50 years ago this month, I landed at Tan Son Nhut Airport near Saigon in the Republic of Vietnam. I recall the bus ride taking us from Travis Air Force Base in California to board the plane. The bus was full of young innocent Army privates, having no idea what awaited us in this faraway Southeast Asian land. At 21, I was one of the oldest on the bus of 19-year-olds. One memory of that trip that has never faded was the large boombox radios that many of the troops carried with them. The songs that blared out from those music boxes during my tour included Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” I would hear those songs and others for the next 12 months in Vietnam. Music was a defining part of our Vietnam experience. Music was our lifeline.

By 1967, soldiers were being sent to Vietnam as individuals to fill vacancies, not as units that had trained and lived together before they arrived in country. What struck me on the bus ride and our flight was how alone each individual was, as we were getting to know one another.

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