Fanfare for Forgotten Veterans

Chippewa Falls poet’s two volumes focus on PTSD, Vietnam experience

Andrew Patrie, photos by Andrea Paulseth

FROM REVEILLE TO TAPS. Steve Maddox, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, has publised a two-volume book of poetry focusing on veterans’ experiences.
FROM REVEILLE TO TAPS. Steve Maddox, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, has publised a two-volume book of poetry focusing on veterans’ experiences.

Consider, for a moment (and may that moment stretch like your shadow in the day’s decline), humanity’s affinity for armed conflict. Consider, too, its reluctance to attend to the fragmented aftermath beyond hollow slogans (“Mission accomplished!”) and vague exhortations (“Support the troops!”). Meanwhile, according to poet Steve Maddox, “Each passing day, we lose more than 20 veterans, not to the horrors of combat or to the mettle-testing demands of military service, but rather to the terrible ravages of suicide,” an outcome sadly borne by myriad military personnel afflicted with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). That’s something he hopes to rectify, in some small way, through the official release of his two volume poetry collection, Rhapsody in Olive Drab (Joylof Press, 2017), which sounds as both wakeup call to the masses (“Volume 1: Reveille”) and eulogy for those fallen (“Volume 2: Taps”), at 7pm Wednesday, May 16, at the Chippewa Falls Public Library.

“I hope any vets in the audience recognize the fact that they are not alone, not isolated, not left to figure things out entirely on their own.” – Steve Maddox, poet

I speak with Maddox, a 73-year-old retired businessman, veteran of the American war in Vietnam (he was a U.S. Army infantry captain in country 1968-69), and proud resident of Chippewa Falls, on an April afternoon, fitting as it is National Poetry Month and we are ensconced (Wis-conced?) in a foot of newly fallen snow. Silver haired, oak-like in stature and frame, and gregarious of disposition, there is no mistaking him in a crowded room.

I ask him about the project’s genesis. “The work contains over 80 pages of writing,” he reveals, “some of which dates as far back as my return from war. Other pieces were days old when the book went to the publisher last fall. Many were composed to commemorate occasions at The Highground” – a veterans memorial in Neillsville where Maddox has served as a board member since 2001– “while others deal with personal reminiscences, observations, and unsolicited commentary. It moved from my bucket list to my ‘time has come’ list when I felt I had amassed enough good material to comprise a varied and interesting collection.”

Of significant note is Maddox’s intention to donate all proceeds from book sales to The Highground’s PTSD program. “PTSD is all too real a problem as is the almost unbelievable toll taken by suicide among our returning service personnel,” he asserts. “I had to find a way to make some contribution, however small, toward improving the lot of PTSD sufferers and lowering the number of service-related suicides.”

This is, of course, what Maddox hopes audiences will ultimately take away from his work. “I hope the poems will cast some light on the shadows in which far too many veterans lose themselves,” he explains, a sentiment poignantly expressed in “The Round You Never Hear (PTSD)”: “… a place into which the mind sinks/when reason itself becomes unimaginable,/where souls shrink and shrivel/and self-destruction sings/its siren-song to welcoming ears.”

“I hope any vets in the audience recognize the fact that they are not alone, not isolated, not left to figure things out entirely on their own,” he continues. “The load is being shouldered by such a small percentage of our citizenry and we, as a people, a nation, take so much for granted. I am not trying to, nor would I see myself as able to, champion a cause. I would like to stir things up some, make folks squirm a bit in their complacency, and point out deep and crying need.”

Indeed, it is this world for which Maddox advocates, with word and action, a world removed from simple sloganeering and ribbon-wearing, a world beyond “the few, remembering the fewer still,” (“The Few, Revisited”).