John Prine’s song “Sam Stone” tells the story of a soldier who comes home from Vietnam, a wounded warrior. Not only is he physically injured, he is also psychologically and spiritually consumed.
And the time that he served,
Had shattered all his nerves,
And left a little shrapnel in his knee.
But the morphine eased the pain,
And the grass grew round his brain,
And gave him all the confidence he lacked,
With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back.
We then see the terrible impact of Sam’s wounds on his family as the chorus shifts from a third-person narrative to a plaintive first-person plea from the perspective of Sam’s child.
There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,
Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.
Little pitchers have big ears,
Don’t stop to count the years,
Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.
Sam’s addiction leaves him ill-equipped to face the demands as a worker and father.
Sam Stone’s welcome home
Didn’t last too long.
He went to work when he’d spent his last dime
And Sammy took to stealing
When he got that empty feeling
For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.
And the gold rolled through his veins
Like a thousand railroad trains,
And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,
While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes…
Ultimately, this wounded warrior chooses to end his struggle.
Sam Stone was alone
When he popped his last balloon
Climbing walls while sitting in a chair
Well, he played his last request
While the room smelled just like death
With an overdose hovering in the air
But life had lost its fun
And there was nothing to be done
But trade his house that he bought on the G. I. Bill
For a flag draped casket on a local heroes’ hill.
On this Memorial Day, it is important we remember all those who have given up their lives in the service of our country. Some died (and are dying) while fighting on a military battlefield. Some died (and are dying) fighting the effects of war in the battlefield of their mind. My prayer for each of them, as well as for those they’ve left behind is,
“God rest your soul.”
Veterans Suicide Help (800) 273-8255