The mega rock star Bruce Springsteen was a crucial supporter of Vietnam Veterans of America during its early years. When the then-three-year-old organization was struggling financially in the summer of 1981, Springsteen turned over all the proceeds from his sold-out August 20 concert (the first of six) at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena to VVA.
Springsteen came out on stage that night and made a short speech about how the nation shamefully neglected its Vietnam veterans. He then introduced VVA Founding President Bobby Muller, who told the crowd that it was “a great night for Vietnam veterans.”
The night, Muller said, “is the first step in ending the silence that has surrounded Vietnam [and] is the beginning of thanking all the people that have worked so hard for these years all over the country” for Vietnam veterans.
“It’s a little bit ironic,” Muller said, that American businesses “haven’t come behind us and the political leaders have failed to rally behind us, that when you remember the divisions within our own generation about the war, that it ultimately turns out to be the very symbol of our generation, rock ’n roll, that brings us together.”
Rock ‘n roll, he said, ” is going to provide the healing process that everybody needs. So let’s not talk about it, let’s get down to it. Let’s rock ’n roll.”
Springsteen then led his E Street Band into a spirited and emotional version of “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” the old Credence Clearwater Revival song.
The concert, one Springsteen fan later wrote, was “possibly the most emotional show of Bruce’s career.” Several band members “reportedly had tears in their eyes when they started ‘Who’ll Stop the Rain’.” Springsteen “himself was overcome with emotion during ‘The River’ and stopped singing at one point. ”
The audio of that entire concert–all three-plus hours of it–is on You Tube.
Springsteen continued to support VVA after that concert. And he continued to honor Vietnam veterans in his life and work. That includes his iconic 1984 song, “Born in the U.S.A,” as well as the song “The Wall” on Springsteen’s latest album “High Hopes.”
“The Wall” is a mournful, bitter ballad told in the voice of a friend of a Marine named Billy who died in Vietnam. The friend is talking to Billy at The Wall.
“This black stone and these hard tears are all I got left now of you,” he says. “I remember you in your Marine uniform laughin’, laughin’ at your ship-out party. I read Robert McNamara says he’s sorry.”
In the CD’s liner notes, Springsteen explains how he came to write the song and the real person whose name is on The Wall who inspired the song:
The song, he wrote, ” is something I’d played on stage a few times and remains very close to my heart. The title and idea were Joe Grushecky’s, then the song appeared after [his wife] Patti and I made a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.”
The song, Springsteen said, “was inspired by my memories of Walter Cichon. Walter was one of the great early Jersey Shore rockers, who along with his brother Ray (one of my early guitar mentors), led the The Motifs, a local rock band who were always a head above everybody else. Raw, sexy and rebellious, they were the heroes you aspired to be.
“But these were heroes you could touch, speak to, and go to with your musical inquiries. Cool, but always accessible, they were an inspiration to me, and many young working musicians in 1960s central New Jersey.
“Though my character in ‘The Wall’ is a Marine, Walter was actually in the Army, A Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry. He was the first person I ever stood in the presence of who was filled with the mystique of the true rock star. ’
Walter Cichon went missing in action in Kontum, South Vietnam, on March 30, 1968. He remains listed as MIA from the Vietnam War.
“He still performs somewhat regularly in my mind, the way he stood, dressed, held the tambourine, the casual cool, the free-ness,” Springsteen said.
“The man who by his attitude, his walk said, ‘you can defy all this, all of what’s here, all of what you’ve been taught, taught to fear, to love and you’ll still be alright.’
“His was a terrible loss to us, his loved ones and the local music scene. I still miss him.”