submitted by Carole Trone
Rotarians were treated to excerpts of some of the most memorable hit songs of the 1960s while presenters Doug Bradley and Craig Werner explained the purpose behind their recent book, We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War. The title of their book comes from The Animals’ song, popularly known as the “national anthem” of Vietnam veterans. In fact, there is no such thing as THE Vietnam War experience.
Authors Werner and Bradley emphasized throughout their talk that we cannot do justice to this era without truly understanding the variety of experience and listening to the voices of those who served. Just fifteen to twenty percent of soldiers were officially designated as serving in combat roles, and so much of each individual soldier’s experience came down to when, where and what they did while serving in Vietnam. The strength of the book’s narrative comes from the more than 200 veterans who were interviewed, from every branch of service and at all rank levels and racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Popular American music served to comfort these mostly young soldiers and remind them of the homes that they desperately wanted to return to. Different songs held sway for different kinds of soldiers. Depending on the stress of the day or the time back at camp, soldiers might take solace in different genres of popular songs and these, too, could become flashpoints among a military assembled from all walks of American life.
So while this group of Rotarians readily hummed along to the timeless music of Marvin Gaye or Peter, Paul, and Mary, presenters Werner and Bradley reminded listeners to understand the individual experiences of this shared cultural soundtrack.
If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch the video here.