A Minnesota PBS Initiative

The Soundtrack of War

Songs from Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Dylan and the Beatles became the soundtrack to the Vietnam War experience for many who served in Southeast Asia and who experienced the profound impact of the war at home.

Music is a thread in many of the stories that have been shared here at The Story Wall. Below are just a few that highlight the power that music has in shaping experiences, memories and perspectives about the War in Vietnam. Take a look:

Young Vietnam soldiers sit at a table outside eating food.

"The soundtrack is unique in the fact that it was recorded on a small battery powered boxy cassette recorder that was simply activated as we were in a bunker in a base camp near the city of Tay Ninh. I’m sure there was pot and alcohol involved. Down time like this was a time to let loose."

Joe Spado via Jayne Lewis | TIME WON'T LET ME



Cover of a book called More Than Nine Lives.

“We were going to entertain ones that were alive but they were totally burned.”




Man in jacket poses in front of picture frames on a wall.

“Alert, alive. Alert, alive. No safe place. No safe people. One man sat on the dirt floor against a pole, M-16 across his abdomen, his face a dead, black-eyed stare. On a boom-box next to him played a song by John Lennon, "Happiness is a Warm Gun." When a year later I returned to the land of shadows, I brought the stink back with me.”




Pencil sketches of Jimi Hendrix.

"When I went to work I didn't do any drugs except the night Jimi Hendrix died. I heard it via AFVN radio while on Post. We were not supposed to have a radio on Post but, everyone did."

Patrick Kemp | TEST FIRE


Vietnam memorial wall with American Flag.

“I am a songwriter who has the utmost respect for our veterans past and present for giving us the freedoms that we have. I am especially tied to Vietnam Vets for they are of my generation. I can't imagine how hard it would be to have served in Nam and come to this place or know someone who is on The Wall.”

Shaun Schipper | THE WALL



Hmong man playing a wooden flute.

"At that time I was orphaned and devastated. I missed my parents. So, when I saw others playing the flute, I wanted to learn how to play it to express my sorrow.”

Bee Vue | BEE VUE



Young Vietnam soldier sitting on the steps of a thatched hut with a group of native children.

“The song sadly asks, “my brother, do you still feel the pain even though your eyes have died”? These are very heavy words for me when I hear the song, and remember a wonderful Montagnard friend who suffered a horrible wound on Chi Ro Bu. This song always brings a tear to my eye.”

Charles Schwiderski | DO YOU STILL FEEL THE PAIN?


Group of young people protesting the Vietnam War with signs.

“If you remember Arlo Guthrie's song "Alice's Restaurant", you’ll remember that there was a rule that if you had an arrest record, you had to see a psychiatrist at the draft physical. I did have an arrest record at civil rights and antiwar demonstrations. So when they told me an induction order would be sent to me soon, I said I had an arrest record and I wanted to see the shrink! There were 2 clerks in the room at the time, an elderly man and a young woman. The man asked what I was arrested for. I said “protesting the damn war.”

Blurry photo of a young Vietnam soldier using heroin.

“I suggested to the Drug Education Teams that they start with the song “Sister Morphine” by the Rolling Stones. They could perhaps discuss the lyrics and then try to start a presentation about the risks of using heroin.”

What is your Vietnam War song? How did music play a role in your experiences?

Please share your story here and we will curate it into the Story Wall collection. 


Vietnam soldiers listen to soldier playing guitar in camp.

Experience the soundtrack of the Vietnam War era that was featured at a special Veterans Day weekend concert at Twin Cities PBS- played by an all-star band of Minnesota musicians
and powerful stories from the Rolling Stones' Best Music Book for 2015 "We Gotta Get Out of This Place."


Story Themes: AFVN, Beatles, Hmong, Jimi Hendrix, Music, Radio, Song

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