BETHANY, W.Va. – Bethany College alumnus Doug Bradley is continuing his study of Vietnam veterans and how they were influenced by popular music in his latest book “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”
The title “Who’ll Stop the Rain” gives a nod to Creedence Clearwater Revival, an American rock band whose songs are often cited by Vietnam veterans as pivotal in helping them cope with war. In addition to the titular tune, “Fortunate Son,” “Run through the Jungle,” and “Bad Moon Rising” are just a few of the influential CCR songs cited by veterans.
“They were one of the first bands to say, ‘You can be opposed to the war and support the soldier,’” Bradley said of CCR’s legacy, particularly among soldiers.
That two-way respect may well lie in that lead singer John Fogerty served in the Army Reserves and drummer Doug Clifford was part of the Coast Guard Reserve.
Bradley was drafted into the Army in March 1970 and was assigned to the U.S. Army Republic of Vietnam headquarters at Long Binh, South Vietnam, as a journalist. From November 1970 to November 1971, he said he was mostly stationed in an air-conditioned office writing and editing for a newspaper and a magazine.
“I had probably one of the best jobs in Vietnam,” he said, crediting his English degree from Bethany.
After returning to the United States, Bradley, a Pennsylvania native, relocated to Madison, Wis. He has worked in higher education communications for more than 30 years, mostly at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he holds the title of distinguished lecturer emeritus.
Bradley wrote about his service in his first book “DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air Conditioned Jungle” in 2012. He then collaborated with Craig Werner on “We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War” which was Rolling Stone magazine’s best music book of 2015.
The goal of “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” was to tell the stories that Vietnam veterans often left untold.
“We knew vets were still in pain and couldn’t talk, so we asked them, ‘What was your song?” Bradley said. “That opened the floodgates.”
Like in the acclaimed “We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place,” music is very much at the heart of “Who’ll Stop the Rain: Respect, Remembrance, and Reconciliation in Post-Vietnam America,” which was released as a hardcover in December and is now available in paperback and ebook.
Bradley says the book mentions 165 songs that either came up in conversation or were suggested by the veterans themselves. An accompanying playlist on Spotify logs in at 120 songs and more than 7 hours of listening time. Examples include William Bell’s “Marching Off to War,” Isaac Hayes’ “I Stand Accused,” Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” Sgt. Barry Sadler’s “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” Phil Ochs’ “Draft Dodger Rag,” Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”
But the latest book dives deeper into veterans’ stories of struggle, hope, survival, and action – what Bradley refers to as “call and response.”
“We’ve Gotta Get Out of this Place” and the more than two years and nearly 100 presentations that he and Werner gave to groups large and small was the “call,” he explained, while “Who’ll Stop the Rain” is the “response” that came from that.
“There were incredible moments of epiphany and welcoming and healing,” Bradley said.
Early in “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Bradley writes of the tradition of preachers in black churches asking, “Can I get a witness?” as a way to seek affirmation from the congregation.
He writes on: “I’ve been seeking my own ‘Amen’ of sorts for decades – from my Vietnam and post-Vietnam experiences to more than a decade of interviews with Vietnam veterans … The Amens sometimes come as a pause, or a nod, sometimes a smile, a bowed head, or tears. But they came, and they kept coming.”
“Who’ll Stop the Rain” features nearly two dozen “solos” in which veterans – men and women – share their stories of war and search of redemption. Brothers Chuck Hagel, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, and Tom Hagel, professor emeritus at the University of Dayton and acting judge for Dayton Municipal Court, pen the introduction.
Many of the “solos” touch on organizations that have helped veterans address their wounds, physically and psychologically. Music is a common thread, but catharsis is also demonstrated in poetry and painting.
Two veterans initiatives mentioned throughout the book are close to Bradley. He played a role in establishing Vets House, a community-based center for Vietnam veterans, and The Deadly Writer’s Patrol, a magazine established in 2006 to showcase works by veterans of all wars.
“The sad thing is that some of our ranks have succumbed to Agent Orange and other wartime issues,” he said. “The motto is rigor with quality, and some of the best poetry has been from young veteran poets.”
The goal of many Vietnam veterans, Bradley said, was to ensure that no other veterans would be treated as Vietnam veterans had been and to ensure that there would be no veterans.
“We succeed on one count and failed on another,” he said.
The research that resulted in “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” also found a place in the classroom with Bradley and Werner teaching “The Vietnam Era: Music Media and Mayhem” at UW-Madison
Wisconsin allows anyone 62 or older to audit classes with the approval of the instructor, allowing for interesting dynamic of traditional college students and those who lived Vietnam. When the class was taught, Bradley said the undergraduates were born mostly in the late 1990s.
“It made for a rich environment for the students,” Bradley said. “Vietnam could be the Peloponnesian War, but they knew the music.”
Once the information is presented, Bradley said the final class presents a final song – and question: “Who’ll Stop the Rain?”
“The best way to stop the rain is to stop the wars,” he said, acknowledging that some situations make that difficult. “What isn’t necessary is continued involvement is tribal conflicts that haven’t been overcome for hundreds of years. … Let’s open our eyes, ears, and hearts to find ways to stop fighting wars.”
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