This song came from an article I read in Newsweek (“My Turn”), by a man whose brother had been a soldier, and a prisoner of war, in Vietnam. After he was released to come home, he committed suicide within a year of his return. The writer blamed the anti-war protesters who greeted him when he came back, but I felt that suicide is serious enough that it took a lot more than that. This song provides one possible alternative explanation, even though, of course, I have no way of knowing. The part about asking to have his brother’s name put on the Vietnam Memorial, and their refusal to add it because his physical death did not happen there, was also in the article. The title line came to me as I was reading that, and then I had to write the rest of the song. After I wrote it, I saw a video by George Jones (“Wild Irish Rose”), which showed a statistic that over 110,000 Vietnam veterans had died prematurely, either from actually committing suicide, or “slow suicide” by abuse of alcohol or other drugs, since the war ended — an amazing number, since it’s almost twice the number of names on the Wall. This song is dedicated to them, and to the millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, and Cambodians who died during that war (and after it, from its effects), none of whom are recognized on any official memorial.
A later addition: Some time after this song was written, I heard a news item on CNN about a Vietnam veteran, who had committed suicide after returning home, whose name was going to be added to the Wall. I thought that it would be too much of a coincidence for this to be the same person that had inspired this song, but when I found the original Newsweek article, it turned out that it was. So in one way, you could say that the song is now wrong, since you will “see his name in D.C.”– but it should also be obvious that this song, although inspired by one man’s story, is about much more than that. And while I welcome the long-overdue decision to add Alan Brudno’s name to the Wall, there are many more names like his that you still won’t see.
When he came off that plane in Oakland, I thought his nightmare was finally through;
Ten years in Vietnam, five in prison, deeper wounds than I even knew.
He left that war, but it never left him; seems it just killed off all his hope.
And then I came into his room to find him hanging by a rope.
Now they’ve got a Wall in Washington, for the ones who gave their all;
But they don’t know he really died there, so they won’t put his name on that Wall. But…
He’s got his own Wall, and his name couldn’t be any clearer.
I see it in all of my dreams, carved there in that black mirror.
It took a long time after he died over there, for him to finally fall;
So you won’t see his name in D.C. – but he’s got his own Wall.
I thought back on all he’d told me, what he’d felt about that war –
How he wasn’t certain, any more, what we’d been fighting for.
He hadn’t seen that girl on fire, or the bodies at My Lai, till he came home;
Said it might have turned him against the war, if he’d only known.
He’d felt, all those years in prison, that his country had an ideal;
But now, after seeing what some of us did, he just didn’t know how to feel.
I had to make my own pilgrimage, to the land where he’d really died.
I saw the bomb craters in Hanoi; the Peace Park at My Lai.
I saw mass graves where whole villages had died there in that war;
But they didn’t hate me, and I found that I couldn’t hate them any more.
And now his Wall has thousands of names, American and Vietnamese;
After too many years of war and killing, at last they’re together in peace.
They’ve got their own Wall, and their names couldn’t be any clearer.
I see them in all of my dreams, carved there in that black mirror.
We don’t even know how many died over there, or where they’d finally fall;
So you won’t see their names in D.C. – but they’ve got their own Wall.
No, you won’t see their names in D.C. – but they’ve got their own Wall.
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