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Viewing War Through Music

Updated: Aug 26, 2018


My name is Jim Purtell and I’m a Vietnam veteran having served as a combat medic with the 198th Infantry in 1968-1969 in Chu Lai. I saw war close up and personal for eight long months, and I discovered participating in these experiences, leaves life long lasting marks on your consciousness.

I was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1970 and pursued my college education under the G.I. bill while at the same time performing in a musical duo. In 1973, I graduated from college and started a master’s program which I completed in 1974, the same year I went out on the road fulltime performing music with a buddy. We ended our partnership in 1975 and I started dabbling in songwriting for the first time

in the late 1970’s.

My early songs were unremarkable lost love stories and I wrote probably a dozen forgettable songs in the early days. In 1979/80, I hooked up with another songwriter while living on the East Coast and together we wrote some songs that I took to popular publishers in New York where I received encouragement from them.

In 1983, after having moved back to Wisconsin, I saw a notice for a new songwriting group being formed in Wisconsin so I attended the first meeting of what became Songwriters of Wisconsin International (SOWI). As a result, I became a founding member of the organization and participated with the group for the next 35 years and won several songwriting contests sponsored by them.

In the late 1980’s, I started writing songs about a subject that I carried a lot of guilt about and it was concerning soldiers who were prisoners of war or missing in action in southeast Asia. Having survived the Vietnam War as a combat medic, I carried survival guilt since 1969, and to attempt to deal with it, I began writing songs about POW/MIAs. I found it to be cathartic because I felt I was doing something about, and for, the soldiers we left behind. This exercise was the beginning of me writing and co-writing

with others, songs about veteran issues as well as doing music videos.

In the coming weeks and months, I will be blogging about the Vietnam War and using songs I have written or co-written or secured permission from other writers to use to view the war through music. According to Vietnam Musicologist Hugo Keesing, I am one of the most prolific songwriters when it comes to writing songs about the Vietnam War.

I will be blogging on my website about the Vietnam War using songs I have written or co-written or secured from other songwriters (with their permission) to View the War Through Music.


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