Christmas Songs from the Vietnam Era
Sgt. Buddy Bruek (left) of Vicksburg, MS, and SFC Ernesto Flores of California (no city given), set up a Christmas tree in a spare mortar pit at the Duc Lap Special Forces camp in South Vietnam on December 7, 1969. (Getty Images)
Artists have long used Christmas songs to show more than their holiday spirit…they have used them to express their views on world events. Sandwiched between the World War II-era’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” by Bing Crosby and the 1984 multi-singer hit, “Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?” was the 1960s and the Vietnam War. It is not surprising, then, to see Christmas songs of the sixties with a special focus on peace on earth.
“My Boyfriend’s Coming Home For Christmas”
Toni Wine was known more for her incredible songwriting ability than for her singing, but in 1963 she wrote and recorded the ballad, “My Boyfriend’s Coming Home For Christmas” about her soldier boyfriend. Written before public opinion on the war in Vietnam had jaded, Wine notes that she is proud of her boyfriend and the important work that he is doing, and she’s not “mad at Uncle Sam” for taking him away…she’s just looking forward to his return.
“There Won’t Be Any Snow (Christmas in the Jungle)”
Derrick Roberts’ 1965 single, “There Won’t Be Any Snow (Christmas in the Jungle)”, is written like a letter home to the soldier’s girlfriend. In it, he mentions how the heat of the Asian jungle is in stark contrast to the white, snowy Christmases back home. He also touches on the anti-war protests when he says, “Some people think we’re fools to be here” but that he is sure he will return home safely to build his future with his sweetheart.
“Little Becky’s Christmas Wish”
Becky Lamb was just five years old in 1967 when record executives at Warner Brothers tapped her to sing a tragic Christmas song about her dead brother. Written as a letter to Santa, little Becky relates that her only wish for Christmas is for her brother, Tommy, to come home from fighting in the Vietnam War. However, the lyrics make it clear…Tommy has been killed in conflict and won’t be coming home. Little Becky, however, refuses to believe it and prevails on Santa, who can do magical deeds, to grant her Christmas wish. The song was viewed by many as a representation of the terrible human cost of war, and by others as a ploy to drum up anti-war sentiments via a tear-jerker of a song.
“Christmas in Vietnam”
Released in 1966 by Johnny and Jon, “Christmas in Vietnam” tells the story of loneliness that was experienced by thousands of African American soldiers fighting in Vietnam at Christmas time. The song balances the fear and sadness of the soldiers’ plight in the war with the unrest of the Civil Rights movement back home. For the African American community, the War highlighted many of the racial inequalities that the Civil Rights era was trying to erase. For example, there were disproportionately higher percentages of African American draftees and war casualties. “Christmas in Vietnam” ends with the ominous line, “It won’t be merry this Christmastime, there’s Vietcong all around me.”
“Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Written by Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne, the Christmas classic, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is actually a call for peace penned during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The French-born Regney had witnessed first-hand the horrors of war as a youngster in German-occupied France during World War II. Fast forward a few decades and Regney was living in New York with his wife, Gloria Shayne. He saw the fear and despair in the eye of New Yorkers as the United States and the Soviet Union were puffing out their chests to each other during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Together with his wife, Regney wrote “Do You Hear What I Hear?” as a plea for peace and goodwill.
“I Want to Come Home For Christmas”
A veteran of protest songs, having already recorded “What’s Going On?”, Marvin Gaye expressed his anger over the war with another tune, this one a Christmas song, “I Want to Come Home For Christmas.” In this 1972 tune, Gaye sings about the plight of prisoners of war who find themselves in a prison camp for Christmas. He and the other prisoners long for a traditional American Christmas with Santa and family and mistletoe, but he ends each verse knowing that he won’t experience this type of Christmas “unless they stop the fight.”
Although there is no mention of war in Elvis Presley’s hit, “Blue Christmas,” the song does address the issues of loneliness and separation during the holiday season, something Elvis understood too well. Drafted in the U.S. Army in March of 1958, he fulfilled his patriotic during until early 1960. He recorded “Blue Christmas” just prior to his stint in the military, but many soldiers after him shared the sentiment that Christmas is blue when it is spent away from loved ones.
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