My Vietnam Experience
I was in Vietnam from February 4th 1967 to February 1st 1968. Some of
the songs presented here were actually recorded before I left for
Vietnam. But when I hear these songs, they bring back feelings and
memories of my experiences in that war.
Some of these songs I remember hearing while I was at one of the
forward base camps. And some of them bring back memories of when I was
on a patrol. No music was available during that time, but the songs must
have been playing in my head, and became attached to certain memories
And I heard some of them while I was on R & R (Rest & Recuperation).
Eve Of Destruction
Eve Of Destruction describes the turbulent mood of the time. Very few
Americans believed we belonged in the Vietnam War.
This was the first war to be broadcast on the news every day, on every
station. And the images weren't very pretty. Viewers had instant access
to the body counts, saw the body bags, and were appalled.
Dodging the draft was in style. Some people were even moving out of
the country in order to avoid being drafted. Others were burning their
Protesters were everywhere. It seemed like the whole country was ready
to go up in flames. And at times, parts of it did.
Most Americans in Vietnam, and probably every other war, were always
thinking about home, and wishing they were homeward bound.
To me, the most prominent memories of this song are of two places. One
of them is Bien Hoa, where I first landed in Vietnam.
Two things stand out in my memories of Bien Hoa: (1) The latrine was a
long row of seats (about 10 or 12). The first time I used it there was an
old Mamason sitting on the far seat. I guess she had no where else to go.
And (2), I witnessed a near-collision between two helicopters flying
about 50 feet off the ground. One of them was an OH-13. It's the same kind
of helicopter that you see in the TV series M.A.S.H. The Army used them in
Vietnam for reconnaissance. The other one was a Huey. They were coming
toward each other at about a 90 degree angle and apparently didn't notice
it until the last second. That's when I found out how quickly a Huey
could slam on its brakes. It almost stood straight up, and the OH-13
If those choppers had collided, they would have come down right about
where I was standing.
Another memory that Homeward Bound brings me is of Vung Tau. I was on
a 3 day in-country R & R in this resort town. I had been in Vietnam for
about 9 months. I remember hearing Homeward Bound, knowing that when I
left there I wouldn't be going home. I'd be going back to my unit - back
to search and destroy - back to the war.
The Letter - Sloop John B
I also heard these two songs when I was in Vung Tau. I find it
interesting that the three songs that remind me of Vung Tau all mention
going home. I wonder if the writers of these songs were somehow
influenced by the Vietnam War.
I was flying in a Huey, about to make an air assault. To me this was an
awesome specticle. There'd be 18 to 20 Slicks (Hueys) flying in formation,
loaded with soldiers. There'd also be at least 2 Huey gunships escourting
Off in the distance, we could see where we would be landing. Artillery
would be pounding away at it.
When the artillery stopped, the gunships would go in, strafing and
shooting rockets. Then we'd go in with the door gunners firing their M-60
In case you're wondering, yes, it was very noisy. But when we were on
the ground and the Hueys were gone, there was dead silence. No birds were
singing (apparently, something had disturbed them) and any enemy soldier
in the area was either dead or running like his rear end was on fire (and
maybe it was).
After a short period of silence, we'd hear, "Move out!" and we'd begin
a 10 day, long-range patrol.
We were on patrol in the mountains when two Montagnards suddenly
appeared on our right. They were tribal people who lived in the Central
Highlands, and who hated the Viet Cong. They were wearing not much more
than loin clothes and carrying spears. It was obvious to me that they
were hunting for food for their families, and were no threat to us.
But when they suddenly appeared, some of the trigger-happy guys in my
squad opened fire. They shot them so many times, they almost turned them
I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
Again on patrol in the mountains. We had stopped and were waiting for
something, I wasn't sure what.
I had loaded my backpack in such a way that I could sit on the ground
and lean back on it. It was pretty comfortable.
So there I was, taking an unexpected, but welcomed break. I could hear
a small aircraft in the distance, but didn't think much of it.
Then I heard a very loud noise above me that sounded like a chain saw,
and at that moment I knew why we had stopped. The small aircraft in the
distance was a spotter plane that had found something. The chain saw sound
was an Air Force jet shooting its gattling gun.
I heard each round three different times. First, when they went over my
head they made miniature sonic booms (traveling faster than the speed of
sound). Then I heard the rounds being fired, just before the jet flew
over. The third time was when the rounds exploded on impact.
Red Rubber Ball
When I first arrived at my unit, I was issued 2 canteens. After a few
patrols, we were issued two-quart plastic blatters and also allowed to
keep our canteens. But I talked the supply sargent into giving me 2 of
Drinking the water from the blatters actually tasted better than it
did from the canteens. And now I had 3 times as much of it.
Somebody To Love
This brings back memories of waiting to be extracted. We had completed
a long-range patrol and we were in a large clearing - large enough for
all of our chariots to land together.
I always hoped to see Hueys and not Chinooks. The inside of Chinooks
were very loud with the high-pitch noise of the turbans. The Hueys had
the same problem if the doors were closed. But we always kept the doors
open so that we could enter or exit quickly, and if the situation called
for it, we could fire our weapons.
Finally, I saw what I was hoping for - a formation of Hueys.
Just Like Me
Just Like Me brings back memories of LZ Betty. It was the forward base
camp of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. If
that sounds familiar, it's probably because of one of its former
commanders - some guy named Custer.
LZ Betty was outside of Phan Thiet, on the coast of the South China
Sea. It had an airstrip that handled both military and commercial
aircraft, and was a very busy place.
When my company was at Betty, I stayed in a one-man hooch that was
made out of ammo crates and surrounded by sandbags. And there was sand
everywhere. You notice it the most if you were close to a chopper when
it takes off or lands. There's nothing like being sand blasted by a Chinook.
There was very little vegitation growing around LZ Betty. Apparently,
Agent Orange had done its job.
Too Many Rivers
I remember sitting on sandbags that lined the mortar pits at Betty.
I was alone, staring at an 81mm mortar, and thinking, "What the Hell am
I doing here?"
It was a very hot day at LZ Betty. I was looking at the baron
landscape around me, and thinking of this song. A single storm cloud
was heading my way. I was looking forward to getting wet, so I didn't
When the rain started, it only took a few seconds before I was
thoroughly soaked. In a couple of minutes the cloud was gone and the
heat was back.
Then, within just a few minutes, I was dry and cooking again, waiting
for another cloud.
This was one of the many recreational opportunities we had there.
She's Just My Style
One of the few nice things about being in Vietnam was that I saw some
very beautiful women there.
I Think We're Alone Now
On patrol and digging a hole to sleep in, I usually thought about
three things. I wondered if it would rain and I would wake up in mud.
I wondered if the Viet Cong or NVA (North Vietnamese Army) knew where
we were, and would attack that night. And there was always the
possibility that they were right under us in a tunnel system, and could
pop up suddenly from spider holes.
I didn't get much sleep on long-range patrols.
The first time I heard Somethin' Stupid (no, I wasn't talking to an
officer), I was looking at the flat roof top of a building. I was looking
out the window of a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, where I was on
a 7 day R & R.
I should have been happy to be in such a place. But all I remember is
a feeling of emptiness.
Frank and Nancy Sinatra did a good job of harmonizing in this song.
But it didn't do a very good job of uplifting my spirits.
Cherry Pink & Apple Blossum White
In the hotel in Kuala Lumpur, there was a night club with a live band
and belly dancers. Although they played many songs, the only one I
remember is Cherry Pink & Apple Blossum White.
The Spider & The Fly
LZ Bartlett was a fire base sitting on top of a mountain. It had 2
105mm Howitzers, a quad 50 (4 .50 caliber machine guns mounted and fired
together) and room enough to land a grand total of 1 helicopter.
Artillery had built a church/mess out of ammo boxes. They had much
better food than we had, and they always shared it with us whenever we
I remember hearing The Spider & The Fly while I was in a bunker on the
Black Is Black
It was December, 1967, and we had just suffered very heavy losses in
each of two recent battles.
We'd been hearing about a place called Bong Son, and not very good
things. But now we were moving there - the entire battalion - lock, stock
So we flew out of LZ Betty for the last time, and landed at LZ
English, where the battalion set up its new base camp. But my company was
only there briefly before we were flown to LZ Two Bits.
I'd tell you more about LZ Two Bits, but the name pretty much says it
Nothing had changed all that much. Betty - English; Bartlett - Two
Bits; war - death. Black Is Black.
When you're a short-timer (you have a short time left before you go
home) you start getting paranoid. White Rabbit reminds me of that
paranoia. And that paranoia came to a head when I was flying back to LZ
English from LZ Two Bits.
I was on my way home, and I was flying in a Huey which had brought
supplies to Two Bits.
Now, I had questioned the sanity of some of these pilots before. But
I wondered if this one had a death wish. We did a power dive off the
side of a mountain, then flew at full speed at tree top level, and some
times at grass top level dodging trees.
I remember thinking, "I've been here a year, and now this guy's going
to kill me." I was never so happy to touch down at an LZ.
Paint It Black
I was at Cam Ranh Bay, and was about to catch a plane that would take
me home. I had survived a year in pure Hell and was ready to return to
"The World." And I wanted to go home in the worst way.
But at the same time I was overwhelmed by a feeling of dread. I knew
there were mobs of protesters waiting for Vietnam Veterans. They were at
the airports, welcoming us home by throwing things at us and calling us
I heard "Paint It Black" before I boarded the plane. It described the
way I felt, knowing that I was about to trade one type of hostility for
For What It's Worth
I was sitting in a bar in Chicago, reflecting on what I'd just been
This song was playing on the jukebox, and an opinionated friend of
mine, who had never been to Vietnam, started telling me all about what
it was like over there.
I resisted the urge to strangle him.
Incense & Peppermints
This song reminds me of how insane the entire Vietnam experience was.
You may have noticed that I tried to insert a little humor into this
narrative. But the fact is, there's nothing funny about the carnage.
58,000 Americans died in a war that we weren't allowed to win. General
Westmoreland was given a job to do. But then the politicians prevented
him from doing it.
The worst of them was President Johnson. He treated the war as if it
was his own little chess game. He tried to run the war from the White
House, constantly changing missions and how they would be carried out.
I have nothing against cowboys. But this one thought he knew more
about being a general, than the generals. His constant interferance,
along with all the other political roadblocks, gave us no chance of
winning that war.
The people who suffered the most were the Vietnamese. They were
attacked from both sides, all because we were determined to protect
the corrupt government of South Vietnam.
* * *
Wars would be so much better if we replaced all of the combatants
with clowns armed with seltzer bottles.