Suicide Prevention Six Strings at a time in Josephine County, OR (S1E8)
Meet the DD-214’s of Josephine County, Oregon. This is a group of combat war veterans who left their rifles behind and picked up a guitar. Thanks to one guitar playing vet services director, they gather weekly to play music together, forming their own musical support group. They play at local festivals and for a few hours, put their worst thoughts out of their mind. Meet the men who live to play music and hear their music. For some, this group is the homecoming they never had.
Music by Bob Eaton the Unknown Veteran
Transcription of Suicide Prevention Six Strings at a time (S1E8)
Carol: This is a good government show.
Bob Eaton: When you’re playing a musical instrument or singing, you know that it takes all your concentration, you don’t have time to be in your head. Yes, that’s kind of why why I started playing. And it’s and it’s also why I wanted to play with a group.
Bob Eaton Sings “Running from The Blues”:
I want to tell you about some Blues sweeping our nation’s veterans.
It’s called homelessness, PTSD and suicide.
These young men and women are returning home after being exposed to the horrors of war for two and three years straight, Jack.
Man, I’ve asked the Blue.
David: And for a lot of guys in DD-214s, keeping the focus on music is essential.
Carol: OK, I’ll bite. Tell me about the DD-214s.
David: I will. But first, welcome to the good government show. I’m David Martin and this episode of The Good Government Show. We’re going to tell you about a program that’s not a good government project. It’s a great government project.
Carol: And I’m Carol D’auria and welcome to the government show. OK, now you have to tell me about the DD-214s.
David: OK, so in Josephine County, Oregon, there’s a group of mostly Vietnam War combat vets, and they formed a group the name of the group, the DD-214s. What you may ask is the DD-214s or you’ve asked, OK, so the name comes from the honorable discharge form. Get an honorable discharge. It’s a DD-214. So all of these guys were honorably discharged from their service and then through different ways, they found each other and they formed a group. Now they all play music together, so let’s give a listen.
DD-214s Sing “If Not For You”:
If not for you
Babe, I couldn’t even find the door
I couldn’t even see the floor
I’d be sad and blue, if not for you
Carol: Wow, I really like that music. Now you say, these are all combat vets?
David: Yes, all of these guys are in Vietnam and all of them were in combat. And as you can imagine, carries a lot of baggage with it.
Carol: Of course, I wasn’t old enough to be in Vietnam.
David: No, you were just a kid. Did you watch on TV?
Carol: But I do remember the war, and I also remember that those veterans didn’t always get the help and the support that they get today.
David: Exactly, one of the vets I talked to who said he couldn’t wait to get his uniform off, but you know, he had additional postwar stress, so these guys had some trouble coping. But through this program, their lives have improved.
Carol: So how did this all come together?
David: Well, first you have to be Lisa Pickart. She’s the director of the Josephine County Veterans Services Office. She saw the potential and got it started. But I’ll let her tell the story about how it started.
Lisa Pickart: A veteran had walked up to me during the course of the event and asked if he could play the guitar. And he was a combat veteran. His name was Bob Eaton. He picked up my guitar and sat down and played a song that he wrote called “Old Nam Hat.” He just captured the whole audience, and it was one of those musical magical moments. And I looked at the director of the Grants Pass Vet Center and said, I think if we build it, they will come.
Carol: Wow, just like that.
David: Yeah. But Bob has his own version.
Bob Eaton: I had written a song called “My Old Nam Hat” and and I went over and I asked Lisa, actually, if I could borrow her guitar and play a song. And so I played my song, “My Old Nam Hat.” And then I kind of gave a little bit of a testimonial about how much music has helped me. And you know, it cope with a whole lot of stuff I get. I get I get my problems out through music, you know, songs that I wrote and that I thought that it was a really good opportunity for people that were struggling.
Bob Eaton Sings “My Old Nam Hat”:
Well I walked into a bar wearing my ol Nam hat
Covered with pins and an old Cav patch
Worn from the years with an ol sweat stain
Pulled low on my brow to hide the years of pain
A fellow laughed at me and said what’s up with that!
You lost that war, why you wearing that ol Nam hat
Well as he pulled himself up off of the floor
And my thoughts rushed back from the years of the war
I said careful what you say to a VietNam vet
Cause we may be old but we ain’t dead yet
I could have ignored everything you just said
But when you make fun of my hat you makin fun of the dead
Now I grabbed him by the collar and I dragged him outside
I said looky here man I want to show you my ride
On the bumper is sticker of red, yellow and green
It signifies the war in Nam and the dead I’ve seen
And these disabled vet plates didn’t come for free
I got em fighten for the right of what you just said to me
Carol: I’m amazed that’s all it took.
David: Pretty much. And Lisa, by the way, she is actually an accomplished musician as she’s always got a guitar in her office. She’s played music for years. She played in New York for a long time. But she is part of the group, and when it started, she saw the impact that music could have, and she really ran with it.
Carol: So this is part of the job at the Vet Services Office.
David: Yes and no, she saw it. She saw the application. So she got the grants. But now she really keeps the band together. But really mostly she does this out of her dedication to her veterans. She doesn’t get any bonus pay for this. But, you know, she’s the first one to set up the music stand. She’s the last one to leave. She turns the lights out. You know, she’s around. But she’s seen the incredible effect that this has on the veterans.
Lisa Pickart: For a lot of these veterans. Some, in some cases, it’s all they have to keep some very connected to the community. It keeps them from isolating. It keeps them mentally healthy and gives them something to to to look forward to. And that is building a healthy veteran community in Josephine County. Well, it’s life-changing for them because they, they connect, you know, they connect, evolve musically and while healing emotionally with other veterans, with like experiences. And so basically now they’re… We have people come from all over to be a part of this group when they can.
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Carol: David, this is a pretty incredible story already.
David: It really is. I mean, you have this group of veterans that basically went through hell in Vietnam. And remember that when these guys came back, half the country didn’t want the nation in the war and they protested the war, but they didn’t just protest the war.
They also protested the soldiers, the returning soldiers, and now they have a community, people who have those same experiences. So let’s meet Bob Letvinchuck. He was in the army from 1969 to 1970. He participated in the invasion of Cambodia. In fact, Woodstock happened when he was in boot camp. He said when he got home, he never really got a big homecoming and nobody really wanted to hear about his service.
Bob Letvinchuck: You know, we just all relate to each other that we’ve gone through this together. And I can’t really tell you more than that. It is. It’s a healing thing for a lot of us, and it’s a joy to be with people that you can relate to. And it’s like a brotherhood.
Carol: How did the guys all react to each other? Is this like one of the support groups?
David: Yeah, it really is a support group, but Bob says it better than I can.
Bob Letvinchuck: There’s one guy in there I was who, you know, I think he really he doesn’t get out. He doesn’t do social things. So for him and I’ve just watched him grow and and he’s having a blast. You know, and these guys just look forward to the practices. And so I believe it just gives them a sense of worth and things to look forward to.
David: So let’s meet the other Bob, the other co-founder. His name is Bob Eaton. He writes music and mostly about his war experiences. Bob served two tours. He was an artillery unit. And he came back and then he went to an air base in Saigon, and he started playing after the war. Really as a way to cope with his own post-traumatic stress. Here’s a little of Bob’s music.
Bob Eaton Sings “Plane Headed West”:
I was sittin on a plane it was headed west
Seated all around me was America’s best
No sooner did that plane touch the ground
Did we hit the strip a running from the mortar rounds
Soakin wet from that jungle heat I wasn’t alone
When Sarge says the jungle gonna be your new home
What a way to grow up and become a man
Trying to survive in a war torn land
Bob Eaton: I think the music group is is more effective for me simply because we, you know, we have the floor. I guess you could say and rather than, you know, participating in a group discussion about war and coping and suicide and all that. No, we don’t. We don’t go there with the music group, you know, unless somebody wants to start talking about it. But otherwise we we keep it, you know, musically inclined. And and it helps me because it it it keeps me occupied.
And that’s that’s the main thing with with with me. I don’t know about the other guys, but when I get idle, I start, you know, isolating and then I start getting thoughts, you know, coming into my head and then, you know, guilt and why didn’t this and why didn’t that. And I just when I’m playing, I don’t have those kind of thoughts. I just don’t.
David: Dan DeYoung is the Josephine County chairman of the board of the county commissioners, and he talks the project up with other county commissioners. He actually is a veteran himself. He served in the Navy, and he’s seen the band perform. He doesn’t play, but he’s seen them perform, and he really likes this program.
Dan DeYoung: I think it’s a very good model. And just like I say, a lot of these gentlemen are these veterans are working through some PTSD and some things they probably like to forget. And it seems like when they pick up the instrument, they’re they’re in a different, you know, they’re back into the music, they’re more absorbed in the music rather than something else being right on the forefront.
Carol: We heard a little bit of Bob’s songs. Where do these guys play?
David: Well, every veterans event, for sure, but there are lots of local festivals and there are fairs in Josephine County, so big events, some annual stuff. But once a week they get together and play. And here’s kind of the fun part.
Everyone has to bring some music with them. So you know, whatever you want and mostly it’s from, you know, the era of the sixties and seventies. So everyone gets to show up and be the band director. They say, Hey, I want to play this song this week. And they play it so. But Bob Eaton, he also writes songs and he plays him for the group and some guys learn it.
Carol: But is this just for Vietnam veterans?
David: Well, mostly, yes. And that’s where the problem starts. But I get back to that in a minute. Look, any veteran, any combat veteran is welcome in the group. As long as you’re in combat and you want to play music you’re in, they’ve helped some guys to learn how to play instruments, how to play guitar, how to play other instruments. They’ve gotten guys better at their instrument, so they’ve helped them in that way. This thing has been going on for about ten years and it’s still going strong.
Carol: That’s pretty impressive.
David: It is impressive. But here’s the thing some of the younger guys don’t want to hear some of the older music they don’t want to hear.
Carol: They don’t know what they’re missing here.
David: All the Old Beach Boys songs and all the old Beatle songs and John Prine songs and Bob Dylan, you know they want to hear, you know, new stuff. But look, they get together, they play and they have a lot of fun.
Carol: Very impressive.
David: It is impressive. But here’s the most impressive part this whole thing cost very little. They got some grant money early on. They still get a little bit of grant money. They got some instruments. They got a lot of instruments donated. They have a practice space in the county offices, so really that’s about it. It’s a very low cost project and it really works and it really helps.
Carol: I’m amazed a good government project that doesn’t cost a lot. Impressive, for sure.
David: Well, Lisa would absolutely agree with you.
Lisa Pickart: I am surprised not only by this success, but I’m also surprised on how little it costs to accomplish something like this and given the outcome. I am surprised that other counties aren’t engaged in therapeutic modalities to help to work with veterans in reintegrating into the community. I just I’m just I’m appalled that other counties don’t do stuff like this.
Carol: Well, I hope that after listening to this episode of The Good Government Show, they will. This is a really good project and another example of good government at work. Thanks for bringing us this story, David.
David: Well, thank you. And let’s listen to a little more music before we go.
DD 214’s Sing “It don’t come easy”:
It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.
It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.
Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don’t come easy.
You don’t have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.
Forget about the past and all your sorrows…
David: Thanks, Carol. Thanks for listening. Thanks for listening to the DD-214s. I’m David Martin.
Carol: And I’m Carol Deoria.
David: And this is the good government show. Join us next time for another story of a good government project that works.
The Good Government Show is a Valley Park Production, Jason Stershic is our editor and producer. Associate producers are Jade Ludlow and Mackenzie Martin, the executive producers of The Good Government Show are Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder. Join us again right here for another episode of The Good Government Show.