“Wish You Were Here, Buddy!”

I was recently contacted by craig werner who’s writing a book on music and the Vietnam War. He’d read my reaction to Creedance’s “Fortunate Son” and wanted my perspective on what part music played in my experience, both during and after the war.

Needless to say, that got me thinking about my experiences, and one song stood out, this one by Pat Boone:

Well, hi there, buddy
Thought I`d drop you a line
I haven`t seen you
For a hundred years

When you get time
Will you let me know
If it`s true what a fella hears

Heard you been leading
Those campus demonstrations
You`re as busy as you can be
If the sit downs, walk outs
And others aggravate you
Bet you hardly ever think of me

Well, I`m on a little
Vacation in South Vietnam
And expense paid trip for one
I got my own little rifle
And a great uniform
And a job that must be done

For it’s sleeping in the jungle
And ducking real bullets
And man, it`s a lot of fun
Wish you were here
(Wish you were here)
Wish you were here
(Wish you were here)

I heard you let your hair grow
Til it`s hanging on your shoulders
And you hardly have time to shave
Bet the girls all flip
‘Cause you look so fine like
Something crawled out of a cave

Heard Uncle Sam
Done scared you to death
But you fooled him just in time
Just stuck a little match
To your old draft card
Then you burned up
A future like mine

Well, I`m on a little
Vacation in South Vietnam
And expense paid trip for one
I got my own little rifle
And a great uniform
And a job that must be done

For it’s sleeping in the jungle
And ducking real bullets
And man, it`s a lot of fun
Wish you were here
(Wish you were here)
Wish you were here
(Wish you were here)

Oh, I know you`re not scared
You’re a real brave guy
You’re a regular Cassius Clay
And I know you`da fought
When the country was young
But the world`s just different today

Well, you just stay home
And leave the fighting to us
And when the whole
Durn mess is through
I`ll put away my rifle
And the old uniform
And I`ll come looking for you

For it’s sleeping in the jungle
And ducking real bullets
And man, it`s a lot of fun
Wish you were here
(Wish you were here)
Wish you were here
(Wish you were here)

Wish you were here, old pal
(Wish you were here)
Wish you were here
(Wish you were here)
Wish you were here, little buddy
(Wish you were here)

I wanna introduce
You to them Comms
(Wish you were here)
Come on over and we`ll just
Hold em ’til you get here, okay
Wish you were here.

This was definitely one of the most played songs on the local GI station, along with Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking” and Barry Sadler’s “Song of the Green Beret.” Perhaps not surprisingly, I had one hell of a time finding the album to buy when I returned to the states. Apparently not everyone found it as humorous as I did. Amazingly, I still find it very funny, though perhaps for different reasons than I originally did.

I’m sure this is the only Pat Boone album, or song for that matter, I’ve ever purchased. I was always an Elvis fan; my older brother was an Pat Boone fan and I used to tease him over that. Pat Boone was/is a hopeless square, nothing else to say.

But this song reminds me of one of those old Bing Crosby/Bob Hope Road Movies that I used to love as a kid. I’m sure that most of us in Vietnam shared at least some of these feelings, though I don’t remember ever thinking “I’ll come looking for you.”

Considering my crewcut, the lines “Bet the girls all flip/ ‘Cause you look so fine like/ Something crawled out of a cave” must’ve certainly struck me as funny at the time, though they might not have seemed so funny a few years later when I had a beard and a pony tail and the border agents kept giving me strange looks when I traveled to Alaska.

Probably one of the few constants in my life has been the ability to stand back and laugh at myself, and others. My hiking partner Bill once stated that one of the things that stood out when we got ourselves into a “bad place” was that I would always laugh, probably thinking “Dumb Ass, how’d you get yourself in this mess.” the whole time.

Perhaps I learned that from my Dad at a very early age when we were out fishing and a storm would come up and waves would be breaking over the edge of the rowboat and he’d yell out, “Aren’t we having a great time?!” Looking back, and Thank God we COULD look back, he always seemed right.

Chase All the Clouds from the Sky

I can’t remember a time in my life when I haven’t been tuned into music, beginning with Bing Crosby. The first thing I ever bought with money I earned myself was Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” in 1956. And for the next two years the majority of the money I spent from my paper route was for music, everything from Harry Belafonte to Mahalia Jackson.

I managed to purchase music pretty steadily right up to 1970. I’ve been noticing recently that I have very little music from that era, and most of what I do have was bought after CD’s became popular. Of course, the fact that the Jackson 5 and the Bee Gee’s dominated the chart for some of those years might explain why I didn’t buy many records.

But I don’t own any Doobie Brothers or Loggins and Messina, and I didn’t buy a single Jackson Browne song until relatively recently, even though “Doctor My Eyes” is one of my favorite songs of all time. I recently figured out that’s when my daughter was born and my wife quit her job to stay home and raise the kids. Considering that my average purchase from iTunes runs 80 dollars, it’s no wonder that I have a ten year blank in my music collection. I didn’t dare let myself go into a music store.

In the last few years I’ve been filling that blank slowly but surely with the assistance of iTunes. I probably should turn the “Genius” function off because whenever I play a song it will recommend a similar song, all too often a song I liked in the past but hadn’t purchased. Unfortunately, I find albums with titles like “Greatest Hits” hard to resist when I don’t own even one of the songs on the album.

Last weekend I bought $80 of singles and albums of the The Doobie Brothers and Loggins and Messina. I discovered that I didn’t own a single Loggins and Messina, even though they were a staple on KINK radio, Portland, the only station on my car and home radio was tuned to for nearly the whole 30 years I lived in Vancouver.

I’m particularly fond of this Loggins and Messina song:


this version

“If I had a Rocket Launcher”

After relecting awhile on how fond I was of The Animal’s “Sky Pilot” in the 60’s, I realized that today I am even more fond of Bruce Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” In fact, it has always been my favorite Bruce Cockburn hit, and I like Cockburn’s songs alot:

If I Had a Rocket Launcher

Here comes the helicopter — second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they’ve murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher…I’d make somebody pay

I don’t believe in guarded borders and I don’t believe in hate
I don’t believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher…I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation — or some less humane fate
Cry for guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher…I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice — at least I’ve got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher…Some son of a bitch would die

Obviously, this supports an earlier argument that I’m not a pacifist, but it also seems to say something more about my feelings about war and religion. If you’ve listened to Cockburn much, you realize he’s a “Christian singer,” at least in the same sense that Van Morrison is.

I’m sure he didn’t write the line “How many kids they’ve murdered only God can say” lightly, nor the lines:

…I’d make someone pay
…I would retaliate
…I would not hesitate
…Some son of a bitch would die.

Strangely enough, despite the fact was my government paying for those helicopters, I would have been more than happy to do the same. The obscene idea that Americans somehow had the right to impose their idea of government on the peasants of Guatemala, to assist in their starvation and torture, enrages me. Fighting for the oppressed is far more noble than standing by and watching them die at the hands of a corrupt, military dictatorship.

Perhaps the more important realization, at least personally, is that I am no more cured of the belief that war can be justified than I was before I went to Vietnam. Just because that was an immoral war does not have to mean that all wars are immoral. I believe that one can be moral, even Christian, if one fights for the right cause.

In other words, I find myself agreeing with those who use the “just war” theory to determine whether a war is wrong or right. What really bothered me about Vietnam wasn’t the killing as much as the uncomfortable thought that I admired those we were killing more than I did the South Vietnamese we were aiding. Theoretically, at least, the Viet Cong were fighting for their own country and for the right to rule themselves without having some foreign nation exploiting them. I doubt I consciously thought that while I was there, but I know I hadn’t been home very long before I felt that way.

The trouble with the argument that a soldier who defends our rights is a noble man is that this “lawful bearer of arms” cannot control his own fate. His lord, or his country, not he, determines who he fights. This is precisely why I threw a fit when my son’s stepfather urged him to listen to the recruiter from West Point when he was in high school. Tyson was the “scholar athlete” on his football team, and with his aptitude for sports and math, he may have been the ideal candidate for West Point, but I was unwilling to let him give control of his life to the government of the United States like I had done years before, particularly considering the required length of commitment.

I could well imagine a war where Tyson would have felt compelled to volunteer to fight, and I would have applauded his decision. Unfortunately, those wars have been few and far between in recent American history. More often than not, our wars have been capitalistic wars rather than attempts to free the oppressed.

Despite Bush’s recent attempts to recast the Great SUV War in this light, it’s going to be a hard sell to convince me that the real reason we’re going into Iraq is to promote “democracy” in the Middle East.

Sky Pilot

Jonathon Delacour’s recent comments on the morality of war, in general, and the relationship between war and religion reminded me of some of my own experiences and feelings while in Vietnam.

Despite feeling the battalion chaplain was a great fellow, I wanted nothing to do with his sermons before and after our combat missions, much less prayers over a slain comrade. Perhaps that was because I had already begun to feel that this war was immoral, but I suspect it was more that I felt deep down that it was “un-Christian” to be killing your fellow man.

As a platoon leader I couldn’t totally avoid the chaplain’s sermons, but I always put as much distance between them and myself as possible, even if it meant taking on an extra duty. I had a duty to be there, but I couldn’t personally reconcile those duties with my own spiritual beliefs.

It wasn’t that I was unaware of Christianity’s history, but I had personally chosen to view the Crusades, and songs like Onward Christian Soldiers, as a perversion of Christ’s message. To me, Christ represented the ultimate “Love,” and there was no connection between “Love” and killing your fellow man. In that sense, I guess I tended to agree with AKMA, not Jonathon.

When I returned from Vietnam, one of my favorite songs was Eric Burdon and the Animal’s “Sky Pilot,” a popular song which pointed out the chaplain’s religious hypocrisy. The bluesy tone of the song was certainly appealing but it was lines like

But he’ll stay behind
And he’ll meditate
But it won’t stop the bleeding
Or ease the hate.

As the young men move out
Into the battle zone
He feels good –
With God you’re never alone

that really appealed to me. This contrast between those forced to fight and those who stayed behind and felt “good” appealed to me on many levels.

Perhaps it’s the INTP in me, but I could never quite get past the inconsistency of the young men bleeding and learning to hate while the minister prayed for them. The two were simply irreconcilable, as suggested by:

In the morning they return
With tears in their eyes
The stench of death
Drifts up to the skies.

A young soldier so ill
Looks at the Sky Pilot
Remembers the words
“Thou shalt not kill”.

Of course, the song ends with the refrain “How high can you fly?/You never,never,never reach the sky,” suggesting that it’s the chaplain that’s wrong and lacks true faith, but I never felt that way.

I simply felt that, for me, there was no way to reconcile my attempts to kill VC with my own beliefs. I had suspended my spiritual beliefs in order to stay alive and to fulfill my duties as a platoon leader. I doubt I could have done any other and stayed alive or stayed sane.

I would worrry about my eternal soul in another time and in another place.