Galveston, oh Galveston by
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My sophomore year in high school the brother of a girl two classes ahead of me was killed in Vietnam. I didn’t know Barbara well, but I knew Billy was her only sibling. As a town we were horrified. As teenagers we could not fathom her loss, nor did we know what to say.

Of brothers and a war

Six years later my two brothers were in Vietnam. Though naval officers, both were in-country. Looking back, I don’t know how our parents kept it together.

As for me, my campus, like many, was in tumult. I didn’t know anyone who had family or friends in the military. There was no one I felt I could talk with, so I kept it to myself. Into this confusing time came Jimmy Webb’s song Galveston, a hit for Glen Campbell in 1969.

As anti-war songs go, Galveston was unique for its time. It took the focus off politics and protest and put it on the fears and struggles of the young men war had plucked from their hometowns. It made me cry then, and it makes me cry now—in relief that my brothers came home, in grief that too many did not, and in sorrow that we were never the same.


Galveston, oh Galveston

I am so afraid of dying

Before I dry the tears she’s crying

Before I watch your sea birds flying in the sun

At Galveston


-Country Music Alert-

Profile photo of Susan Bennet Susan Bennet
I'm so happy to have joined the gracious Retro family. The basics:
I have a background in marketing and museums.
I come alive when the leaves turn red.
I regret every tech mistake I have made or will ever make on this site.
I want a dog.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Heartfelt, Susan. Those were difficult times in this country. I can see why the song spoke to you; then and now. Songs immediately bring us back to a moment in time. This one let you pour all your fears for your brothers into a specific song. It still resonates now. I remember that Glenn Campbell sang it with great feeling and compassion (even without the YouTube reminder).

  2. Mister Ed says:

    I love this song. On the only Glenn Campbell album we had. Thanks for your heartfelt story.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    This was very moving. I remember that song, and liked the tune, but I never realized it was about the war! (Though why else would he be so afraid of dying—unless he were on death row or ill or in existential crisis I suppose). If you don’t have friends or family in the military, it is hard to appreciate the angst, which you describe so well. I’m glad your brothers did come home.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    Wonderfully, sadly poignant story, Susan. And, though I certainly remember the Glen Campbell version when it came out, I have to admit that, until now, I’ve never really listened to the words and realized that it was an anti-war song. (“Eve of Destruction” and “For What It’s Worth” were certainly more obvious.) So shame on me for entirely missing that and thank you for teaching me something new.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      Yes, John, I can see how “Galveston” could have flown under the radar at the time. Jimmy Webb’s original lyric was “I put down my gun” (not “I just clean my gun”). It was a great privilege for me to get to know members of the officer corps, young men just like us. Familiarity breeds respect and compassion, I think. The loss of 12 servicemen and women this past August wounded me to my core.

  5. Marian says:

    Your story brought that time all back, Susan. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for your family to have two people in Vietnam. (I remember the anguish when we learned that a high school classmate, also two years ahead of me, was killed in Vietnam.) I’m glad that this song brought you some comfort and love Glen Campbell’s rendition of it.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      What it was like was like a permanent intake of breath, waiting to exhale. At the same time, pride. A mix of feelings. So grateful it ended well for my brothers and their friends. But I think the more important question is, what effect did their wartime experience have on their lives, afterward? Thank you.

  6. Suzy says:

    Susan, I had no idea this was an anti-war song. Thanks for showing me the song in a new light.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      Thank you, Suzy. I think that if the protestors of the time made one misstep, it was in mischaracterizing the soldiers and veterans depicted in this song. With years, life experience and understanding, this feeling seems to have faded. At my brother’s 25th reunion, a woman stood up and began berating him for his military service. Two other classmates stood up and told her to sit
      down. Message: It wasn’t 1969 anymore.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I liked the song but never realized that it was anti-war from a different perspective. It must have been such a hard time for you, as most college students were so fervently anti-war that they never stopped to consider (and often vilified) those who were serving.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      True to your last point, Laurie, but everybody understands this was a terrible, scary time for young men. If you weren’t freed by the draft lottery, what were you to do? My T. went in to his draft physical, realized he couldn’t go through with it, and walked out. Instead, he served in the (new) Teacher Corps in inner city Chicago, which then led to a noble career in special education. Occasionally he wonders if he should have done differently, and I tell him, firmly, No. Everyone was where they were supposed to be. No judgments.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    I just barely recall the song being released (Glen Campbell version) but didn’t realize its meaning until years later.

  9. So thankful to hear both your brothers made it out, and how indeed did your parents get thru that fearful time.

    My folks often talked about a good friend of theirs who served in WW II, but unlike my dad, didn’t make it out.

    • Susan Bennet says:

      I’m sorry for your parents’ loss, Dana. I know it must have stayed with them forever. These were the citizen soldiers. Before she married my father (not on the rebound, mind you), my mother had dated a man she thought she might have married. His plane was shot down in WWII. She would talk about him from time to time, and there was a charming photo of them together. On a lighter note, we kids used to tease her that we wouldn’t have existed had she married him. She insisted we would have, and we used to think she had missed biology class and that this was hilarious, but recently I’ve mused she was talking about souls. Life is a mystery.

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