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Joe From Pakenham

He's only fifty years plus he looks much older
He looks near seventy 'Joe from Pakenham
And I've been told that he was decorated
For his bravery in the sixties in Vietnam.

But the Vietnam war he seldom ever mention
Except to say that he wants to forget
The killings and the bombings and the bloodshed
His fallen comrades and the stench of death.

On Anzac Day he never goes out marching
Of war and soldiering he has known enough
But in south east Asia back in the late sixties
He was a hero when the going got tough.

He shielded a wounded comrade from the gunfire
And in so doing put his own life on the line
As a twenty year old fearlessly brave soldier
In south Vietnam in nineteen sixty nine.

For his bravery in war he was commended
And he received the highest accolade
And he felt proud to wear his bravery medals
On the night he led the home coming parade.

As he marched behind the band the onlookers applauded
But the hero worship for him was quick to fade
And now he feels his war effort was wasted
And more out of his life he might have made.

He left the army with an honourable discharge
But as an advantage to him he found it was not
An honourable discharge and a few medals for bravery
The only things from them that he ever got.

He never received counselling or debriefing
For professional help he could not afford to pay
From job to job and finally to welfare
No wonder he looks sad and old and gray.

Near thirty years of alcohol addiction
He only can recall a shattered life
A mental breakdown and three years spent in a mental hospital
To drink he lost his family and wife.

With his wife and children he has lost all contact
Since they left him more than fifteen years ago
The scars of war don't heal when war is over
And the mental scars of war have never healed in Joe.

Life for him very well might have been different
Had he never left the Town of Pakenham
Had he not enlisted in the Australian army
And fought in that bloody war in south Vietnam.

He well may have returned home a hero
But that's of little use to him today
For those few medals he won for his bravery
The price would seem was far too big to pay.

He's lost his war medals but he's lost more than that
In fact in life he has lost everything
We hear of songs of men who died in battle
And of war heroes the ballad singer sing.

And Joe from Pakenham once a war hero
And decorated for his bravery
But had he not been in Vietnam in the sixties
How different for him now his life might be? .

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Pablo Neruda

If You Forget Me

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