The Magnificent Storyteller: W.D Ehrhart Reveals What He Saw In Vietnam

Through our mutual friend Mike Gillen, about twenty years ago Medic met Vietnam vet and noted writer W.D. “Bill” Ehrhart. From time to time we trade emails.

Bill is an American poet, writer, scholar and Vietnam veteran. He’s been called “the dean of Vietnam war poetry.” Donald Anderson, editor of War, Literature & the Arts, said his Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir, is “the best single, unadorned, gut-felt telling of one American’s route into and out of America’s longest war.” A 1993 Pew Fellow in the Arts, Bill is a long time member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

After graduating from high school in June 1966, Bill joined the Marines, just in time for the Tet ’68 offensive, and the battle for Hue, where he was wounded. After the war Bill earned a B.A. at Swarthmore College, an M.A. at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and at fifty-two a Ph.D via the University of South Wales at Swansea University. He teaches at The Haverford School.

Known primarily as a “Vietnam War poet,” he has written essays and articles on radio disc jockeys, tugboats on the Delaware River, the Internal Revenue Service, and a variety of modern and contemporary poets. His wife and daughter are major sources of inspiration for his poetry. His poetry also reflects “his respect for nature, his love of friends, his active engagement with the world around him, and his consternation at the human condition.”

In 2020 VVAWs The Veteran published a talk Bill gave to students in Perkasie, PA, where he graduated from high school fifty-two years earlier. It begins:

Let me start by telling you that I am a 1966 graduate of Pennridge High School. I am also a veteran of the American War in Vietnam. I was not drafted. I volunteered for the US Marine Corps when I was 17 years old, went to Vietnam when I was 18 years old, and earned the rank of sergeant by the time I was 19 & ½ years old. I was wounded in combat, and eventually received the Good Conduct Medal and an Honorable Discharge.

My first memories of television, back in 1966, were of Soviet tanks crushing the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. I’d seen and heard Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the podium at the UN while shouting, “We will bury you.” I’d awakened one morning to the Berlin Wall, and I’d lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis. When Lyndon Johnson said that if we didn’t fight the Reds in Vietnam, we’d be fighting them on Waikiki Beach, it sounded very much as if my country needed me.

You can read the full text here.

Below, a 1990 interview in which Bill talks about his time in Vietnam.

The W. D. Ehrhart Archive is located in The Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War Collection at LaSalle University. Bill’s most recent book is Thank You for Your Service: Collected Poems.


source: wikipedia


Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir

Spring 2020, Volume 50, Number 1, VVAWs The Veteran

Vietnam Veterans Against the War

War, Literature and the Arts