Tom Paxton’s Born on the Fourth of July

I woke up early this morning, to clear bright skies and cool shade in my garden.  Picking a fresh bouquet of daisies for the vase in the kitchen, I began thinking for some reason of Viet Nam, and how that war impacted my generation.

The last letter my mother wrote to me in July of 1979, before she and my father were killed in a car accident, was dated July 3 and her comment was of the next day flag waving and phony patriotics.  My mother was always skeptical of nationalism, aware that some people take patriotism beyond what is healthy, to a cult-like behavior.  She believed in defense of our country but not the type of imperialism that picks and chooses where the oil fields of the world lie to wage war.  Many now forget that there was a connection with oil exploration and the Viet Nam war.

Recently I met a friend for coffee, and as usual the conversation eventually turned to politics.  I made the point that my parents went through the depression and World War  II., and although I was born after the war, the values of my family and the behavior I saw were shaped by that experience.  They did not believe in waste or excess.  Things were reused and repaired not because of an environmental movement, but because it was frugal, it was thrifty, and in their minds, it was patriotic.  Paying taxes was patriotic, buying American made goods and anything that supported the war effort was patriotic.  In WWII, toys were made from paper and wood, not metal, because metal went to the war effort.

My brother was in Viet Nam.  Many of my friends and the students I went to school with were in Viet Nam.  The man who I would eventually be briefly married to was in Korea and Viet Nam.  In the 60’s I had recurring nightmares that I was a soldier fighting in Viet Nam.  We all felt deeply impacted by the war, for or against, one way or another.

“Why,” I asked my friend across the coffee shop table, “why is it that with Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans here seem hardly aware that we are at war?  Why are we not doing the things to support a war effort, like paying for it in taxes, as the country did in WWII?  It seems that unless you are a military family or know someone close who is in combat, citizens go along as if they are barely aware that we are at war. ”  You may guess that my opinion was that taxes should not have been cut for the wealthy during war-time.  It is patriotic to pay taxes – that is how I was raised.

For all you reading this who were in Viet Nam and did not get the support or the welcome home that you should have, I wish you all the best and thank you for your service.

(Tom Paxton)

C Em
As a schoolboy I played with a plastic grenade
It was grey and with caps it was loaded
F C Am
In the dirt we would cry and dramatically die
As it flew through the air and exploded
E Am
As a young man my dream was to be a marine
My flag was worth all I could bring it
C Em
The country was young. When the anthem was sung
It gave me the goosebumps to sing it

I was born on the fourth of July
No-one more loyal than I
C Em
When my country said so I was ready to go
And I wish I’d been left there to die

Em F G

When I landed in Nam I was with Uncle Sam
I was fighting for God and my mother
And I knew what to do when my first tour was through
I signed up and went back for another
But it all tumbled down when we ambushed the town
In the night how the metal was flying
We blew it to hell. Really did our job well,
But just women and kids did the dying

I was born on the fourth of July
No-one more loyal than I
When my country said so I was ready to go
And I wish I’d been left there to die

In the damn DMZ it all ended for me
The fighting broke out and we scattered
One shot hit my heel, the last thing I feel
The next hit my spine and it shattered
In my hospital bed I could hear what was said
And the word will stay with me forever
With my whole life ahead, my body was dead
And the word they were using was never

Now I wheel myself down to the crossroads of town
To see the young girls and their lovers
And my mind is afire, it’s alive with desire
Christ, I’d barely begun, now it’s over
In my wheelchair for life, my mechanical wife
I’m supposed to be cheerful and stoic
I’m your old tried-and-true, Yankee Doodle to you
Clean-cut, paralysed and heroic


About aliceflynn

Artist - find me on wordpress and at
This entry was posted in Art, Ethics, Family, Gardening, Life, Love, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tom Paxton’s Born on the Fourth of July

  1. aliceflynn says:

    Thank you to for archiving these lyrics.

  2. aliceflynn says:

    Here is something else to think about today. It is a quote from President Eisenhower (the first president I was aware of as a child) regarding the choices Americans make in spending our tax dollars.
    From a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953:
    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

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