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Music Tells The Story – Part I

Part I: Sid’s Story

Silent for many decades, Vietnam veterans tell their stories in different ways, through books, blogs, articles, and music. One veteran, Sid Orr, found his voice by writing Vietnam ballads, telling the emotional story through poignant lyrics reflecting his and others’ experiences during their time “in country.”

Sid grew up in rural Missouri, and like many “farm boys” of the era, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 18 after receiving his draft card. He served in the Marine Corps for four years, the last of which was in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner stationed in Phu Bai, just south of the DMZ.

After returning from Vietnam, he made his way to Georgia and joined the Georgia Air National Guard serving another 30 years!

Sid is a humble and thoughtful man, and his war experiences affected him deeply, staying with him through the decades. Like other Vietnam veterans, he felt a subconscious anger and shame that permeated his soul. And like others, he didn’t talk about it.

In the song, “Powder Blue” from his first CD, he describes how the war is never far away:

I hear the mortars on the hillside

Smoke covers my morning dew

But the damn war is never behind me

It colors all that I do

Powder blue

Returning from Vietnam, veterans like Sid faced many challenges. Unlike other wars, they went to war alone – not as part of a unit. They returned alone having to reintegrate into a society where many demonized those who fought “in country.” Friends, family members, and others who wanted to help didn’t understand. They couldn’t possibly. Sid says it best in his song, “He Can’t Go Back Home From Vietnam”:

He can’t go back home from Vietnam

Ain’t nobody there will understand

They want their boy back home

But that boy, he’s long gone

They took fifteen years of his

Just paid him for one

Songwriting is A Passion, a calling

By the 1980s, Sid had what can only be described as a passion for songwriting, all kinds, but particularly country western and then bluegrass. The “three-chord poet” carried a notebook and a cassette recorder with him everywhere, even pulling off the highway to record his thoughts. During this time, the Vietnam songs kept “bugging” him – they had to be written.

Although they began as a personal cathartic experience, they evolved into a story Sid wanted to tell. The lyrics describe the action but convey so much more.

The Vietnam veteran and his family’s lives changed forever after he received his draft card. If a boy didn’t go to college, he had thirty days to decide to enlist or be drafted. From “You’ve Got Thirty Days:”

I was just 18

Figured out the score

Rich kids go to college

Poor kids go to war

 

Some things were not an option

Like running to Montreal

Didn’t think that way

We answered our nation’s call

 

Put your life on hold now

Tell your friends goodbye

You’ve got 30 days to decide

Fighting in Vietnam, the warrior faced death or worse. The Missing In Action (MIA) just disappeared. For their families, the war never ended.

In the “MIA Song: I’ll Be Right Back,” a recon patrol clears a place to dig in – one man goes out to set the perimeter and never returns.

Gonna leave my noisy helmet here

Gonna leave my belt and pack

The last thing the hero said

“Sarge, I’ll be right back.”

 

They never sent his helmet home.

Never sent his belt and pack.

The only remains were memories

To his hometown high school class

But they swore to God they won’t lose hope

They’ll hold out to the last

Because the promise that he made

“Hey, Mom, I’ll be right back.”

For the Vietnam vets who came home, the memories remain.  As for the rest of us – there is a black granite wall that will not let us forget the 58,000+ warriors who made the ultimate sacrifice. From the song “As Long As The Black Granite Stands”:

He wore a helmet and heavy dark green vest

To protect his head and the best part of his chest

Chaplain told his men, that the vest won’t even start

To protect the wounded soldier’s heart

 

As long as the black granite stands

58,000 names man to man

Words of the chaplain come alive

Oh in our hearts our brothers never die

We’ll never let our brothers’ memories die

Recording Ain’t That Easy

Sid didn’t plan to make a CD, he just wanted to record demos of a few of his songs. He worked with local studios, singing and playing guitar to a piano accompaniment. After spending hours and hours on the time-consuming task of recording and editing tracks on reel-to-reel recording systems, they just didn’t sound good. Sid burned out on his songs – but he never quit writing, and wouldn’t or couldn’t let go of his Vietnam ballads.

From the mid-1990’s to 2010 recording had to take a back seat. As part of the Air National Guard, Sid “commuted” between Atlanta, GA area to Warner Robins Air Force Base in middle Georgia from 1994 to 1999. At the same time, he was taking education courses, eventually acquiring his teaching credentials. After retiring from the Georgia Air National Guard in 1999, he taught high school until he retired from education in 2010.

For the first time in over fifteen years, he had the time to devote to his songwriting, and to the Vietnam ballads that wouldn’t let him go – the time had come.

The First CD Is Born

Remembering his previous recording experience, Sid decided to go to Nashville, the “Home of Country Music,” with professional studio musicians and vocalists. He met Galen Breen at Gator Hole Studios, and the two discussed the ballads and how Sid wanted to convey his message. Sid returned home and prepared two songs a week for Galen to record. With Nashville studio musicians and the talent of 70’s country western singer, David Wills, the songs came to life in the 2013 CD release – Vietnam: The Journey.

After the CD’s release, Sid found it rewarding to receive positive feedback from friends, family, and fellow veterans who were “blown away,” or “in awe.” One veteran said he couldn’t stop listening to it – the songs touched him in ways he could not describe.

To be Continued…

In our next post, learn how Tunnel Rats Music came to be. How having like-minded and supportive people like Robin Daniel and Libby Wilson helped Sid move forward to write and produce the second CD – Vietnam: The Journey Continues.M

You Didn’t Fight Alone, It’s No Different Now You’re Home

The lyrics of the Tunnel Rats song, “You’re Not Alone” came alive as I read the story of a Vietnam Vet who shared his story of pain, and loss of hope, that almost ended in tragedy.

Reflections on “Twenty Veterans Will Commit Suicide Today, or Will They?”

If you talk to enough veterans you will soon understand that although every war is different, all veterans returning home from combat face challenges that the rest of us, the protected, will never understand. Even combat veterans from different wars can find it difficult to relate to each other.

With more than 2.7 million American servicemen serving in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, the Vietnam veterans who have now reached retirement age, are beginning to shed light on their war and the challenges they faced coming home, many of which they continue to face today.  Of the unique challenges faced by Vietnam vets, one of the most tragic themes emerging from these warriors is that they carry intense feelings of shame, and a strong sense of being alone, which manifests itself in isolation, and too often, suicide.

War is Hell, so is the Vietnam Veteran’s Experience really Unique?

One answer lies in an important difference in the United States training and deployment policy during Vietnam:

In many ways, the word “alone” best describes the plight of the American soldiers sent overseas a half-century ago to fight in Southeast Asia. They were sent to battle alone and they came home alone where some sought solitude from society. Those factors led to the psychological health issues some Vietnam-era veterans still face today.

While some soldiers enlisted, others were drafted to serve yearlong tours. The United States also did something it had never done before, called the individual rotation policy. Unlike previous conflicts where soldiers were trained and deployed together as units, during Vietnam, troops were sent overseas one-by-one and added to existing units. There were numerous reasons for the policy, but according to Jeffrey Heider, a psychologist in Kalispell who has worked with veterans for more than 30 years, one theory was that rotating soldiers on yearlong tours would lessen their exposure to the horrors of war.

But in some ways, it may have made it worse. New soldiers were frequently outcast by the rest of the unit because of their inexperience. Heider added that after seeing friends die, some soldiers would isolate themselves.

-Justin Franz, November 4, 2015, “Alone in Vietnam”, Flathead Beacon

What Can We Do?

Listen, learn, support, and raise awareness.

Brian Scott Sherman, of Belleville, IL, shared his story of pain, and loss of hope, that almost ended in tragedy.  He has one request:

I encourage sharing my testimony with as many media outlets as humanly possible, because the word has to get out that the Men and Women who have or are protecting our way of life are truly hurting and need help now NOT tomorrow, because for 22 veterans it will be too late.

Read the story of Brian Scott Sherman, of Belleville, IL, which is featured in the post, “Twenty Veterans Will Commit Suicide Today, or Will They?”

“You’re Not Alone” – Tunnel Rats Music

Son you didn’t fight alone

It’s no different now you’re home

There are others just  like you

Who’ll  share what you’re going through

There’s hooooooope, There’s hope

There’s hope, there’s always hope, you’re not alone.

Semper Fi: Purple Heart Cruise Dinner & Silent Auction

The Tunnel Rats are proud to be providing music for the Purple Heart Cruise Dinner & Silent Auction

 

  • When: August 7th 2017, 4:00 – 8:00
  • Where: Semper Fi Bar & Grille, 9770 Main Street, Woodstock, GA
  • Fundraising Event: Proceeds from the event will help send 20 Combat-Wounded veterans plus their spouses or caregivers on the 3rd Annual Purple Heart Cruise.
  • Advanced Tickets: $25 includes Dinner, Drink, Dessert, and Entertainment
  • Ticket and Event information: 470 265-2383
Event Links:

Purple Heart Cruise

The Story Behind “You’re Not Alone”

By Robin Daniel

When Libby Wilson and I began working with Sid Orr 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

Tunnel Rats Music – Music That Heals

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”