This week at Take This Tune Jamie challenges us to take off from John Prine’s song “Sam Stone”, the story of a wounded veteran who slowly self-destructs.
The song that most immediately came to mind for me is not of a soldier’s self-destruction but of the horrors of memory and PTSD: Charlie Daniels’ “Still in Saigon”.
The video images accompanying this are, according to the person who posted it, from the Mel Gibson movie We Were Soldiers (2002), which was based on the 1992 memoir We Were Soldiers Once. . .and Young by retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and journalist Joseph Galloway.
I have never seen the movie, but I did read Gen. Moore’s book, which covers the 1965 battle of Ia Drang. Gen. Moore and Galloway collected reminiscences of that horrific time from the men who served under Moore’s command. One of those men whose memories formed part of the book, I recall from my childhood. He was a native of Tellico Plains, Tennessee, who came home with one leg shorter than the other thanks to a bullet wound through the knee, and a dreadful scar on his left shoulder from another. He came home, married, and took a job as a welder for a farm implement manufacturer in Athens. My father also worked there, and they became friends. He would never talk about the war when there were women and children around; previous generations thought we needed to be sheltered from the things they saw and experienced in war, and he was no exception. But he told Daddy about it. Daddy always said that the war left him more crippled in his head than in his body, although that was bad enough. He had problems with alcohol and struggled to keep jobs.
The last time I saw Hack–that was his nickname–he seemed at last to have found a measure of peace and happiness. He’s a father four times over and a grandfather. He’s one of the lucky ones, I think. There are so many who are metaphorically still, if not in Saigon, then in the jungles of Vietnam, as there is a new generation that will forever be in the deserts of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan.
Tonight I’m haunted by memories of my great-uncle, whose body came home but whose heart and soul were trapped on the bloody ground of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. . .and thousands of others like him, who carried the scars and memories to their graves. Although he singles out survivors of those last horrific months in Saigon, I think Daniels meant to speak for all veterans on whom war left such marks, as does Prine in “Sam Stone”.
Take This Tune is a weekly meme hosted by my friend and fellow music lover Jamie.Each week she posts a video and asks participants to write about their memories, associations, or impressions based on that song. If you’d like to join in, please click on the link above.