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Sharing Experiences In Songs Is Helping Vietnam Vets to Heal
By Bill Christofferson (reviewer)
An album of songs based on the experiences of Vietnam era veterans, titled The Last Thing We Ever Do, is nearing completion and scheduled for release in August by Warrior Songs, a non-profit helping veterans heal from the trauma of war. A number of VVAW members have been involved in the project.
The CD will feature 15 songs created by professional songwriters from the firsthand testimony of Vietnam era veterans, brought to life by professional studio musicians. Copies of the CDs are made available to veterans and veteran non-profits free of charge.
The stories behind the songs come from Vietnam veterans sharing their experiences, some at Warrior Songs retreats, which help veterans heal through the creative arts, others through personal conversations and interviews.
"This album is about healing, and also about reconciliation," said Jason Moon, an Iraq war combat veteran plagued by severe PTSD who founded Warrior Songs to help other veterans heal through the arts. He wrote one of the songs, "Seeds of Peace," in Vietnam in 2019 and recorded it with Vietnamese children as vocalists. It is about the importance of reconciliation in healing moral injury. The renowned conductor of the United Saigon Orchestra, Son Mach, completed recordings in Saigon and Da Nang.
The song was inspired by Moon witnessing a meal in Duc Pho shared by Vietnam veteran Chuck Theusch, founder of Children's Library International, and other US Vietnam veterans, with former Viet Cong. The two groups had fought against each other 50 years ago in that province.
The songs on the album run the gamut of topics, from dealing with the Selective Service to combat to coping with returning to the US, civilian life, and moral injury. A sampling:
Former VVAW member Watermelon Slim (Bill Homans) has created a song about losing one's humanity during combat. Actor/writer/producer/musician Elvis Thao, a cast member of Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" film, is creating a song about the experience of a Hmong Veteran entitled "Bloody Mekong." Both will perform at the August 8 release party in Milwaukee.
Special Forces Vietnam veteran vocalist Larry Reed and instrumentalists John & Susan Nicholson of Frogwater teamed up with Vietnam veteran Charlie Walton, who had a fellow soldier die in his arms, to create a song about letting go of survivor's guilt, "Let It Go."
"Mark's Song," inspired by VVAW member Mark Foreman, a Navy corpsman with the Marines who spent five days lying severely wounded on a battlefield, was written and recorded by Katie and Jesse Frewerd, who perform as Canary Canyon.
"Conscription" is based on a poem by VVAW member John Zutz, who worked with songwriter Lisa Johnson. It tells about the experience of the draft, from nervously waiting to find out if your number is pulled in the birthday lottery, to not being able to find a job when you're in limbo, to seeing Vietnam on TV and wondering if you'll end up there, and if you do, wondering if you will come back again.
"Welcome To The World" is the story of African American veteran Calvin Wade, who came home to find he wasn't treated like a full citizen
Award-winning songwriter Kyle Rightley brings to life the story of Bill Martin, a magician and helicopter pilot. Bill used magic tricks to entertain Vietnamese children in between gunship missions. He went on to found The Veterans and Patriots Performance Group.
Songwriters Aaron Baer and Paul Wisneski teamed up to tell the story of veteran and author Brenton MacKinnon, as he prepares for the end of his life due to terminal cancer from Agent Orange.
"Disquieted Mind" by Jeff Mitchell tells the story of veteran Steve Gunn, who healed in part through the work of Dr. Ed Tick and Soldier's Heart. This touching commentary on the need for healing from moral injury concludes the CD.
Cover art for the CD is by VVAW member Jim Wachtendonk, an Agent Orange victim, and Dinh Luc, a Hanoi wood block artist who was a North Vietnamese Army soldier. VVAW member Bill Christofferson met Dinh Luc on a Vietnam trip in 2000, and Jason Moon visited him last year, when Moon joined Chuck Theusch's Children's Library International on their 20 year anniversary trip to Vietnam, which inspired the "Seeds of Peace" song.
A release party is planned for August 8, the anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, at the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee, with music by many of the artists on the CD. Details will be available at the Warrior Songs website, www.WarriorSongs.org, and on its Facebook page.
This is the third album by Warrior Songs. Volume 1, If You Have To Ask, was released in 2016 and features the stories from a wide array of veterans. Women at War: Warrior Songs Vol. 2 was released in 2018 and represents the first time in the history of modern music that a full length CD was created from the testimony of women veterans. Women at War won the Wisconsin Area Music Award Album of the Year for 2019.
While Volume 3 nears completion and release, plans are already underway for the next Warrior Songs album, Veterans of Color: Warrior Songs Vol. 4, with an anticipated 2022/2023 release date. Connie Hunter-Baptiste, an Air Force veteran who is vice president of the Women Veteran Social Justice Network and a member of the Warrior Songs board, will co-produce the album with Moon, an Army veteran.
Bill Christofferson, a former journalist and longtime political consultant, now retired, lives in Milwaukee. he is a member of VVAW.
Young Vietnamese singers provide vocals for "Seeds of Peace" song of reconciliation.