09/25/2012 04:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Dylan, Death and the Ia Drang Valley

(NOTE from the teacher: Reporting Vietnam American Journalism 1959-1975 is required reading for students in our Vietnam course. Drawn from the original newspaper and magazine reports of that era, Reporting Vietnam brings together the work of more than 50 remarkable writers to create a mosaic view of America's longest war. One of the most powerful articles is Specialist Four Jack Smith's first-hand account, "Death in the Ia Drang Valley," which appeared in the January 28, 1967 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Here is student Matt Brenner-jedwabnik's "response" to the "call" of Smith's moving piece.


"My instant reaction to this reading was shock. I had previously thought that I had a firm grasp of what occurred in many Vietnam battle situations, however after reading of the battle in the Ia Drang Valley all of my previous conceptions of war were thrown into a blender. It amazed me that many of the American casualties resulted in instances where friendly troops would shoot every which way, attempting to find the enemy. As I read on I felt like I was lying in the elephant grass with the writer, watching helplessly as ammunition was unloaded over the area from the towering trees.

As the author described his experience wounded in the dark of the jungle, waiting for either help or death, I could not help but wonder what was going through his head after he had accepted his imminent fate. The first thing that comes to mind is music; if I were in this position I would be picturing myself at home listening to my favorite album. In the year that this battle took place, 1965, Bob Dylan released his masterpiece, "Like a Rolling Stone."

At first glimpse the song appears to be about a woman, like many other Dylan songs, however after further scrutiny more meaning can be deciphered. The song starts by describing Miss Lonely, a girl who went to a good school, dressed well, and was then stripped of everything. In my consideration of Dylan's work, Miss Lonely is not necessarily female; Miss Lonely is the typical young adult of the era, someone who could have led a life similar to myself or any number of my classmates, and was then thrust into instant chaos, mass murder, and destruction. Dylan describes the sentiment of the soldiers very accurately by singing "How does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home, like a complete unknown."

The soldiers at this battle were exhausted and lonely with only their thoughts to keep them alive. Dylan suggests that after a certain point of despair, the solitude is liberating. "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose, you're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal."

The song could have been turbulent, disorganized and scornful to represent the difficulties of war; however Dylan made the lyrics neat and methodical with a soothing tune which truly demonstrates the utter confusion and conflicting ideas throughout the war period."