I know'd one, name of Maggie Mo;
T'other buddy be B'rer Jamie Jo.
Maggie were IP with a bunch of rrrs,
But Jamie, he were young, kinda unawarrrs.
It happened one day as I recollect,
Setting on a cholla with nothing to peck,
Maggie turned to Jamie: "Say, brother-o,
I got me an idee think you oughta know.
"From yonder back, north to San Anton,
Local flyin' wood's dry as a bone.
Cottonwood, willer, other thorny thing
Just don't fill the bill, that empty holler ring.
"But I heard tell of a promised land,
Where trees grow tall and the peckin's grand.
Californy redwood, supposed to be best;
I be of a mind to mosey on out west."
Well, Jamie chawed, pondered it a spell;
It twern't too long he opined, "Do tell.
Maggie, what you say surely do appeal;
Guess I'll tag along, give them redwoods a feel."
The two ambled down, RAYDOE base ops;
Howdy to a few plannin' their hops.
They checked with weather, then into the charts,
Filed an eyeball route and departed them parts.
Maggie was a-leadin', first leg high,
Jamie on the wing, hanging right spry.
Fast as a possum clawin' up a tree,
The two headed west, flight level twenty-three.
Couple hours out they let on down;
Quick stop at Kirtland for turnaround.
Moon pie and cola, 'nother tank of gas,
Soon headed west again, really hauling ... fas'.
Oak Creek Canyon, real purty passed by;
Jamie thrashing weeds, Maggie stacked high.
The two skedaddled in their feathered flight,
Pleased as Mr. Bullfrog on a moonlit night.
Round about Vegas, Maggie took lead.
Off to the west, some weather he seed.
"Hello there, Center, need a clearance now.
Dog, but that dark stuff sure bring sweat to the brow."
The two smoked on, undercast below;
Maggie said, "Boy, just a piece to go."
And sho nuff ahead, them big trees of red,
Where a fool could peck his brains out, till he dead.
They entered into holding by and by,
Weather mite touchy to Maggie's eye.
"We better take a TACAN, radar too.
Caution be the watchword, 'fore we have a chew."
Jamie started frettin', young and bold.
Called for clearance, "Continue to hold."
Jamie so bothered, so anxious to peck,
He rolled to his back and Split S'd to the deck.
Luck of a rebel helped him down.
Landed on a tree, commenced to pound,
He'd jest reared back for that first giant peck,
When come bolt of lightning, struck him in the neck.
Poor ole Jamie, layin' in the brush,
Tail feathers singed and a deathly hush.
Maggie was on final; he touched down good,
To a fine full stop next a likely hunk of wood.
Maggie looked for Jamie, peered to be,
Big Daddy Sherman had marched to the sea.
There were feathers all strewed, blood on the ground;
Jamie lay a-pantin' like a redbone hound.
Maggie stood a-lookin', shook his head.
"It's wonder, I declare, you ain't dead.
Now, I seed me some sights and heard me some tales,
There is one thing I know that's true for all males."
"Boy, 'fore you fly gen, think on these words.
It's true for man, and it's true for birds:
No matter what you call it, love or sin,
Don't be such a hurry, put your pecker in."
Excerpted from Taps on the Walls by John Borling Copyright © 2013 by Master Wings Publishing LLC. Excerpted by permission of Master Wings Publishing LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Foreword Senator John McCain ix
Section I Strapping on a Tailpipe
The Derelict 13
First-Light Flight 15
The Boneyard 16
Ode to a T-Bird 22
Sonnet for Winged Man 23
Who Is It? 24
This One Is for the Birds (Cross-Country) 25
Weather Day 29
Carpet of Clouds 31
Life Flight 33
Leg #1 33
Leg #2 33
Leg #3 34
Leg #4 34
Leg #5 35
Leg #6 35
The Loneliest Place in Town 36
The Ballad of the Cross-Country Flyer 40
Section II POW and Other "Dark and Bitter Stuff"
The Tourney 47
Beneath Thin Blanket 48
The Carnival 49
Hanoi Epitaph 50
The Road 52
Sonnet for 4 45 43 53
Affliction and Predilection 54
On Love 55
The Journey 56
Section III The Holidays and Hollow Days
The Other Christmas 61
Mommy, Where Is My Daddy? 64
Excerpt from a Christmas Letter 69
A Part of Christmas 70
This I Believe 74
The Virtue of a Snowball 77
Section IV SEA Story (Southeast Asia Story)
Southeast Asia Story 87
About the Author 163
Posted March 8, 2013
Pain and suffering has been the subject of poetry since the beginning of mankind. In particular, those unjustly imprisoned and subjected to inhumane treatment often turned to poetry to ease their mental anguish and refocus their thinking from despair to hope of survival.
The author was one of several hundred POWs held in the infamous Hoa Lo Prison aka the Hanoi Hilton; an environment so cruel and hostile that it defies imagination for all but those who once resided there. During the six and a half years of his incarceration; torture, beatings, sleep deprivation, near starvation, and total lack of sanitation were a daily part of his life. It was during those days that he turned to poetry. Notice that I didn’t say that he began to write poetry or even read poems. Reading and writing were strictly forbidden and POWs caught with any materials for that purpose, no matter how crude, were severely punished. What he did do, however, was to create and commit to memory every poem published in “Taps on the Walls.” Furthermore, once composed and memorized, he shared those poems with fellow prisoners by tapping on the walls using a secret code. The key to this code, the use of which was also forbidden, is illustrated in the book. After several fumbling attempts to communicate using this code, I was overwhelmed by the obvious; namely, that the amount of time, patience, and persistence required to create, transmit, and decode the poems in “Taps on the Walls” must to have been enormous.
So what specifically was the author trying to accomplish when “writing” his poems and how does he view his work some 40 years later? The answers to these questions were provided in a recent interview when he said, “The verse and prose in this volume are not principally about pain or pity but more about the essence of the human condition. That essence was and is the ability to create. Creating provided a pathway to survival and salvation. The process of creating made enemy time an ally, and an uncertain race could be run.”
As for the individual poems in the book, they flow easily and steadily from one subject to the next; each fashioned in plain, everyday language without hyperbole or fancy words. The subject matter is divided more or less equally between love of his wife and family; love of flying; and his POW life —all tied together by his core values and his determination to survive. For those who have not been blessed with the experience of flying the author has included a glossary if terms most frequently used in flying in general and military flying in particular. This makes the book fascinating reading for everyone, regardless of his or her background.
The book provides a treasure trove of quotable quotes and each reader will discover his or her favorite. As a Vietnam veteran my favorite is, “So once elected, War the Objective; Wrap it up neat and fast. It won’t be pretty, but that’s a pity, But better first than last. Moral, immoral, A senseless quarrel; Winners are right in history.”
he words in the book fly directly from the soul of the writer and into the heart and soul of the reader, without deflection or deterrence; w provide a powerful and much needed refresher course on American core values in terms of what they have helped us accomplish in the past, and what they can help us accomplish in the future. “Taps on the Walls” should be required reading for every American who cares about his or her country and its people.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 13, 2013
Posted March 19, 2013
The story behind the book is worth the read itself. I had no idea. No more review from me. Do yourself a favor and read it.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 27, 2014
I bought this because of a sensitivity I have, as a veteran, for the Viet Nam war and especially for the POW's. I don't like poetry or poetry-like writing but I read every offering and they are very good with some being excellent. I am former Air Force (1962-66), having flown on the B47E Bomber. I enjoyed a lot of the lingo unique to flying. I strongly recommend that you part with the few dollars the book costs. You might find yourself on the other side of the wall and re-living some of the sacrifices made by these heroes.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 30, 2013