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Soldiers, from "Travellin' Soldier," a song by The Chicks

Subthemes: Conscription or Enlistment, Honoring Veterans, Guerrilla Warfare

A moving song, “Travellin’ Soldier” shares the small-bore story of a broken-hearted girl who befriended a young soldier shipping out to Vietnam. Its simplicity, poignancy, and heartfelt loss well up tears for listeners. The Chicks (known until 2020 as The Dixie Chicks) made this sad ballad about soldiers famous. It suggests subthemes of Soldiers.

Click here to listen to an official video of the song.

Two days past eighteen
He was waiting for the bus in his army green
Sat down in a booth in a cafe there
Gave his order to a girl with a bow in her hair
He’s a little shy so she give him a smile
So he said would you mind sittin' down for a while
And talking to me, I’m feeling a little low
She said I’m off in an hour and I know where we can go
So they went down and they sat on the pier
He said I bet you got a boyfriend but I don’t care
I got no one to send a letter to
Would you mind if I sent one back here to you

I cried
Never gonna hold the hand of another guy
Too young for him they told her
Waitin' for the love of a travelin' soldier
Our love will never end
Waitin' for the soldier to come back again
Never more to be alone when the letter says
A soldier’s coming home

So the letters came from an army camp
In California then Vietnam
And he told her of his heart
It might be love and all of the things he was so scared of
He said when it’s getting kinda rough over here
I think of that day sittin' down at the pier
And I close my eyes and see your pretty smile
Don’t worry but I won’t be able to write for a while

[refrain omitted]

One Friday night at a football game
The Lord’s Prayer said and the anthem sang
A man said folks would you bow your head
For the list of local Vietnam dead
Crying all alone under the stands
Was the piccolo player in the marching band
And one name read and nobody really cared
But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair

[refrain omitted]

Source: LyricFind

Conscription or Enlistment: We aren’t told why a boy, two days past 18, has joined the Army, but he probably enlisted. He was just of age, may or may not have graduated high school, but he was recruited to serve in the military. Signing bonuses, recruitment stations, and ads on television entice young adults to join our all-volunteer forces. Conscription, by contrast, is the compulsory induction of individuals into the armed services, where the draft is the procedure by which individuals are chosen for conscription. During the Vietnam War, between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. military drafted 2.2 million American men out of an eligible pool of 27 million. If your draft number was low enough, you were subject to conscription. Many draftees fled the country, sheltered with deferments in college, or sought exemptions of various kinds to avoid service. A few went to prison, such as Cassius Clay (later, Muhammed Ali), to protest the war in Vietnam and the draft. In Israel, preferential treatment and privilege is less because nearly everyone who turns 18 must serve two years in the military.

Honoring Veterans: The young letter-writing soldier died in the jungles or paddies of Vietnam. For him, recognition of the ultimate sacrifice was brief mention

One Friday night at a football game
The Lord’s Prayer said and the anthem sang
A man said folks would you bow your head
For the list of local Vietnam dead.

The piccolo player cried, when one name read and nobody really cared. In other circumstances our country acknowledges the sacrifices of those in uniform and provide them with benefits although few have songs or poems that make them famous. The G.I. Bill after World War II changed higher education as it funded many of the demobilized vets to attend college. We recognize Gold Star Families who lose a child in war and Memorial Day is a national holiday for remembrance. We hold solemn ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington where an eternal flame burns, as at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Veterans Administration runs more than 1,200 hospitals and other medical facilities for nearly nine million veterans. POW/MIA flags flutter everywhere.

Guerrilla Warfare: Soldiers do not have to wear uniforms, live in barracks and tents, and observe the formalities of standing armies and military bases. Instead, from the earliest times when men battled against each other, groups of them have operated in small bands, striking when they have an opportunity and otherwise hiding in remote places or melting back into the civilian populace. Mercenaries are hired to fight. The travellin’ GI went off to Vietnam to chase and destroy the elusive Viet Cong, who fought on their own terms (aside from being bombed constantly). Guerrilla warfare poses an asymmetrical threat to organized armies because the insurgents can choose to launch small, sneak attacks, plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs), ambush opposing units, or explode suicide bombers. Current examples include the Taliban in Afghanistan, ISS in Iraq, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the Chechen insurgents, and many more partisans.

 

The Chicks caught emotional lightning in a bottle with their unadorned song of tragic loss from the Vietnam war. The doomed boy joined the Army and gave his life, but his death was barely recognized as a casualty of the war against guerillas, the Viet Cong.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept “Soldiers,” consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, “About.”

We invite you to read about other songs discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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