Leadbetter's request was always on my mind, even during prisoner patrol, when we kept watch of injured POWs.  We manned guard stations at each corner of the hospital ward, armed with 12-gauge sawed-off shotguns.  We weren't messing around.  The Vietcong prisoners would sit, sleep, hang out talking to each other in Vietnamese.  They never looked us in the eye, their faces were always blank.  They gave me the creeps, like they were plotting against us...

Watching the Congs share their secrets, I rolled Captain's idea over and over in my mind.  There were so many reasons why it wouldn't work, why it couldn't work.  I wondered why I had even agreed to it in the first place.  No instruments.  No equipment.  And that was just for starters.  Where would a band practice, in a sandbag bunker?  And, sure, we couldn't hide Dodge City from Charlie – it was a safe bet he already knew we were there – but did we really need to advertise our exact location with music?

I was starting to think that maybe Leadbetter was nuts.  That I'd made a mistake.  That maybe I should tell him it just couldn't be done.

Still, putting together another band... I couldn't get it out of my mind...

• • •

Sugden and I were cutting through town from prisoner patrol out in the Valley.  Past the paddies and the sugarcane.  Past the graveyards and tangled hedgerows.  The beer-can hovels with shoeless babysans playing in the muck.  Into the chaos of downtown.

Then we spotted them.  I almost wrecked the jeep.  We couldn't believe our eyes.

Gutars.  Amps, too.  Even drums...

Jon Sugden (left) and me with our papasan instruments.

Rock 'N' Roll Soldier: A Memoir by Dean Ellis Kohler with Susan VanHecke, foreword by Graham Nash  •  © 2024