My Perspective: Powerful impact of Vietnam-era songs

Appearing in this edition of the newspaper is our “Heroes Remembered” special section, a 20-page section honoring our fallen soldiers.

Vietnam Memorial Soldiers by Frederick Hart. One of the most visited monuments in Washington, D.C. is Hart’s heroic bronze statue The Three Soldiers, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, dedicated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Photo from Library of Congress, by Carol M. Highsmith.

In past years, we have featured soldiers from WWI and WWII, the Korean War, and Operation Desert Storm, among other conflicts. When we do special sections like this one, we search for the best stories. Typically, this results in stories from different wars and different eras. For this “Heroes Remembered,” the stories that rose to the top were nearly all from the Vietnam War.

I am too young to remember the days of the Vietnam War, but I have always been drawn to its stories. Over the years, I have talked with probably 200 or 300 soldiers and family members who were impacted by the war in some way. They use words and phrases like “complicated,” “frustrating,” “angry,” “life changing” and “controversial” when remembering that time period.

Besides being drawn to the stories of Vietnam, I am also drawn to the music that was produced as a result of the war. The music is powerful and emotionally charged.

While I was laying out the pages of “Heroes Remembered,” I turned on some music on my computer. I used the site, Pandora, which allows you to name artists or eras or genres and then it will play a variety of music based on your preferences. I had it set to play a variety of songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s. During the first hour of layout, I heard two songs that were released during the peak years of the Vietnam War. Like most of them, they were protest songs — Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival (1969) and War, by Edwin Star (1970). Not only did I think it was ironic that these songs came on as I was laying out these pages, I also found it inspirational. The stories and photos on the pages suddenly had a little more meaning.

The music of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was peppered with protest songs relating to Vietnam. And if you look at the song titles and lyrics, it sort of reads like a history book of the era.

Some of the songs from that time include What Are You Fighting For, by Phil Ochs (1963), Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire (1965), Bring ‘em Home, by Pete Seeger (1966), Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die, by Country Joe & the Fish (1967), Waist Deep in the Big Muddy, by Pete Seeger (1967), Give Peace a Chance, by John Lennon (1969) and War, by Edwin Starr (1970).

Perhaps my favorite Vietnam War song came out years later by Billy Joel, as a tribute to the men and women of the Vietnam days. It’s called Goodnight Saigon. I got chills the first time I really listened to that song. Here is a sample of the lyrics from that song:

“We had no cameras to shoot the landscape

We passed the hash pipe

and played our Doors tapes

And it was dark, so dark at night

And we held on to each other

Like brother to brother

We promised our mothers we’d write”

– Billy Joel, Goodnight Saigon, 1982

It has been more than 50 years since the first U.S. combat troops arrived in South Vietnam. Some died fighting. Some died helping. Some died after leaving Vietnam from the effects of Agent Orange. Others struggled mightily when they came back from war and never were able to recover.

The “Heroes Remembered” special section is a platform to remember fallen soldiers. It is not a political publication. There are no editorial opinion columns in there. No condemning. No harsh judgment. It is an opportunity for the Sr. Perspective and its readers and advertisers to honor some brave men and women, and most importantly, say “Thanks.”

#HeroesRemembered #MemorialDay #Vietnam

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