The Fall of Dien Bien Phu 1954

Fifty Fow Joe


There was a place in Indochin

That sounded echos Death and Pain

A rally place for soldiers there

Among the emerald hills and fields

Heard the mortars “Thomp” and “WRAKK”

Beat the paste to mud and blood and rain,

In Ninteen Hundred and Fifty Fow. Yes Sir!


This valley, most unlikely

Caressed the leafed battalions lightly

Settled from the misty clouds,

And the native sons who greeted

From the hills of T’ai and Moi

With sheets of fire from shadows

Levied bloody tolls at early hour.


Yea, in Fifty-Fow, when you was

Ten and shootin’ cats eye on

The ground with dusty knuckles and

A dime yo mama gave for lunch

In Fifty Fow when white men

Locked the gates to Cicero’s

And Docta’ Jones kept two rooms

To wait, Fifty-Fow, Joe B’lieve that?


Well, ‘is battle went for weeks

And months, from first black hours

Of the hell. Weren’t no telling trees

From them who farmed the place before

The generals smiled. Black, wet maggots

Squirming on the carcass of the land,

Good Lord!


Each banner sported names of fingers

Of the the breast of Ann Marie

Viets had one called Lonsome Liberty

A sultry break, they called a truce.


Begun with shell shocked soldier

Staggered from the muck, and a meeting on

A floor of skin still hot from killing fire.

A look around for one or two still taking air

Puree of brain and bile and bone.

Once brothers in the march, “C’est mon amie

C’est fin pour vouz, adieu.”


Wez kids in Fifty-Fow when Rudolph laughed

And searched for a friend at yards edge

To ride his ‘wheel’ and sparkle smiles of white

Rudolph was a ‘nigra’ then and you was

White ta win, twas then the Viets rose

In cutting fire a ‘blazing at the fall

Of soiled kepis camped at Dien Bien Phu.


Ike was in and word was out,

Commie soldiers in the shouts

Of demagogues and Christian folk

Who feared the loss of all their smoke

Joe, some was real but some was bull

Always is when talk’s politicull.

Then Dulles played that card.


This battle for the points of land

I told you once, fought to the man

Beatris fell, then Gabriel

The wires were cut, “I can’t tell!”

Here they come! Open fire! Fix your blades!

They’ve over run in defilade

Good God!


Beneath the ground, ‘bout six feet

The surgeons cut trough hot meat.

The groans and stench of blood still wet

Think I need a cigarette!

The morgue was full, another hold

A thousand men, the cross, a chaplain’s bowl

Was awful Joe, in Fifty Fow.


Elain still stood and Ann Marie

When Bigeard, hopeful hero came.

If you moved, you dug like  moles

To find a place to fire or shoot your flame.

Days on end Joe. Where was exhaustion

In these men  from Notre Dame?

Commanders, broken hearted, to the surgeon went

To seek a touch of Jesus from Grawin.

A moment with the priest, for to confess

Emerged in glow of peace to win.

Oh Lord!


By the end of March, the Victory

Had faded out at Ann Marie.

Elaine, Huguette and Dominique

Held on to see brave captains seek

A strike on Viets near.

But even then the trenches moved

Close in, could hear the Viet’s pick axe

Hit the earth to them so dear.


Twas a lovely morn in Washington

Ike took jelly and hot toast, while

Reading stories in the Post, of games

He knew and wisely hushed his Chiefs.

The Commie was the Tiger then

Who must be sealed tight in his pen.


Tung used tongs and opened sculls

To cauterize l’corpuscles

Flowing down same as Frogs

The battle’s on boys! Place those logs!

Flies eggs and maggots ‘uld soon deliver

All dead soldiers to the river.


Speckled earth from chutes that lay

Rounded up the scattered slopes

Of weary men not yet fell

All remained was Isabelle

“Lay down your arms defeated ones!

The rest are done! You’ll see your sons

In time. But where’s the wolf Bigeard?”


Now, here’s the thing, I’ll make my point

The news rang out in every joint.

Baseball played into the night

Crackers four and Lookouts two,

I’da walked that player, wouldn’t you?


A poem by Michael Malsbary based on the account of this battle

By Jules Roy, The Battle of Dien Bien Phu,

Translated from French by Robert Baldick, Harper & Row, New York, 1965. I wrote this poem in the mid 80s,

imagining two veterans siting on a porch in rockers, one fellow recalling his hell,

told the other about Dien Bien Phu.

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