What music from the Vietnam War era is meaningful to you? We asked local Vietnam veterans this question. Here’s what they had to say.
Their song choices represent a range of emotions — loss, hope, longing, despair and determination — reflecting the intensity of wartime. Experience the musical journey through this playlist of the songs:
This week’s episode — “Columbus and the Vietnam War Part 2” (8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12 on WOSU TV) — features a song created by a local Vietnam veteran during the end credits. Here’s the full song, “It Will Never Leave Me,” written by Damon Baker and Stephen Bashaw.
Baker shares his Vietnam experience and inspiration for the song:
After receiving training in Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) at the JFK School of Special Warfare at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, I arrived in Vietnam in December 1968, assigned as a U. S. Navy PSYOPS advisor to the Vietnamese Navy Third Riverine Area Command and operating primarily on the Vam Co Dong and Vam Co Tay river tributaries west of Saigon. These straddle the infamous “Parrot’s Beak” area of Cambodia, an enemy sanctuary invaded later.
My primary focus — ironically in a hostile environment — was on advising and accompanying my Vietnamese Navy officer counterpart in what were known as MEDCAP operations in which, with a Vietnamese doctor on board, we brought medical care to civilians of all ages living in remote riverfront hamlets.
These operations, which attempted to demonstrate that the Saigon government empathized with rural inhabitants, seemed to be effective, while others, such as leaflet distributions and loudspeaker broadcasts to induce enemy defections, did not. However, had a rational strategy to win over the civilian population been tenaciously pursued by all allied parties from the very beginning, instead of such ill-conceived and counter-productive tactics as “free-fire zones” and indiscriminate bombing, countless civilians would have been spared and the war’s outcome might have been different.
Firepower can never overcome willpower, as our Vietnamese enemy amply demonstrated, and as own forbearers demonstrated against the “shock and awe” of massed firing lines of British redcoats. In Vietnam, it solidified opposition.
My experience in Vietnam was clearly unusual. I had my own jeep and a great deal of personal independence and was perhaps able to gain a larger perspective on the war than most junior officers, spending time at U.S. and Vietnamese Navy headquarters and intelligence facilities in Saigon as well as with my river unit.
Occasionally, I attended what were dubbed by the press as the “Five O’clock Follies,” pretentious and misleading U. S. military briefings celebrating the only metrics which seemed to matter: enemy body counts and enemy vs. our side kill ratios. Even while still there, I found myself increasingly asking “why?”, and even now my reservoir of sorrow over this tragedy, which in the end included our wholesale abandonment of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who were loyal to and depended on us, sometimes seems bottomless.
Which brings me to the song. Personally, I was extremely lucky, and although it is written in the first person, the song is not just about me. I tried to give a voice to those thousands of misinformed and often poorly led young men who got swept up in a colossal mistake, many of whom paid the ultimate price, while others still suffer from painful physical and mental aftereffects as well as survivor’s guilt. I also wanted to incorporate the haunting sound of the “Huey” helicopter because it is so firmly embedded in the memories of in-country veterans.
Fittingly enough, Vietnam was the impetus the first time Stephen Bashaw and I got together as well as this time. Remembering my feelings while immersed in the war on Christmas Eve 1968, a few years ago I came up with “Somewhere There’s Christmas,” a soldier’s song. I asked Stephen, then a longtime friend of my wife, to create the background track and to produce the song using a Nashville singer and musicians. We completed a revision earlier this year and, as with this latest song, I am very pleased with the result.
Vietnam War Part 2 Preview
Next time on Columbus Neighborhoods, we continue the exploration of Columbus’ connections to the Vietnam War. Watch at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12 on WOSU TV.