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Horace Coleman: May 4, 1943 - September 16, 2017
By The Coleman Family
Horace Wendell Coleman, Jr., was born and grew up in Dayton, Ohio, the home of the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. He was the oldest son of Roberta (MacGregor) and Horace Wendell Coleman, Sr., a World War II Navy veteran.
Of himself, Horace said he was the kid who read books with a flashlight under the covers after dutifully turning off the lights. Perhaps these were the early years of both his literary thirst and his resistance.
After graduating from Dunbar High School, Horace enrolled at Bowling Green State University of Ohio, majoring in English and participating in the Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC). He was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Epsilon Theta chapter, and is remembered by his brothers as one who mesmerized with his "intellect and savoir faire." While attending BGSU, Horace was also a reporter and photographer for The BG News campus newspaper and held an internship with the Dayton Daily News. He earned the Bachelor of Arts Degree in English in 1965.
Following graduation, Horace was commissioned into the United States Air Force as a Second Lieutenant. After assignments in Panama City, Florida, and at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, he left for Ca Mau, Vietnam in February 1967.
In Ca Mau
In Ca Mau the women
sweep the canal with their oars
on the way to the floating fruit market
grapelets with husks stacked in slender sampans
The Americans in Ca Mau eat tin-skinned food
play prostitute roulette
rigid love with rifles under the bed
The people race bicycles on Sundays
children play soccer on the parade ground
pigs walk the streets alone but
GIs ride 6 to a fast jeep
In the forest of U Minh
500 pound bombs fall 5 miles
and shake the yellow palm- thatched huts
and the yellowed stucco houses
and the yellow tent O Club in Ca Mau
Soldiers hunt communist water buffalo
with quad .50s and infra-red
they scream howitzers at suspicious rice
but one bullet
makes a helicopter a shotgunned duck
one rocket trips the man- blind radar
off its legs and the Americans leave
and the women sweep after them.
In a few months, he was transferred to Saigon where his duties as an intercept director/air traffic controller continued. He was officially credited with ninety-nine saves of aircraft and crews and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service.
His tour of duty in Vietnam ended in February, 1968, when he flew out in the midst of the Tet offensive. Back stateside, he held assignments at Topsham AFS, Maine, Richards-Gebaur AFB, Missouri, and Fort Lee, Virginia.
Captain Horace W. Coleman was honorably discharged in June, 1970.
Having committed to a writing career, he was accepted into the inaugural (Fall 1970) Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Bowling Green State University, under the mentorship of Dr. Frederick Eckman. Horace arrived back in Ohio just a few weeks following the Kent State shootings which occurred on his birthday. Profoundly affected by his experiences in Vietnam, his passionate portrayals of the war's ramifications addressed every aspect of the conflict.
Still Life with Dead Hippie
Kent State, May 4, 1970
It's all in the point of view.
Suppose you have your
sophored out sophomore
slumped on the sidewalk
in the foreground.
Never made it to the bar.
His buddy's embarrassed
& his girl's outraged.
No fun tonight, Hon!
Or, maybe there's this
feminist witch exercising
her anger on this
newly stricken MCP
while the stunned bastard
in bell bottoms looks for reasons.
It could be a pink- faced VC broad
trying to grasp the life that's
just flown from your
unfavorite dumb son. And
she has no right to cry out
in plain sight, to be so
full of pain. You have to
blame her for
the cluck's bad luck.
Of course what it was,
was these dirty, rotten,
vicious whore kids—
standing around watching
the overarmed, undertrained
National Guard about to go wild.
And yeah, those kids were fools
some of them, believing in democracy
and free speech and other book stuff
as if it belonged in the real world
Out there chuking rocks & slogans & curses.
Full of dope, sex, & unAmerican
antiwar ideas. They were coming
out of class,out of their stupor
sitting on & smoking grass.
Reminding you that
something's wrong & someone has to do something. So, it's their fault
that it's not their fault.
Then we all find out
there were no snipers
or syphilitic commie call girl
recruiting on campus &
that girls was just
a terrified runaway barley
old enough to bleed but
just the right age to
understand the deed.
And did you ever notice
how that cheap statue
down there in Columbus
of the used car salesman
toting those forged registrations
past the Capitol building
looks just like Governor Rhodes?
Horace received his MFA degree from Bowling Green State University in 1972 and began a career of writing, teaching, commentary, and active pursuit of peace and justice.
What could Horace Coleman not do? Teacher, poet, essayist, technical writer. A faculty member at universities from Ohio to California. An Artist in the Schools residency where he taught young students his art. Public Information Officer for the Ohio Department of Health. Proposal writer, technical writer, and editor in the private sector. Writer for the Ohio Arts Council. Marketing and Sales Process Specialist at McDonnell Douglas/Boeing. He was awarded an Individual Arts Grant by the Ohio Arts Council and a Senior Fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, Massachusetts.
And he continued writing, always through the unwavering, unfiltered eyes of the veteran, especially the black veteran.
A Downed Black Pilot
Learns How to Fly
"Now that the war is over,
we'll have to go back
to killing each other.
But, I'll send my medals to Hanoi
and let them make bullets
if they'll ship my leg back.
And, if they mail me an ash tray
made from my F4C,
they can keep the napalm as a bonus.
Next time I'll wait and see
if they've declared war on me —
or just America."
A single-spaced bibliography of Horace's publications—poems, essays, reviews, commentary—would itself fill pages. In addition to his two collections of poetry, Between a Rock and a Hard Place and In the Grass, published by Vietnam Generation, Inc. & Burning Cities Press, his work appears in newspapers, journals, textbooks, on-line publications, anthologies (including Carrying the Darkness edited by W.D. Ehrhart).
Ehrhart writes that Coleman: "better than any other Vietnam War poet, presents in his 'OK Corral East/Brothers in the Nam' poems the ironic juxtaposition of the American Frontier and the black American's newly enraged consciousness. Using an allusive compression unusual in Vietnam War poems, Coleman portrays accurately and ominously the black/white confrontation that pervaded the '60s, showing that this war within the war may have transcended the obvious shooting hostilities. Black/white imagery controls many of his poems. [W.D. Ehrhart, Unaccustomed Mercy: Soldier-Poets of the Vietnam War, Texas Tech University Press, 1989]"
Horace wrote numerous articles for, and was committed to the work of, Veterans for Peace, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). He was a regional contact person for both organizations and a lifetime member of VVAW.
Notes for the
Veteran's War Protest
Ralph: concerning plans for the local march, the following:
- Saw the weary demonstration in Washington, the burning faces of our sad boy warriors throwing their medals at the president.
- Think we should emulate but not copy, so: when the delegation arrives at the state capitol first read the petition:
"We are not afraid to kill. We are sorry we murdered our souls. We did as told but we learned how to say NO! Stop it. Or we will stop you. Don't resist. You can't stop the ghosts you made of us."
- Next, have those who lost legs crawl forward and neatly stack them. Then bowl the skull of your best killed buddy down the aisle.
- Finally, have the blind push the quadriplegics forward They will have knives in their teeth to give to the legislators to use on themselves. We leave. If they don't use them we
PS. Save the instructions for your grandkids. They'll come in handy.—hc
Of himself, Horace Coleman wrote, "[I have] survived two marriages, a major illness, a car wreck, and the current sorry state of humanity and the economy."
He is survived by two daughters, Brooke Danielle Coleman and Akeiisa Elizabeth Coleman; one son, Drake Anthony Coleman; a sister, Lynette Coleman; brother, MacGregor Coleman, his former wives, Gwendolyn Rosemond and Charlaine Vitarelli, and an extended family of cousins, friends, and writers.
Contributions can be made in the name of Horace W. Coleman, Jr., to:
Veterans for Peace
c/o Pat Alviso
775 Havana Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90804-4450
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
(Option for on-line
or mail-in donation)