Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

The Steel Hand Of Death and Other Poems

by Al Larson

The Steel Hand of Death


I've known the cold pain of fear
And felt the steel hand of death
That came into our very midst
To steal a friend's life giving breath

"Missing in Action", they said.
No chute was seen, no beeper heard
Those of us who knew him well
Know his fate with no further word

wall6.JPG Early, in '66, there was Tom.
Over Hanoi, his 105 went down in flame
A "lucky" one, capture was his fate.
He's never seen the son that bears his name.

Later, it was my friend Don.
His chute was seen and beeper heard
"Missing in Action" his folks were told
Years later, they have no other word.

I'd worked and flown with Rich.
No better man has shared my time
A patriot, killed in action
A rising star, felled in his prime.

wall5.JPG I always felt akin to Joe.
His smile, his ways, his love of life
Brought joy to all who lost
This friend, who dearly loved his wife.

And so you say, "You came , too?
Aren't you afraid your breath
Will be taken, as theirs,
By the steel hand of death?"

"Yes," I say, "I know the fear."
But that is not at all the key
No fear, no torture, no pain
Can ever place life over liberty!

The poem above was written in 1968 during the first week of my Vietnam tour.

I was pondering the question, "Is there anything worth dying for?"

The four men mentioned by name in this poem are Tom Browning (Class of 64, POW), Don Spoon (Class of 64, POW), Rich Edwards, my mentor at Craig AFB, and Joe Pirrocello, a fellow instructor at Craig AFB. Tom and Don survived their internment, and returned with honor.

The un-named friend in the first stanza is Bob Lodge, '64 . He represents the high price freedom demands of the youth of our nation.

Bob, Rich and Joe found their place in history on the Vietnam Memorial.

Read Bob Lodge's history, and Steve Ritchie's stories for more details on Bob's shootdown.

Read Don Spoon's story of his worst day ever.

Testi Ad Murem


"Testi Ad Murem"
The patch said,
"Balls to the Wall!"

I found the believers,
Etched in glass.


The short poem above was written in 1986 after my first visit to the Vietnam Memorial. The motto is from the patch for my pilot training class, Class 66B at Vance AFB. Al McArtor and I designed the patch.

My Country's Call

Of those, to whom much is given,
Much shall be asked.
I have been given
Far more than I merit.

That my call should exceed
That of others
Is only just.
I have had more than others.

I answer my country's call,
Afraid, but with courage,
Sadly, but with faith,
That our cause is just.

Proudly, to find
That I am ready.
Willingly, to give
Whatever I must.

Ready, to stand between war
And my beloved land.
Prayerfully, that God may
Lend a helping hand.

The above was written during the second part of my Vietnam tour. I am eternally thankful that God did see me safely through my tour.
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