Former WRVA News Anchor Paul Bottoms worked with Armed Forces Radio in Saigon.
“‘Vietnam.’ The word comes camouflaged in music. Rock ’n’ roll, soul, pop and country. For those who watched the war unfold on the evening news, the music of Vietnam blurred with the sounds rising from the streets of America during a time of momentous challenge and change. For those born after the last helicopters sank beneath the waves of the South China Sea, movies, documentaries and TV shows have repeatedly used music as a sonic background for depicting Vietnam as a tug of war between pro-war hawks and pro-peace doves. If you weren’t there, it’s possible to imagine this as so much postproduction editing, imposing a relationship between the sounds and the experience of the war. It can all feel a bit trite. Except — it’s true. More than any other American war, Vietnam had a soundtrack, and you listened to it whether you were marching in the jungle or in the streets. For the men and women like me who served in Southeast Asia, music was what inexorably linked us to ‘my generation.’ We sang along to the Beatles, Nancy Sinatra, Marty Robbins and the Temptations before we went to war, and we listened to them after we came back home. Music was more than just background for us. It was our lifeline, a link to our existence ‘back in the world,’ connecting us with the things that enabled us, as the Impressions urged us, to ‘keep on pushing.’ From the peaks of the Central Highlands and the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta to the ‘air-conditioned jungles’ of Danang and Long Binh (where I served as an information specialist in 1970-71), soldiers used music to build community, stay connected to the home front and hold on to the humanity the war was trying to take away. The hits were our hits: ‘I Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,’ ‘Fortunate Son‘ — and the song more than one Vietnam veteran has called ‘our national anthem,’ the Animals’ ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place.’ And once we returned home, music became essential to our healing. Historians of the ’60s have recognized the importance of music as a lens for understanding movements, attitudes and opinions. For Vietnam veterans and those who listen to their stories, the iconic music of the 1960s and early ’70s provides access to a truer, deeper story of what Vietnam meant, and continues to mean. …”
NY Times (Video)
W – Vietnam, American Forces Network