Kilc Co by Les Kay

picture of Les Kay
Photo by Chilli Kay Vinson  

The poetic vignettes in Les Kay’s Kilo Co comprise the memoir of a warrior who fought and bled for his country, a country that betrayed him but which he continues to love as he loves his fellow marines, though he suffers from PTSD, which has made his life a bunker to defend against the continuing onslaughts of an invisible enemy. About the book, Chris Lynch, himself a finalist for a National Book Award, has written, “Through my work I have had the opportunity to examine hundreds of documents of all kinds — media treatments, the first-hand accounts of veterans and the sober accountings of historians — without ever experiencing quite the same feeling I get from Les Kay’s writing. Les Kay’s Kilo Co makes me feel one step closer to the folks who lived this stuff. Spare, generous, well-judged writing draws me in bit by bit. I feel like I’m much nearer to getting the warrior himself.” Vietnam veteran and prize-winning poet Doug Anderson says this: “Kay writes, ‘I went to ’Nam a Christian. I came back lost.’ These little prose poem/vignettes speak of the war inside the war that only the men on the ground knew. It was absurd, deranged, and we fought to stay alive as the reasons for the war receded into the fog.” And this from Marilyn Nelson, Poet Laureate Emerita of Connecticut: “Leslie Kay and I met as ninth graders. Though we went to different schools, we were friends and occasional dates — I still treasure a photograph of us at his junior prom — and we laughed together a lot. Then I moved 25 miles away to go to college, and Les enlisted in the Marine Corps. Years later Les told me some of his stories and asked me to turn them into poems. I was so humbled by his immense experiences I felt unworthy to write them down. Now he has. Each of these small pieces — call them what you will: poems? prose poems? vignettes? — provides a simple, enormous view into a soldier’s vast and broken heart.”
  Kilo CoA Vietnam Memoir by Les Kay cover image
  Cover photograph by Les Kay

Les Kay says this about his life: “My father, Les Kay, was a soldier during World War I. My mother, Cleopatra Reed Kay, was a ‘Rosie the Riveter’ in World War II. My enlistment began at Marine Corps Recruitment Depot, San Diego on 1 July 1966. In December, I set sail for ’Nam aboard the USS Eltinge. Upon my arrival I was assigned to Kilo 3/5, 1st Marine Division. I was a machine gunner in the 2nd platoon. We participated in many operations: Desoto, Union I, Union II, Pike, Adair, Calhoun, Cochise, and Swift. I suffered wounds to both my knees and my left hip during Operation Swift. It was a mortar round that sent me home. After lengthy stays in hospitals in ’Nam, Guam, and California, I was discharged from Treasure Island on 28 June 1968. My family and I now reside in Louisiana. God, guns, grits, and gumbo!”

Click here for sample vignettes and photo.
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ISBN 978-1-936482-85-6

Copyright © 2015 by E. Leslie Kay

5.5" x 8.5" paperback, 68 pages



Copyright ©2015 by E. Leslie Kay



“Do you love me?” it asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“Do you hate me?”
“Will you carry me?”
“Until I die,” I reply.
The Gun is like the telephone.
It allows you to “reach out and touch someone.”
Guns know their place.
A rifle is called a weapon, but the gun is
The Gun. Twenty-five pounds of kick-ass bad.
I still feel its heft; I still smell its breath.
I hope we never meet again.


The thousand-yard stare doesn’t develop quickly.
It comes from the remembrance of things past:
your first kiss, Boy Scout cook-outs, the State Fair,
riding in a ’58 Impala, sweet potato pie,
and playing in the park on a summer afternoon.

You’re looking for something that is not there.
You’re looking for...peace.

You can’t fake the stare. You earn it, one day at a time.

Les and team-leader Woody, bunkered and thousand-yarding


Mike Company was on the horn, giving us a heads-up.
They were receiving sniper fire on their left flank,
from just across the creek. We were on the path they were on,
but about one hour behind them.

My team – the gun team – was positioned behind the point team,
which consisted of four riflemen. Just before we reached the area
of this sniper attack we spotted a “Gook”
walking with a carbine on his shoulder. He spotted us too.

The point team dropped him with a short burst of fire.
They crossed the creek to retrieve his weapon.
The poor little guy was crawling, barely – still trying to get away.
“Is he dead?” the gunnery sergeant asked.
“Not yet,” the team answered. “Well, kill him,” the gunny ordered.

Gunny Armstrong and his radioman, Morales, were killed the next day.
Payback is a bitch.


I found the Vietnamese children to be polite, bright,
quick to pick up things, hard working, and clinging.
They were always tugging on my arms and legs. I think
they just enjoyed physical contact. I think, too, that
they liked to say my name, Kay. It was short, and similar
to their one-syllable names. They would say, “Kay, you
Number One, Kay.” The other Marines with me were
number ten, or fucking ten thousand. I was quiet.
They liked that. My comrades were usually pretty loud,
and most of the time disrespectful towards the peasants.

One little boy could shoot a dragonfly out of the air
with a slingshot. I’d need a shotgun to do that.

I saw another boy – not yet four feet tall – watching over
about a dozen water buffalo by himself. A large bull
was chasing a cow who was braying loudly.
When the cow ran past the kid, he stepped in the path
of the charging bull, put his arms up, and yelled something
to him in Vietnamese. The bull came to a skidding halt,
ending up on his back. He reversed his course and took off.
We Marines looked at each other with disbelieving eyes.

The children would latch onto my trouser leg, always
wanting something, but I didn’t mind. I enjoyed it.
A group of kids surrounded me as we were returning from
an operation. When I didn’t see one little boy
I was used to seeing, I asked where he was. The kids told me
that the VC had killed him, along with his family. That hurt.

There weren’t many happy highlights in ’Nam.
But the children provided a few of them:
moments of joy and innocence. And sorrow.


I often think about the ROK (Republic of Korea) Marine
lying in the bed next to the door of our hospital ward.
The mine that he stepped on had exacted a heavy price:
one arm gone, only two fingers and a thumb remaining
on the other arm, one leg missing and the other one gone
from the knee down.

He called out to me. When I went to his side, he took
my hand and placed it on his throat. “Beaucoup, beaucoup,”
he said, wanting me to kill him. “I can’t,” I whispered.
With tears in his eyes, he turned away.

I knew what would happen when he went home.
Rest easy, brother, rest easy.

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