Friday, September 07, 2007

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Where Have All the Flowers Gone is a folk song written by Pete Seeger around 1961. The inspiration for the song came from a Ukrainian folk song referenced in a novel by Mikhail Sholokhov, And Quiet Flows the Don. Seeger wrote three verses, and adapted it to a tune. Some time later, Joe Hickerson wrote two more verses. I remember hearing several versions of the song when I was a little kid: one by the incomparable Joan Baez, and one by Peter Paul and Mary. What I remember most, however, is my mother's virulent hatred of the song.

Joan Baez' rendition of Where Have All the Flowers Gone was released in 1967. My father was a 23 year old infantry Marine in Vietnam at the time. Given that Baez spent years and her considerable energy protesting that War, I can almost understand why my mother felt as she did. I also think she was fearful of the line "Where have all the soldiers gone? Gone to graveyards, every one," as so many Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Soldiers did.

Every year I go to my family reunion, one of my Aunts, Uncles, or Cousins bring me a piece of my father. These memories, artifacts and photos are treasures to me. They are also exquisitely painful. This year, Dad's next eldest and closest sister brought me photos taken when he was in the Marine Corps. The first was his recruit photo. It was taken in 1961 when he was just 17 years old. The Vietnam War was underway, but there were only about 3,200 military advisers on the ground. Kennedy was still alive, and commitment to American combat troops was still about 4 years away.

The other photo was taken in January of 1968. Dad was nearly 24 years old, serving in Vietnam. His wife was in New York ready to give birth to my brother. At the time, there were nearly half a million troops on the ground. The total would reach its peak of 543,000 by April of 1969.

On the reverse of this photo is a handwritten note to my Aunt. He was due to come home soon, and was understandably happy about it. I will always be grateful to my Aunt for giving me these pictures. She says next year she will bring the photo of Dad in his dress blues. I'm sure it is something to see!

The song, the photos and the Vietnam war bring to mind what is now going on in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. Not that the paths to war are similar or any of the politics, per se, but war and its aftermath in general. Just as in the '60s, our young men, boys really, go overseas in uniform to execute the policies created far from the front. The average age of a Vietnam soldier was 19. I am sure the age is similar for those going to Iraq, whereas in WWII, the average age was 26. That my mother, most likely in support of her husband, could not protest the war he fought, and also vilified those who did, is an attitude that is visible today. It is an attitude that frequently only changes once husbands, fathers, brothers, wives, sisters, and mothers come home to Arlington.

I have always been proud of my father's service. I have always opposed the war he was sent to fight. I have always mourned the damage to his soul. I have always wondered how our lives would have been different if he hadn't gone to Vietnam. I read an article recently that stated only 15% of Vietnam veterans suffered long term psychological problems as a result of their service. I think that number is grossly understated. Given the revisionist history witnessed by that remark, one can only shutter at what the reported long term effects on Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will be.



Bridget said...

Great post. Those are treasured photos of your dad. I have an uncle who served in Vietnam. He saw things that are just completely inhumane and unspeakable. I know what you mean about them being different men. He relives it in his sleep all the time. So awful.

Marty: said...

The Vietnam war had a huge impact on my life, and I didn't have any close loved one involved. I was in high school and college, discovering what I believed in, and I decided I didn't believe in that war. The discussions I was part of then have influenced my whole life. I admire the soldiers and am grateful we have a military who will fight for us, but I am appalled that we have leaders who don't acknowledge there are injuries worse than death.

SOUL: said...

the worst thing about the whole vietnam the stuff we don't hear about. the numbers the government hides from the public. i walk the halls of many VA hospitals every year, i see , and talk to many many vets of the three wars you mentioned...among others. until you see it,or live it, or with it first hand... you just can't understand it.

i am so glad to see that your family knows how important those photos are to you, and give them to you. and you will one day give them to your son.
don't feel sadness for your dad now.. feel the pride in him that he deserves, and would want you to feel, and share like you just did.

have a good weeekend.

btw.. who won the game.. i just realized... it was you against me!! ack!

JYankee said...

yes those are treasured photos... but yes we all have to give the support to our troops wherever they may be and when they come home...cuz it just doesnt seem like the goverment is doing enough about that right now.

Maria said...

I remember after 9-11 when everyone was screaming for action. I kept hoping that everyone would just calm down and try to think rationally, but it was as if you could see the tide rolling in, people wanting revenge, any revenge on anyone...just revenge. It frightened me.

War is hell. No way around it and I think the Vietnam war, in particular is one of the more bewildering ones. There was so much fear of the domino effect and no one seemed to realize that all those countries were never close enough in idealogy to fall together. We didn't understand the culture. We are having the same problems with this war.

SOUL: said...

yep my little friend... you , i think are lucky i am not a baseball fan...yes i am changing the subject...
becuase if i were...we would have a war on our hands.

now, when it comes to football... it just might be another story... i may have to pass some whine to go with your cheese. :OO

The Real Mother Hen said...

Beautiful post.
You must have a great time at the re-union.
Today Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq are killing one another, while the Americans sacrifices their men and women for a country that love doesn't exists by nature but only by dictatorship. The war will continue. More people will suffer and die.
History has been forced to go down this road. There is no end to this now.

SOUL: said...

dallas whooped your buttocks hahahaha

The World According to Me said...

Another thought provoking post.
I think 15 per cent is definitely grossly understated!

I'm sure the pictures will be treasured in your possession.
As you say, carry on being proud of the service that your father carried out. No one can take that away from you.

SOUL: said...

i think i screwed that one comment up... whine with cheese? i think it's cheese with whine.
well whatever it is...
i think it's time ou put somethin new up here. don't you?
hope you;re havin a good day

mine's not so crappy. :))

Open Grove Claudia said...

We love them so much, our fathers. This is a very beautiful post as recommended by Isis.

Rebecca said...

Thank you, Claudia. I'll be by to visit you soon.