Musical refrains from Rock & Roll songs helped get me through the Vietnam War. I didn’t know all the lyrics of the songs, only those short parts where I’d stop what I was doing and raise my voice in unison with the lead singer.
“We gotta get out of this place.
If it’s the last thing we ever do.
We got to get out of this place.
Girl, there’s a better life for me and you!”
I realized several years later that the song was expressing a young man’s desire for him and his girlfriend to escape the community, the neighborhood, that was keeping them from growing, from loving, and even from hoping.
Next came that wonderful sound we all sang in hopes of someday leaving Southeast Asia:
“I’m leaving . . .
On a jet plane.
Don’t know when I’ll be back again.”
Leaving on a jet plane.
Leaving . . . “
That was the offering from Peter, Paul and Mary, singing a song written by John Denver. Who cared what the rest of the words said or who it might have been addressed to? I felt I was leaving just about every time I heard the song. I needed to “get out of this place” when Eric Burdon and the Animals sang their music.
James Taylor provided us troops with several tunes, including “Fire and Rain.” I listened to the music while resting with my platoon in the rear area of the jungle. The rear was a base camp, a secured area which saw minimal action, as opposed to the field or the “bush” where the grunts — the infantry men — would hump for fourteen days straight on search and destroy missions. You couldn’t hear any music while humping in the bush, just the music of your heart beat reminding you to be careful where you walked.
The songs gave me hope. They reminded me of yesterday and the fabulous tomorrows that would come once your tour of duty would come to an end and all of us got back home safely.
(Fifty-five thousand of our young men from the United States and its territories’ never made it back home.)
The only refrain I ever wanted to hear once I got out of Nam, was a folk song that sprung from an old “Negro Spiritual” sung here by the great Blues singer Leadbelly from You-Tube.
Give a listen. You’ll never want to study war no more, my friend. No matter who may ask you to take up arms again.
(Desert Storm and Iraq War as well as Afghanastan War veterans I’m sure have their own songs that they remember helped to keep them alive and sane while they were in harm’s way. We share a comraderie that only warriors might know, those of us who have seen the ugly face of war and hope our children will never have to suffer the same thing for the politicians who never experienced the heat of battle or the wounds to your body, heart and mind.)