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An examination of popular music is critical in looking at the effects of music in Vietnam. This does not, however, complete such an analysis. It is also important to take a look at the music produced by American soldiers themselves while in Vietnam. While it is true that none of these songs were mentioned by respondents in interviews for this paper, looking at music that grew out of the war itself is helpful in focusing on the role that music played in the lives of soldiers in country.

Methods of Recording and Distribution

Two factors were crucial for the production and distribution of music created by American troops in Vietnam. The first of these was a stable location at which to work. Such environments were provided by Air Force bases and helicopter unit headquarters. As a result, songs written and performed by fellow soldiers became central in the lives of many pilots, who often made tapes of these songs.54 Tapes were the second crucial part of the production and distribution of this music. The presence of tape recorders is what permitted this music to spread to the relatively small extent that they did. Some of these bands actually became very popular in certain sections of Vietnam.

Content and Purpose of Songs

The songs that American soldiers wrote and performed served a variety of different functions. Some of these were purely recreational. These songs were often written about daily activities and parts of their lives, such as helicopters and the things they missed from home. Some Americans even wrote songs from the viewpoint of the enemy, such as the drivers who drove on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.55 One such song was written by a pilot named Toby Hughes in 1968. While thinking about a bombing run, Hughes wrote, “We feel a bit sorry for the folks down below / Of destruction that’s coming they surely don’t know. / The thought passes quickly; we know a war’s on, / As on down we scream toward peaceful Tchepone.”56

At other times, men wrote songs to lift their spirits and unite soldiers behind a common cause or goal. The following song, entitled “First Cav” is an example of one of those songs.

First Team, First Cav,
Black and yellow patch.
It’s the greatest fighting team there is,
No other one can match.
First Team, First Cav,
Always number one.
No matter what the job may be,
The Cav will get it done.

This was one of the most popular songs ever recorded by American soldiers in Vietnam; over thirty thousand recordings of it were made and given out to U.S. troops.57 One can imagine a song like this working in a similar manner to a college fight song. It provided a sense of pride to all of those who were associated with the First Cav and, through that sense of pride, brought the men together.

While these were popular themes of original works by American soldiers, perhaps the most common theme in Vietnam original music was the venting of frustration. This is a need that every soldier in Vietnam had and music allowed these men to vent together. These songs took many forms. Some, like this parody of “I Want a Girl” (1965) expressed a general hatred of the war.

I want a war, just like the war
That mutilated dear old Dad;
It was the war, and the only war
That Daddy ever had;
A good old-fashioned war
That was so cruel,
But we all abided by Geneva rules
I want a war, just like the war
That mutilated dear old Dad.58
Other songs expressed frustration at particular aspects of the war. For example, soldiers at the front often sang about their hatred for troops in the rear. One of the most popular of these songs was called, “The Lousy Lance Corporal.” One verse of this song reads,
Now a lousy lance corporal said, “Pardon me please,
You’ve mud on your tunic and blood on your sleeve,
If you don’t wipe it off all the people will laugh”
Said the lousy lance corporal on headquarters’ staff.59
In fact, the Australians involved in Vietnam liked this song so much, they soon added their own lyrics to it.

While these songs may have unified soldiers, this wasn’t necessarily done in a positive manner. If these songs had been a part of popular culture, they could easily have been looked upon as protest music. However, the fact that these songs were written by men actually in Vietnam, and not the people at home that those men were told they were fighting for, would likely have placed them in a different light for the men who heard them. With these songs, the men who were complaining had first hand experience regarding what they were complaining about and were the ones doing the work, not the ones reaping the supposed benefits of the war and serving as the soldiers’ motivation to do their perilous labor.

A final type of song written by American soldiers were political in nature. These often took issue with the war itself, or the way in which the war was being fought. One of the most popular of these was written by Dolf Droge to the music of the Marines’ Hymn.

From the shores of the Perdisales
We have come to fight VC.
But to win you must remember
Do not burn the banana tree,
For the farmer leads a wretched life
Less than fifty bucks a year;
Your napalm bomb he doesn’t like,
From his life you must remove fear;
But if you burn huts and shoot buffalo,
Just remember what it means,
You are working then for Uncle Ho
Not United States Marines.60
This song points out a huge problem that American forces faced in Vietnam. Since everyone in Vietnam could be a Viet Cong, search and destroy missions often hurt the people that the United States was supposedly there to help. It is no wonder, with its satire of the Marines’ Hymn, that this parody was quite popular among U.S. troops.
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