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Bradley Presented "We Gotta Get Out of This Place"

 

August 15, 2019



Madison Vietnam veteran, Doug Bradley, did a presentation on his book We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, that he co-authored with Craig Werner. Their book, which won the 2015 Rolling Stone’s Best Music Book of the Year, tells the story of the music of the Vietnam War. The program was held on August 8th, at the Monticello Public Library.

The book’s title comes from Eric Burdon and the Animals’ song of the same name, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, which became the anthem for those who served in Vietnam. And, as music so often does, it tells the stories of life, adding heart and soul in a much better, and more understandable manner, than can the simple written word.

As often takes place during times of war, the branches of the military find it wise to bring in American bands to entertain the troops, providing a couple hour break in the heat of a war most young American soldiers realized was a horrible mistake by the time the first 30 days of their one year stint in Vietnam was completed.

The introduction to the book does an excellent job of spelling out the value of music in the theater of war. “For the Marines at Khe Sanh and the more than three million other men and women who served in Vietnam, music provided release from the uncertainty, isolation, and sometimes stark terror that reached from the front lines to the relatively secure areas known as the air conditioned jungle. But the sounds offered more than simple escape. Music was a lifeline connecting soldiers to their homes, families, and the communities they formed in their hooches, base camps, and lonely outposts from the Mekong Delta to the ravines of the demilitarized zone (DMZ). Both in-country and “back in the world” as the troops called the United States, music helped them make sense of situations in which, as Bob Dylan put it in a song that meant something far more poignant and haunting in Vietnam that it did back in the world, they felt like they were on their own with no direction home. For the fortunate ones who did get back home, music echoed through the secret places where they stored memories and stories they didn’t share with the wives, husbands, or children for decades. Music was the key to survival and a path to healing, the center of a human story that’s too often been lost in the haze of politics and myth that surrounds Vietnam.”

The ghosts and shadows of this war never leave, they remain, often times, for years. At unexpected times, these ghosts and shadows escape the deep recesses of the minds of those who served in this war, suddenly bringing back a memory, sometimes bringing a quiet smile. And sometimes a horrible incident that took place decades ago, in a country that President Lyndon Johnson referred to as piddling piss-ant country.

Vietnam vet Jay Maloney writes: “There is no such thing as one Vietnam. There were more than two and a half million of them. I arrived there in the last summer of 1968. I was twenty years old when I stepped off that plane, and I had more a sense of adventure than trepidation. I left a year later at twenty-one embittered and old. The endless year’s worth of carnage that I had seen and smelled and touched finally knocked me down for good during the last spring of 1969. The horrors of that year had finally come into a grisly focus. I could absorb no more of it. There had been that Vietnamese woman, scalped from her eye-brows to the back of her neck by the North Vietnamese Army while her family and neighbors were forced to watch. There had been the two Vietnamese prisoners rescued from a Viet Cong tunnel, so starved they had become living skeletons unable to move anything other than their hollow, madman eyes. There had been the teenage GI who would never again kiss a girl, never again taste food, never again speak a word, destined to live out the rest of his life as a freak in a VA hospital. And it just keeps coming, the endless stream of wrecked bodies that we had the clinical conceit to refer to as “casualties.” It was just a bit too much. And there was more to come.”

“The final blow for me landed a few weeks later. It was 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday, June 8th. Shortly after sunrise on that clear, perfectly cloudless day, my friend Sharon, a nurse who had been in-country only since April, was killed in one of the rocket attacks that our hospital was regularly treated to. Three 122mm artillery rockets hit us that morning, one of which struck her ward, the Vietnamese ward directly and dead-center. She was graced with a painless death, delivered by a single spoon-sized fragment that clipped her aorta. Ward B was awash with smoke and screams that morning but my strongest image of that day is the ocean of bright-red, rust scented, and still warm blood that seconds earlier had filled her small body. Sharon was a sweet, gentle-souled person, and this one death, this one among the vast crowd, this one death was so particularly purposely, so particularly cruel, that my light went out that morning.”

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place is one book that needs to be read by everyone who has a heart. We need to understand that it is our utmost responsibility to hold our politicians responsible for their decisions, and never trust what they say when they wish to go to war. Politicians start the wars, and our children are the ones who fight the politicians wars.

 
 

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