Jerry Gold works in a correctional facility in Seattle. His novel Sergeant Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the great classics of the Vietnam War.
That night I neither ate nor spoke and
I refused the chaplain's offer to sit
with me. None of this was out of anger.
I was just too sick from fear to eat, speak,
or be with another human being.
They came for me at ten
on Thursday evening and brought me from
my cell to the death chamber. There were guards,
a doctor, the warden, and others. They spoke
to each other but not to me. When they
looked at me, or at least in my direction,
it was as though I were invisible. A ghost.
A migrant soul perhaps. For a while
I almost believed I had already died; when
I dug my nails into my palms I felt nothing.
At eleven-thirty the
warden's eyes came for a moment to rest
on mine. Then he looked at the chair and
nodded. Guards carried me to the chair, for
I could no longer walk, and strapped me
into it. I felt vaguely ashamed of how
I knew I must appear to those who had
earlier refused to look at me.
When the gas was released he fell forward.
He was lightly built and as he had no belly
to impede him, he bent until his head
nearly touched his knees. Then he sat erect
again, his chin raised a little so that
he appeared to be looking at the ceiling.
He sat like this for several minutes,
as many as five. During this time his
lips moved and he appeared to be speaking.
Some observers since have claimed he said this
or he said that, painting his words, if they
were words and not simply sounds, with the
color of their own prejudices or desires.
As for me, I will attest that I observed
his lips move, but I heard neither word nor
other sound come from them. After four or
five minutes he fell forward and did not again