A few weeks ago I reached out to Dan Daley, the writer of Still in Saigon to ask him a series of questions. The general objective was to gain the writer’s prospective at the time of writing the song as well as get a first-hand account of some of the issues during the time period. The following is the questions and answers from my interview.
1. What caused you to write Still in Saigon? I know you based it off of experiences of people you knew, but what lead to you choosing to write it?
The song at its core is about not feeling comfortable or safe where you are, be that a physical place or a mental space. It’s a feeling I’ve known all my life. It’s set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War because that was the first time US servicemen came back to anything less than a hero’s welcome. If the war didn’t sufficiently traumatize them, coming home often did.
2. Did you know anyone who personally suffered from PTSD following a deployment in Vietnam? If so what was it like for them in a society that often refused to help the veterans to the degree it should have?
I did after I wrote the song, and particularly after Charlie Daniels had a hit with it. Most of his security staff were Vietnam veterans who shared stories with me, and I have a box full of letters from vets who took the time to write me, to tell me that the song reflected their feelings, sometimes to just ramble a bit.
3. Overall what was society like for veterans suffering from PTSD or similar disorders following their time overseas? How were they treated or looked at by the general public?
PTSD diagnoses were still nascent at that time. It took years for the medical profession, then the general population, and lastly the military itself to come to fully recognize that if you put young kids into searingly traumatic situations, surrounded by the context of an unpopular war, then send them home to a public that’s been primed to view them as extensions of a political machine that created war, you are going to create big problems.
4. How have you noticed the treatment of such veterans improving over time?
Everything that happened around the Vietnam war happened all over again with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The basis for them was specious, at best, treasonous at worst (Gulf of Tonkin/Vietnam; 9-11/Iraq). The trauma of war has only become more intense. The one huge difference now is that veterans receive at least a perceptually better reception from the public. There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that PTSD and other trauma-related conditions are much better and more widely understood now. I suspect it may also have something to do with the fact that most of those who served in Vietnam were draftees; the most recent wars were fought by an all-volunteer military.
5. Lastly if you have any other comments or information to share about the song, veterans after Vietnam, or society at the time I would appreciate them as well.
It was a life-changing experience for me. I’m glad it did some good. But I’m disappointed that if I were to substitute “Baghdad” for “Saigon” today the song would still be as relevant as it was 32 years ago. Good luck with your studies. Always do work you are proud of.
One of the most striking points he brings up is how hitting the song is to the war in Iraq. These issues in the song are still relevant today and that is not likely to change any time soon. The similarities between the two wars can help us draw some parallels to the way things were back then. Of course, not everything is the same and support for the War on Terror was higher than that for Vietnam. However, he also makes a very poignant point with his comments on the societal factors that compounded the issue.
I think the public response to the song is an important thing to note as well. In other posts I have referenced that Daley received many letters of support for the song which he again stated in my questions. This is a stark difference than one might expect in a society that did not support the war. Thus, the support indicates that at the time of the song’s release, public opinion of the veterans was shifting to a more positive prospective.
Overall, his responses have been helpful, insightful, and have provided some excellent lines to quote. I am very thankful for his time and assistance.