Travelin' Down That Lonely Road- Part II

Long distance driving and music go together.  As you space out barreling down the road at 80 miles per hour the music comes and goes in your consciousness but the music is always weaving its way around the subconscious.

As I ramp up to speed on the interstate I tend to start out easy in my music selection.  I need something to warm up with, something to get me going.  Lately this something in the musical sense is the Motown sound.  The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha & The Vandellas, The Jackson Five and Aretha Franklin.

Midway through the trip I’ll slide in a CD by Santana, Jimmy Buffet, Bob Dylan, Moby, Ray Charles, Taj Mahal, Los Lonely Boys, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Willie Nelson, Bon Jovi, Richard and Linda Thompson, Neil Young, Traveling Wilburys, Foreigner, Dusty Springfield, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, Pasty Cline or almost anything else I have with me.

I’ve even been known to put on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. I have always found there is nothing like background cannon fire to keep you awake.  In celebration of Van Cliburn winning the first Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow 40 years ago, I played his recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No.3.

As the sun goes down and darkness closes in it is time to get pumped: Poison, Black Sabbath, The Clash, Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses, Jimi Hendrix, Aerosmith, and George Thorogood and the Destroyers.  A mellow break is a Tom Waits CD.  His songs and voice should only be heard at night – just him and you.  Close the drive out with AC/DC (How did I end up with three CDs of Back in Black?), U-2, Deep Purple, Linkin Park, and Creed. Some nights I feel like I can drive to daylight.

However, anytime I am listening to music there is a very good chance I will be listening to the Rolling Stones.  I own 19 Stones' CDs, am always looking to add to my collection, and constantly have a Stones CD near me.  The bad boys of my youth still belt out rock and roll better than anyone else – ever!

I was reviewing my play list from my solo drive from Marshall to Tucson this past April and began to understand why my mind spent a long period thinking about growing up in the 60’s and Vietnam.  There in my CD carrying boxes was Big Brother & The Holding Company’s (Janis Joplin) Piece of My Heart, Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s Ohio, Dianna Ross & the Supremes’ Reflections, Eric Burton & the Animals’ We Gotta Get Out of this Place, and The Doors’ The End.

The Thanks I Never Gave

Some of you grew up as I did in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Looking back on school, music, politics, Woodstock, television, assassinations, sports, the Summer of Love, a man walking on the moon, drugs, rock and roll, you name it, there is one overriding background event – the Vietnam War.  It’s a war that is a long time over.  Time has dulled the war’s images but not the trauma. It is always there buried deep in our psyches, always connecting to what we think and feel.  It’s a legacy – good or bad –that each of us in my generation will carry for the remainder of our lives.

The summer of 1969 brought the war to me.  That summer I walked through the gates of the U.S. Air Force Academy as a new cadet.  Up until then the war was only a television bite on the nightly news.  It wasn’t my war; it was someone else’s war.  The draft was something that everyone I knew did their best to avoid.  I knew no one who was serving or about to be drafted.  The war was there but so was a college draft deferment.

This war that I was not involved in changed during one of the first evening meals at the Academy.  Before each meal one of the Wing Cadet Officers would announce those Academy alums who in the previous 24 hours had been shot down and listed as missing or dead.  The officer’s rank, name and graduating year were announced.  These were men who had sat where I was sitting, walked where I was walking, and trained where I was training.  These were real men.  These are America’s best and brightest.

I survived that first summer at the Academy; however I can’t say the same for my first academic semester.  Although I could name all the fighter aircraft of World War II and their engines and armament plus the favorite professional football team of each upper classman who’s meal table I was assigned to that week and was never afraid to match shoe shines with an upperclassman for evening desert, I could not grasp the concepts of differential calculus while at the Academy.

The moment I signed my release papers from the Air Force Academy I was eligible for the draft.  I had volunteered to be an Air Force pilot and serve wherever my country sent me but I could not reconcile being drafted while others continued their lives as if no war existed.  Volunteer for service – yes; impressed into service – no.  Why should I be the one sacrificed and not the guy standing next to me registering for the same classes at the University of Arizona?

To this day my father and I cannot discuss the Vietnam War.  He of the Greatest Generation Ever and I who did not want to be drafted to fight in Vietnam.  During one especially ugly argument, we both said things to each other that I know we didn’t believe and today wish we had never said.  Fifteen years later I left a party because a war no longer a war was being discussed and the wounds of old between father and son had again broken open.  This war never ends.

My father was no different than anyone else of his time.  He and his older brother both were pilots.  My best friend’s dad flew in a bomber over Hitler’s Europe.  The same for my brothers’ best friends’ dad. The dentist who pulled four of my teeth was with the 101 Airborne and wounded at the Battle of the Bulge.  I knew friends of my parents — marines, navy, army, and army air corps men – who had served and fought in almost every major engagement.  Each had come home and with very little help outside the GI Bill had gone on to be successful business and family men.  They knew war, they knew death, and they knew sacrifice, but they did not know “Hell no I won’t go.”

Theirs had been a war of equal sacrifice both on who would go and on the home front.  Vietnam was not a war of equal sacrifice, not a war to save the world from fascism or even communism, and not a war the home front was willing to sacrifice for.

I was working as a construction laborer the summer day in 1970 I was assigned a draft number.  My father came out to where I was working.  He walked up and without any preamble just said, “I thought you would like to know I heard on the radio that your draft number is 267”.  I said thank you and I don’t remember him saying anything but turning around and leaving.  Yet I knew it was a relief to him.  Why else would he listen while birth date after birth date was drawn and assigned a draft number?

My birthday draft number was a safe number.  I would not see Vietnam as a draftee.

Although I did not want to serve in Vietnam, I never marched or protested against those who served in the war.  My failing was that I never said thank you to those who did serve.

I do know Vietnam ended up affecting everyone in my generation.  Some of those who served did not return (58,000+) and others still fight the war in the deep recesses of their minds.  Some who did not serve question their own actions during these times.  Families still miss those whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial Wall.  No one in my generation from peace protester to military officer can talk about a war without comparing it to Vietnam.  Moreover, I believe no one in my generation wants to ever again live through the divisiveness — second only to the Civil War — our country suffered during the war in Vietnam.

On every visit to Washington D.C. I take time to walk the National Mall from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial.  I make this walk because it reminds me that I do live in the greatest country.  From President Washington who won a war he could not win to President Lincoln who saved the union, this walk reinforces in me why I am proud to be an American.

During my Mall walk, the Wall draws me like a magnet to those who are no longer with us.  The pull is stronger each time, because as I have grown older, I have come to understand much better what each person on the Wall gave up for you and me.  I know only one person’s name on the Wall.  A young man I never met, the older brother of a former girl friend, a soldier who died for his country, and a person — like each of the names on that long black granite wall — that deserves for someone to say everyday, “I have not forgotten you and I thank you.”

To all veterans, those currently serving, and those who will serve in the future, no matter the war:  Thank YOU.

Side notes:
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Ohio 1970- the Kent State protest and killings of May 4, 1970
Dianna Ross & the Supremes Reflections 1967 TV series: China Beach 1988-91
Eric Burton & the Animals’ We Gotta Get Out of this Place; 1965 – played following the Friday evening meal at the U.S. Air Force Academy – TV series:  China Beach, used several times rather than Reflections
The Doors  The End; 1967 – Movie: Apocalypse Now; 1979 (Originally a song by Jim Morrison about breaking up with a girlfriend.)
Big Brother & The Holding Company’s Piece of My Heart; 1968 – Every Friday night (1969) I would volunteer to make an upperclassman’s bed & I only did beds that the upperclassmen owned this album; freshmen were not allowed to have music in their rooms

Our music collection:

CDs:  350 – 400 Rock and Roll

           140 + Jazz

           12 – 15 Opera

           40 – 50 Classical

           25 Others (Blues, World, unclassified by me)

Albums: about 120; mostly rock and roll

iTunes: who knows?


Based on their faces today, who partied harder:  Willie Nelson or Keith Richards?  My face reflects a virgin partier compared to these two guys.