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Sunday, March 20, 2016

Inspired by Poe—"Taps Tell Tales"

In honor of National Poetry Month coming up, I asked for some topic requests from my followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Earlier, I posted a response/reply to a Frost poem, and now I am following up with a (very) short story, inspired by The Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. Although not a poem, it is in keeping with the overall theme I think so here it is: "Taps Tell Tales" (also suggested by Jessica L.).

“Knock-Knock, Knock-Knock”

And so it was that my two partners and I—aroused in the early morning by similar door knocks, and summoned to our police station for a complaint—came to be with this babbling moron. A man of such quick tongue, he was, that we took several tries to just barely understand that he had awakened himself in the night with a shriek—that selfsame shriek that had brought the local town busybody to each of our homes at this godforsaken hour of the morning. And such a maudlin morning, fairly dripping with the mist of a coming storm front and heavy with heat, that we found ourselves wandering aimlessly behind this idiot, a shortish man of about twenty-eight years but with some disfigurement that I can’t even begin to imagine the cause of—perhaps some disease. Listening to him prattle on about how well-kept the old man’s home was, how precise and irreproachable was the state of his expensive wall coverings, how there were no missing items to account for a robbery—something we hadn’t suspected until he himself mentioned it—how the old man’s visits to the pasture land of his family’s holdings kept him too far and too long away from this unblemished fa├žade of living well. At length, he gabbed about searching the home, about how no thing would be missing from its place, let alone stolen away from the site—since there was no way that any burglary or robbery or other crimes were being, or had been, committed here, with the old man gone away for such a trip.

And after a nearly hour-long diatribe that continued through every room in the home, the man blathered about each thing in the old man’s bedroom, a chest of treasures and jewelry and expensive items set on the mantel of his fireplace. He described every item we encountered with such an elongated and detailed nonsense narrative that I began to suspect that this man, himself, might be a candidate for a doctor’s care—a doctor and a straitjacket, perhaps—and then he had the audacity to withdraw from the room long enough to obtain four creaky, malformed wooden chairs and bid us to ensconce ourselves upon them so he could bend our already misgiven ears even more. I looked, resignedly, toward our police captain—an otherwise impatient and querulous man—whose very look bade me wait, to see what the imbecile would make a clean breast of, since it seemed pretty unimpeachable that he was doing things which would eventually take up residence in his speech. I was quite already tired when I happened to glance through the bedroom’s sole window, to note the streaks of darkish blue were being coaxed into lighter shades, the coming morning desperately trying to wish away our host even from so far away as the Eastern horizon’s first thoughts of sun. It was then, in the barest beginning of morning twilight that I noticed that we hadn’t hardly seen this deranged man’s hands—his talking was always done with a tremendous speed of jaw and eyes, but his hands remained clasped firmly together behind his back, or buried completely within the pockets of his ill-kept, dirty woolen trews: stained as I noticed for the first time with a ruddy brown, seemingly still-wet smear at about mid-thigh—a line across this front, about as high as a bathtub’s rim—and that in addition to hiding his hands he jittered as a man who had taken too much of the snuff box, or whose coffee was too strong. Every sitting moment was accompanied by a bouncing of the leg, or a tapping of the foot—mystery music dancing through this half-wit’s malfunctioning brain and manifesting through constant, rhythmic, beating moments. Moments that tapped out a strangely familiar tempo, one that I couldn’t quite recall but was as intimate ….

Intimate as my own beating heart. The heart that beat in my chest was nearly replicated by this fatuous, puerile man-child’s foot-knocking, as insistent as the coming morning and just as impetuous. And as we were all sitting around, laughing at this fool’s yammering on about this and that, I noted that the very blood of the dimwit’s face seemed to drain, and the tapping of his foot became impossible to ignore, loudly and more forceful it became, seemingly out of all control of the simpleton. Until finally it was almost as if he were now doing it on purpose, an attempt perhaps to distract us from the now gibberish he was speaking—when he suddenly stood and screamed “Villains! Dissemble no more!”—and proceeded to direct us to the dismembered body of the old man, buried under the planks in his own bedroom. At once, we took him into custody as he continued to babble, relating the extensiveness of his preparations and precautions. Hastily, we sped him to the jail, whereupon he broke into a shuddering sob as we shut and secured his cell and proceeded to post a watch: no doubt, he may try to end his own life, as he had that of the old man’s. During his stay with our watch, who carefully took down word by word whatever came from the lunatic’s mouth, he confessed entire to the murder of the man—and, more, set aside his own desires to elaborate on the crime at length. That story now rests in the office of the judicial clerk, where the trial will soon be over.

Hanged, I think, will be the end. Hanged by his neck, till death greets him coldly—and, without knocking.

In honor of National Poetry Month (April)

In honor of the upcoming National Poetry Month, I've asked my Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ followers to suggest topics on which they'd like to see me write a poem.

I had a couple of requests right away. This is the first one: a response/reaction to Robert Frost's immortal poem "The Road Not Taken." Here is "Tread Anew," my response/reaction to that. (Suggestion by Jessica L.)

Tread Anew

—Bacil Donovan Warren

Heel-to-toe, I walk alone a path others shun
Miles and miles it takes me astray
And though the night leads back to day
And I meander still under the rising sun
I regret not a single moment of this way.

It passes by a village where they are afraid—
Never step off familiar stair—
And as they breathe their constant air
I prepare to lay myself, bare, in a bed made
Out of the travels and knowledge on a path rare.

Gazing as I do back up at blanketed gems
Of swiftly disappearing stars
Fading with morning’s orange scars
I feel the stare of one complacent, who condemns
My wand’ring, careless gait, never knowing my spars

With every step and each day’s kneeling down to rest
Never once sure about the next
Place where I am led by my treks
Nor do they know the constant, soul-destroying test:
Ever-present, and always on surprise subjects.

For even though this path that others fear to walk
Is strewn with obstacles galore—
Pits, cleverly concealed trap doors—
It is absolutely worth every single mock
And each of the condescending glares from the scores.

I tell them true, as I am only able to,
“I’d walk along this lonely street
Alone and free, on my bare feet
Sooner than with a single cookie-cutter you
Ride on the tired road, with other sheep, and bleat.”

Monday, March 14, 2016

Military History Monday: Battle of Kasserine Pass

Welcome back to Cogitations of a Semi-Pro Wordsmith and my weekly column Military History Monday! Today’s topic is the World War 2 Battle of Kasserine Pass, 19–25 February 1943. This battle represented the first US taste of combat against the forces of the Wehrmacht of Germany. Allied forces included the UK’s 6th Armoured Division and elements of the US Army’s II Corp. The US II Corps consisted of the 1st, 9th, and 34th Infantry Divisions, along with the 1st Armored Division. The Axis forces primarily included the German 21st and 10th Panzer Divisions, commanded by the “Desert Fox” Irwin Rommel.


Leading up to Kasserine Pass, things in North Africa had become tenuous for the Axis forces. Montgomery had already defeated their forces at El Alamein and had pushed through past Tobruk and taken Tripoli. US and UK troops had landed in Algeria and Morocco, behind the Axis forces in Tunisia, threatening to cut off the Axis forces in Africa from their supplies. Italian and German troops shifted from Sicily into Tunisia, and Rommel reoriented some of his forces to the west after the Allies gained a foothold on the eastern side of the Atlas Mountains.


On 19 February, Rommel sent two attacks against the Allied positions. The 21st Panzer division attacked to the north, against the UK 6th Armoured and their attached units, with most of the 10th Panzer attacking against the US 1st Armored at Kasserine. The attack of the 21st faltered, but the 10th saw success over the first two days, initially slowly but overnight between the 19th and 20th overran two US defensive positions and on the 20th inflicted heavy casualties on US defenders. Eventually, the Allied forces were displaced some 75–80 km to the West. On 21 February US defenders near Djebel el Hamra including elements of the 1st Armored and 1st Infantry Divisions held against a relentless attack by German and Italian forces. The next day, a counterattack by Allied forces pushed the Axis back. Over the next couple of days, Allied commanders mounted a defense against an Axis attack toward Thala, which resulted in heavy Allied casualties but prevented the Axis from taking the town and cutting the Allied defenders in half. Axis commanders including Rommel recognized their attack would be unsuccessful and elected to pull back to their original positions and concentrate their efforts against Montgomery’s 8th Army in Tripoli.

Outcome & Aftermath

The immediate outcome of the battle was that Axis and Allied forces essentially returned to the same positions they had been in on 18 February. Tactically, the battle revealed enormous problems with US military command structure, leadership, equipment failings, and troop training. Aside from casualties, which were very high, the US Army learned valuable lessons and relieved most of the senior commanders. Some of these lessons included training soldiers to not silhouette themselves at the tops of ridge lines, emphasizing that leaders perform personal recon of the terrain when possible, and a heightened focus on integrating infantry, artillery, armor, and tank destroyer units as combined arms forces.
Ultimately, the costly defeats suffered by the US forces at Kasserine resulted in a markedly improved fighting force, one that Rommel himself later would note had made drastic and positive changes in a relatively short period of time. In addition, the replacement of senior commanders resulted in a new commander and deputy commander of the US II Corps, in George S. Patton, Jr. and Omar Bradley. These two soldiers would be instrumental in improving the combat effectiveness and tactical flexibility of US forces in Europe.

Further Reading

Saturday, March 12, 2016

More new poetry: "Undeserving"

To paraphrase a quote by William B. Sprague (and recently revived in my memory by my writing buddy @BAWilsonWrites), sometimes you heat the iron, then strike it; and sometimes, it heats because you strike it. For me, occasionally, writing anything opens a floodgate of other writings. Tonight, apparently, it's one of those nights. Insomnia helps, as well.

—Bacil Donovan Warren

I sat alone, a wayward soul
And thought about the past
That time that heaven bent to help,
And on its help I passed

I stood aloft, above the fray
A giant towering high
Vicissitudes were beneath me there
Untouchable was I

I didn’t see, and never dreamed
The morass that I stirred
Was wholly caustic just to think:
The truth that I demurred

But when the spire I lived within
Finally rotted through
Destroyed by thoughts created by
My narcissistic view

I sank into the swamp I’d made
—Which I’m still swimming in—
And swore to hate the heaven
For not giving me my win

A win I thought that should be mine
Simply for being me
Her love should just appear
And now, at long last, I can see

I absolutely don’t deserve and never will possess
The love she bears: that is reserved for men who aren’t a mess.

Friday, March 11, 2016

New Poetry: "Again it starts, again it finishes"

Just in time for midnight local time, a new poem.

Again it starts, again it finishes

-- Bacil Donovan Warren

Terror grips
The mind that slips
Into self-hating doubt

A thought renewed
My every feud
Is within and without

Not only fear
Seizes me here
But something that I see

Into my view
Comes someone who
Outclasses every me

I can’t compete
With younger heat
I do not have the face

I can’t sustain
Familial gain
I don’t possess the grace

He swoops in now
I don’t know how
The better choice is clear

What I suspect
My life, a wreck
Away from me she’ll steer

And as it always has before, I lose another one
My heart reveals, another steals, and I am come undone.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Another 5-star review for With It or in It on Amazon

R. Schultheis says it "brilliantly captures what is the rarely described gritty and demanding life of an armor crewman." (5 stars). Buy the eBook of With It or in It on Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo, or the paperback on Amazon today!

Teaser Thursday: A short entry from *With Honor, and with Courage*

Teaser Thursday returns! Today, here's a short sample from a work-in-progress, a novel about a US Army tank crewman in Lithuania with his unit, when the (almost) unthinkable happens: a deliberate attack against the US and NATO units in Lithuania by Russian forces. The novel is tentatively titled With Honor and with Courage, and I'm hoping to have it ready in 2017.

I looked at my watch. Almost time to go REDCON 1. I tapped sergeant Beach on his arm, and said over the intercom “sar’nt, I’m gonna check the turret one last time.” He nodded and I hopped out of my hatch. I checked both side sponson boxes, closed and latched. I double checked the tarp and the bustle rack, to make sure the fold covered all our crap and was tied down, but still accessible: check. I leaned over and checked the hatches on the back deck, which were all closed and secured. The crosswind sensor was upright and latched. I checked the TC’s .50: locked & loaded; same with my Mark-19 grenade launcher. I slipped back down inside the turret, and made sure the coax was locked and loaded, then popped open the ready ammo door just to visually record the layout. I stowed the knee switch and the door closed with that satisfying thunk it always made. We were ready for war.
At exactly 08:10 zulu, the LT gave his short count over the radio. At the end of the countdown, Dock started the engine. I turned the radio back on, and assumed my standing position: facing the left rear of the tank, observing for enemy helicopters and aircraft. I left the grenade launcher oriented up and front instead of spinning it around like I normally would, at least until we got clear of the AA and started heading to the LD. I knew myself and that weapon well enough to know I wouldn’t accidentally discharge it, but there’s no sense in even looking like you’re tempting fate. She’s a stone-cold bitch like that, and will fire off a grenade from your launcher just for thinking about traversing it early.
We sat in our troop coil, waiting for … I don’t know exactly what. Bodacious, my magnificent tank, only had the one radio and it was tuned to the 1st platoon frequency. Although technically each platoon has its own frequency, we often shared one or the other between the tank and scout platoons, to make it easier for the platoon leaders to share information. Since we can only monitor one frequency on this tank, we kept it on the platoon frequency, which meant we couldn’t hear any of the other chatter at the troop or higher level.
Finally, after what seemed like a half hour we heard the scout platoon sergeant on the radio: “Red and White elements, prepare for movement. Red elements line up on Red 1 and Red 4.” The Strykers pulled out of their positions in the coil, and started heading out toward the road 500 meters ahead that served as the Line of Departure.
“Alright Dock, slow and easy back hard left.” SSG Beach wanted to pull back first, to line up in the direction of movement rather than pull straight out from our coil position. It’s a trait of tankers borne out of the necessity to never pull forward of a firing or other stationary position, lest the enemy be waiting on you.
I heard the whine of the engine as Dock put it in reverse, and the metallic THUD of the transmission engaging, then felt a slight jerk as he slowly applied power. I crept up a little bit, standing on the edge of the turret ring rather than on my loader’s seat/platform, to get better eyes behind the tank. SSG Beach was also directing his eyes rearward, over the right side of the turret.
“Okay, straighten out, back up about fifteen more meters.”
Dock leveled out the handles, and gave it a little bit of gas. I grabbed the skate ring for support, and stepped back down onto the standing platform. I look a last look around with my bare eyes at the deep green of the forest and grass around us. I pulled down the goggles to cover my eyes and pulled up my “tanker’s kerchief”—really, just a bandana in the US Army’s “scorpion” camouflage pattern—to keep the dust out of my mouth and nose. It gets a little hard to breathe occasionally, especially when it’s humid like this, but it’s better than digging dirt out of your teeth and nose for a year afterward.
“Got it Dock. Pull out.” Dock slowly applied the brakes, then I felt and heard the THUD of the tranny dropping into gear. With a slight wobble, we began moving forward about 10 mph or so. I resumed my rearward facing guard position, but this time I traversed my magnificent Mark-19 grenade launcher. Sometimes, I miss the machine gun, but right now is not one of those times. I could see the TOC and the rest of the troop combat trains getting assembled behind us to our left rear, about 300 meters, and the CO’s tank pulled over toward the main village road. Blue and Green platoons were over on the other side of the village doing the same thing we were, barely visible through the slight haze from the dust of our movement. I could see Green 3, roughly on line with us now, before they pulled forward of the edge of Kazimieravas and became obscured by the foliage.

“Good to go Dock, hold here.” SSG Beach looked over and lined us up with the rest of White platoon, and we waited again.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Military History Monday: the Zulu Buffalo Horns

Welcome back to Military History Monday! Today’s topic is the Zulu Buffalo Horns formation largely credited to the Zulu chieftain Shaka. While the buffalo horns formation was used as a hunting tactic prior, Shaka is usually noted as having adapted it to a military one. It was used to great success even against the technologically superior British forces at Isandlwana on 22 JAN 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu war.

Zulu and southern African tactics before Shaka

Before Shaka’s rise, the vast majority of conflict on the African plain was usually small-scale raids. There was occasional direct conflict between forces. Such conflict often involved stylized formations, taunts, even celebratory gatherings. These rarely resulted in large-scale slaughters or high casualties.
As Shaka rose to power in the Zulu clan, he began making changes to how his warriors fought, as well as which tools they used. He modified the existing spear (the assegai), creating a shorter spear with a wider blade point (the iklwa), and improving the shields they used. In addition, he changed their tactics to employ the buffalo horns (impondo zenkomo) formation in battle, among other changes.

Details of the Buffalo Horns

The impondo zenkomo formation consisted of three main elements:
        The “Chest” (in essence, the main body)
        The “Horns” (the left and right encirclement elements)
        The “Loins” (a final, reserve force)
In the short, here is how the formation worked:
The main body, or “chest” of the Buffalo would engage and pin the enemy force. The encirclement forces, or “horns” would then come around the enemy force on the left and the right, attacking them from the sides and rear while the main force continued to attract the majority of the enemy’s attention. The reserve, or “loins,” would wait until needed and would plug any parts of the formation that needed reinforcement.
The “chest” would be the best warriors, the strongest and most capable fighters. They would need to be able to charge into the enemy and stay engaged while the “horns” made their move around the flanks.
The “horns” would be the newest, and often youngest, warriors. They had to be fast. They were expected to move quickly around the enemy flanks and encircle them.
The “loins” would be the oldest and most experienced warriors. They were often hidden or had their backs turned toward the battlefield so that they wouldn’t get overeager and attack prematurely.
Though the formation itself was not invented by Shaka—encirclements as a tactic had a long history in other military forces—the Buffalo Horns formation was notable for Shaka’s focus on training his warriors to use it.


Once Shaka’s Zulu forces began using the Buffalo Horns formation routinely, they were able to subjugate several nearby tribes. Eventually, the Zulu became the most prominent and dangerous tribe in eastern south Africa. They were dangerous enough in battle against other, similarly equipped tribal forces, but also succeeded against a technologically superior force of British regulars at the Battle of Isandlwana, slaughtering the British force with their spears, cowhide shields, and Buffalo Horns formation even against the Martini-Henry rifle-equipped 1st of the 24th British Foot soldiers.


During Shaka’s reign, the Zulu transformed from one of the many tribes in the eastern part of south Africa, in the modern areas of Swaziland, southern Mozambique, Lesotho, and eastern South Africa, to the predominant tribe in the area. Although the Zulu were eventually defeated in war by the British, their military prowess under Shaka’s influence—including the use of the Buffalo Horns—led to significant change in the power and prowess of the Zulu. 

References and further reading

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Save on *With It or in It*!

Starting today until 17 March, 2016—the day of the 25th anniversary of our return to Ft. Bliss from the Middle East—you can buy With It or in It: Desert Shield and Desert Storm from the Loader's Hatch at the Kindle and Smashwords store for 25% off the retail price! On the Kindle Store, the price is discounted to $2.99, and on Smashwords use the coupon code BS23W to get 25% off ($2.99, down from $3.99).