I Shot a Tree


Smoke spreads over the scorched earth from natural summer fires caused by heat

I shot a tree to death on my way to Viet Nam. My first war crime. I knew I was going to die and didn’t want to die alone. During jungle combat training, I had to qualify with the M-16. I picked out a tree. Was it a spruce? I cannot remember.



“What the f*** you shooting at?” the range officer screamed at me. I filled the tree with lead until it could stand no more. It tottered and crashed. Grief, rage and shame coursed through me. I was at war. I came back broken and crushed but alive, more or less. The tree died.



I loved trees as a boy. I often spent a day in a maple or hemlock. I loved to be in them when they swayed in a breeze.



I’ve planted a thousand trees or more since I came home from war, hundreds of pines, firs, spruce and hemlock. I planted oaks and maples, dogwoods, too. I’ve planted apple and peach, cherry, plum and pear.



I have been to war. I am a killer. My sorrow knows no limit.



I am still planting trees.



Everett Cox, Warwick NY