By Marka Ormsby
There is a generation of veterans, silent warriors, who served in the Vietnam War. They are in their late 60s, 70s, and 80’s, now retired from their careers with time to reflect on their lives. Many face the guilt, shame, and horror they encountered decades ago as memories arise and slap them in the face. How are the issues Vietnam veterans face different from from those of other war?
Unlike the warriors from World War II, the Vietnam veteran fought a war dictated by politics fueled by the fear of communism spreading throughout Southeast Asia at the beginning of the Cold War. And unlike WWII, the leadership revealed their complete misunderstanding of the challenges in Vietnam from the outset when they boasted they would solve the issue in six weeks.
Vietnam veterans fought an unpopular and unconventional war, being sent to Vietnam and returning home as individuals without the support of a unit or comrades in arms after completing their tour of duty. They arrived stateside, given bus fare to their hometowns, and thrust back into society often within days of leaving Vietnam without so much as a “thank you for your service.” In fact, they faced the opposite. Many were spit upon, labeled “baby-killers” and war-mongers. In contrast, during WWII we did not have the available transportation to send warriors home immediately. Many stayed in Europe until transportation could be provided. In hind site this gave the combat veterans time to adjust to non-combat life before returning to the states, and families, and jobs.
Many Vietnam veterans suffered in silence as they tried to deal with the memories associated with the inhumanity of war, particularly one like Vietnam. Many fought despair with drugs and alcohol. Many fell victim to suicide as a solution to their pain.
Facing the demons of the Vietnam war means shining a light on it, revealing it in context. Healing begins with understanding and acceptance of what these veterans faced “in country” and the pain and suffering of coming home.
Sid Orr, one of the founders of Tunnel Rats Music, is a Vietnam veteran, a Marine, a helicopter door gunner who served in country in 1969. To help himself and other veterans, he found songwriting about his experiences a healing way to overcome the anger and shame that many veterans feel. He wrote the songs for his first CD, Vietnam: The Journey (2013), focused on the veteran’s experiences from draft card to serving “in country,” to returning home, which was, to many warriors, harder than staying.
In the second CD, Vietnam: The Journey Continues (2016), Sid collaborated with two co-writers to focus on the experiences Vietnam veterans faced coming home, the impact those experiences continue to have on the veteran, their families, and loved ones. The songs carry a message for Vietnam veterans and everyone else. They open a window and shine a light on the silent warriors.
Robin Daniel explains the Tunnel Rats Music team’s experience best in her discussion below about writing the last song on the second CD that signifies the primary message of healing, “You’re Not Alone.”
The Story Behind “You’re Not Alone”
By Robin Daniel
When Libby and I began working with Sid on his 2nd CD, Vietnam: The Journey Continues, we found that our understanding of the Vietnam War, and the veteran’s experience, was limited and inaccurate. As we immersed ourselves in the songs, we had long and difficult conversations. We are eternally thankful to Sid who was willing to walk us through that time with him. We learned that every war is unique, and no one comes home unharmed.
While we were collaborating on the songs, we met an amazing woman, Sanfora DiMilo, at her home in Ellijay, Georgia, where we sat in her den and talked for hours. Sanfora was a nurse working with the first Vietnam veterans coming home in 1965. She told us about her “warriors” and the groundbreaking work on PTSD they spearheaded. She shared her experiences as she shaped her career around helping these veterans. As we prepared to leave, we asked, “If you could give one message to the Vietnam veterans and their families, what would it be?” She said “There is hope, and you are not alone.”
After completing the other songs on the CD, we began writing “You’re Not Alone!” We had pages and pages of thoughts, emotions, messages. We tapped into Sid’s and other Vietnam Veterans’ memories of coming home. Unlike any other group of veterans in history, the Vietnam Veterans came home to a country that was angry, and many took out their anger on the returning Vets. They suffered in silence for many years. It wasn’t until many years later Sid remembers walking in a Veteran’s Day parade in the 1990’s, 20 years after returning home, and a woman on a street corner mouthed the words “Thank you. Welcome home.” It was then he realized this was the first time he been welcomed home from Vietnam.
With so much we wanted to express, we struggled with the song for weeks. Then one day it just happened. Sid said, “We are writing this for the warriors,” and distilled the totality of feelings and messages into “You’re Not Alone” ending with:
“Oh There’s hope,
there’s always hope,
Oh There’s hope,
there’s always hope, Welcome home”