Friday, April 16, 2010

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

In an earlier post I referred to the Pete Seeger anti-war song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” That song brings back a memory from 1967 that I’d like to share with you.

I was in army basic training at Fort Dix, NJ, in the fall and winter of 1967. I wasn’t in favor of the war in Viet Nam, but I wasn’t going to be a draft dodger either. So I worked with my army recruiter to enlist in a non-combat MOS (military occupational specialty). So if I did end up on the other side of the Pacific, at least I’d be supporting the troops, and not be one of them on the front lines.

One day during basic training, probably in early December of 1967, our company was out in the field doing some sort of training. Sometimes we marched out to these field locations, and sometimes we were taken out by truck (deuce and a half usually). While we were on this particular exercise, it started to snow. After a while, the company commander stopped the exercise (or it might have just ended) and had the trucks called to transport us back to our barracks.

Since the trucks were going to take a while to arrive, we waited in a small building nearby. Then the company commander said, “Let’s have a sing-a-long to help pass the time.” At that point, none of us felt like singing. We were cold, hungry, and tired. He suggested we sing a song that was popular at that time. You guessed it. He said, “Let’s sing ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’.”

So there we were, about 75 army trainees in fatigues coming back from learning how to kill, maim, and otherwise hurt the enemy singing the anti-war song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” It was a surreal moment, especially considering that we were those husbands, sons, fathers, brothers who were “gone to war, everyone.” I wonder if the lieutenant ever got the irony of the situation.

Where have all the husbands gone, long time passing?
Where have all the husbands gone, long time ago?
Where have all the husbands gone?
Gone for soldiers everyone
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

(“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Words and Music by Pete Seeger (1955)
(c) 1961 (renewed) by Sanga Music Inc.)

I admit that as we sang that song in the most ridiculous of settings, tears came to my eyes as I pondered, “Which of these guys will return home in a body bag?” I knew some of them would. All because of stupid politicians in Washington like President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara.

Have we learned from the Viet Nam experience? Apparently George W. Bush slept through that class, because he once again sent troops into a questionable war, this time in Iraq. “Oh, when will they ever learn?” Sorry Pete, I don’t think they’ll ever learn. That’s the sorry condition of the human race, one that largely rejects or ignores the teaching of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ. He taught us and even showed us how to live, but we, like sheep, continue to go our own way. Oh, when will we ever learn?

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