Songwriter: Dewey Bunnell
Original Release: America
Definitive Version: None
I have lots of quick visions associated with this song: the bad red-and-black carpet in the basement of our house on Darcann Drive, Gerry Beckley playing a doubleneck electric guitar during this song—the last song of the America concert I saw in 1976. Instead, I’m going to write about something else that happened around this time that ties into the theme of this song better.
There are special moments in just about everyone’s life, such as a marriage or a promotion or the birth of a child. But sometimes, if you’re fortunate, you get to do something that’s special in a larger sense. And if you’re even luckier, you know enough to appreciate the moment while it’s happening.
I joined the Cub Scouts in 1973, my first full year at Greensview Elementary. The den mother lived close to the school: You just had to walk through the playground and field behind it. You didn’t have to cross any street to get to her house.
One day that year, my Cub Scout pack took a day trip on the weekend to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base just outside Dayton. I had been there before, but it was great, because it had the Air Force History Museum, which means it had a massive collection of old fighters, bombers and jets. When you’re 7, which I was the first time I went, it doesn’t get much cooler than that.
My favorite was the XB-70 Valkyre, an experimental supersonic bomber of which only three were made and one crashed. It looks like a Klingon battleship, and, well, see my note above about coolness when you’re 7. The museum also has old biplanes, but not a Fokker triplane, alas, which was my favorite because of Snoopy and the Red Baron.
We spent the whole day wandering around before the scoutmaster began to round us up. We had been invited over to one of the landing strips on the actual base where we were going to get to see two POWs come home.
Now, it wasn’t like I was watching the news when I was a kid, but I had seen and read enough to know a little bit about the world around me, at least when it came to big things. I certainly knew what the Vietnam War was, although I had absolutely no concept of what it was about. I did know that a lot of young kids, not much older than I was, went over and were coming back in pine boxes or were having a pretty rough time if they came back alive, although again, the deeper issues eluded me.
(If I may digress a bit and get on my soapbox, if this country ever reinstituted the draft, like we had during the Vietnam War, that would be the end of wars of choice forever. My guess is most of the folks who were so eager to butt heads with Iraq or now Iran would change their tune if suddenly their kids or grandkids were forced to put their asses on the line. It’s much easier to be a hawk when it’s someone else’s ass out there.)
By this time, I also certainly knew what a POW was, that these guys had been captured by the enemy and had been held captive in prison for years. (I knew that torture was bad but had no real concept of how it was manifested.) Now that the war was over, these guys were finally coming home.
So there we were, standing out by the runway as the jet carrying these guys pulled up. As I recall, there was lots of cheering and some flag waving, although it didn’t seem to be the well-choreographed event that similar events today are. (And there definitely wasn’t any protesting or denouncing of the troops.) I want to say Stars and Stripes Forever was played, but that might be a false memory.
Anyway, I remember specifically seeing the soldiers coming off the plane in their dress uniforms one by one and their families running up and hugging and kissing them, wives, kids, moms, dads—just like I had seen on TV when other POWs had come home. I had no concept of whether the war was right or wrong or even whether we had won. (I had a pretty good idea that we had not.) It didn’t matter at that time; all that mattered was that these guys had made it home. It was really cool.
I have no idea what happened to those guys afterward. I suppose I could look it up, but I have no desire to learn more. The story has with a happy ending as far as I’m concerned, and that’s really what they deserved, regardless of the reality.