BFG Track by Track: “Old Sarge” (Part 4 of 12)

Nearly 100 years ago, a young–yet wise beyond his years–man proclaimed that you could tell everything about a nation by the way it treats its returning military veterans.  Sadly, never has this been more painfully true than it is in 21st century America, where the men and women who risked their very lives fighting wars in distant lands for causes they could scarcely comprehend are now dying while they wait for adequate medical treatment.  On the first page of the liner notes for Death and Defiance, the band notes:

A nation that does not honor its soldiers for the sacrifices [they’ve] given is a black eye upon the face of that nation.  Many of these young guys enlist for the purposes of schooling, work, and patriotic duty.  They end up being brought into wars that have [nothing of] interest for them.  They give their limbs, souls, and lives going to [untamed] lands fighting wars they can’t win for the interests of others.  When they come home damaged, they can’t find work–life is just not the same anymore for so many of them.  This song was influenced by a good friend of ours who went and did his tours of duty for his country.  His health slowly started to change upon his return.  From a big strong man, he ended up in a wheelchair.  Not knowing what he contracted over there, he was given the run-around and told that his sickness was “inside his head” by the appointed, so-called “medical experts.”  Even though we do not support or condone these foreign wars, we do support these veterans that have had to suffer.

Bound for Glory has recorded a number of songs illustrating the tragic plight of brave soldiers all but forgotten by the countries that asked them to put life and limb on the line in the ostensible defense of freedom.  One such track, “Unknown Soldier,” tells the haunting story of a Vietnam veteran who died fighting the communist hordes of southeast Asia and whose remains never made it back to America for proper interment.  A portion of “Unknown Soldier”–which appeared on the band’s 1997 album Glory Awaits–rings frighteningly true today:

Sent off to battle to fight a politician’s war
Still never knowing what you were fighting for
You were just another number, just another screw
Out to protect the interests of a chosen few
You fought pitched battles, were placed in constant heat
Now the enemy is living on your old street
The one-world government opened the door and let them in
While leading men to slaughter knowing they couldn’t win

“Old Sarge,” meanwhile, weaves the narrative of a 21st century soldier who, after answering “the call of Uncle Sam,” returns home to see that absolutely nothing has changed.  Not only has the conflict in which he served so honorably seem all but abandoned by his military leaders, but he, as an individual, is virtually invisible to the citizens he risked all to protect.  Scheduling a visit with a doctor to discuss the growing pain inside him is all but impossible, and the wait time for the appointment does nothing but allow him symptoms to grow even worse.

When he is finally examined by an overburdened, understaffed Veteran’s Affairs clinic, he is given the very worst news possible: the doctor thinks the former battlefield hero’s suffering is all in his head.  A regiment of antidepressant, antipsychotic medications is prescribed, but that’s not what Old Sarge needs.  He simply wants to know why it’s growing harder and harder to walk, why there’s a stabbing pain shooting down his spine when he stands–and, most of all, while no one in the system that supposedly exists to help him seems to give a damn.

Before long, Old Sarge–the very same soldier who manned a mounted .50-cal. machine gun and disarmed improvised explosive devices–has been reduced to a wheelchair.  He asks for pity from no one; rather, he seeks only to tell his story as a cautionary tale to others considering enlisting in America’s Armed Forces.  Be “an Army of One,” one branch of the military says; “The Few. The Proud” beckons another.

Military service has its inherent value, to be sure.  Boys transform into men, leaders are created, and soldiers prove themselves in combat.  But at what cost?  To come home to an American public indifferent to these sacrifices, regardless of how many public-relations campaign the government finances?  And consider the death toll of the past half-dozens wars we’ve fought–wars, by any objective analysis, we didn’t win:

  • Korean War: 33, 686
  • Vietnam War: 58,220
  • Desert Storm: 146
  • Afghanistan: Unknown
  • Iraq War: 4,491

That’s nearly 100,000 good American men and women gone forever.  Their only crime: Serving their country and fighting in wars they were never meant to decisively win.

The chorus of “Old Sarge” states, “Who gives a damn about Old Sarge?”  This inquiry is followed by a ferocious growl by lead vocalist Joel that “WE DO!”