The Death of Kenny Rogers and the 18th Surgical Hospital, Quang Tri, Vietnam, 1968

I woke up this morning with the sunlight peeking in. The news was announcing the death of Kenny Rogers.

My mind flashed to the first time I ever heard his raspy voice. I was standing on top of a crumbled down wall of an old French fortification just outside of Quang Tri, Vietnam. His voice was coming to us through one inch speakers of tiny transistor radios propped up on those walls. They were tuned to the only station that played our music.

His voice was speaking directly to me and the way I was feeling. “I tripped on a cloud and fell eight miles high. I tore my mind on a jagged sky. I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

My condition was not too good. But it was physically better than the G.I.’s we were treating every day, all day. It was the 18th Surgical Hospital, 15 miles from the DMZ. My psychological condition was damaged, shell-shocked with demands for blood and eyes that looked to you to somehow perform a miracle that would bring them back from their fade to the blackness of death. My condition was only bolstered by the smoke of burning grass during all waking hours.

My twelve hour shift ended at 7:00 p.m. Every night we congregated inside and on top of those roofless, crumbled walls, passing joints, trying hard to forget the bloody day’s work, relaxing a bit now, listening to the voice of Kenny Rogers, whose words cut personally into our hearts like a scalpel…

“I pushed my soul in a deep dark hole and then I followed it in.
I watched myself crawlin’ out as I was a-crawlin’ in.
I got up so tight I couldn’t unwind.
I saw so much I broke my mind.
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

The depressive lyrics were speaking to me, wafting through my injured senses. But we were lucky, blessed really. The soldiers who have fought history’s wars didn’t have the luxury of Kenny Rogers’ voice commiserating their plight. The Romans clashing with the Germanic tribes, the Persians and Greeks, the North and the South—they all did not have Kenny Rogers singing directly to them, saying, “I know how you feel.” So now I commiserate with all the soldiers of history. Their deaths are now forgotten, their slaughter now concealed in names like “the Roman army” or “the Spartans.”

Kenny Rogers first sang to me back in March 1968, a few days before my unobserved 21st birthday. It might have been today’s very date, the day now that Kenny Rogers has died. And as I first heard his voice, I looked up into the heavens, and I asked, “Why?”

My search for the answer to that question began right there in Vietnam. And after many decades of seeking, I have some answers. In God’s plan and purpose, there is a time and a purpose for everything under the heaven. That includes perceived “good things” and “bad things.” There is a time for peace and a time for war. A time for the laughter of life and a time for the moans of death. And our great Creator and Savior rations those times. He uses those times to mold and shape us, like a potter uses a delicate touch at times on the spinning clay. And at other times he smashes it down into a clump, hopefully for re-purposing.

We are either the clay that stands up in our beauty or our ignominy and shouts at our Creator, “What do you think you are doing?” Or we are that special yielding and grateful human being who understands the Master’s touch.

I have learned that our Creator, who knows the number of hairs on our heads, knows what we need and has prescribed the minutiae of every hour, that we “should seek the Lord, if haply [we]  might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17: 27).

There was a time for Kenny Rogers’ voice to speak to us somewhere out there in a land that was far, far away from Mom and Dad and the world we once knew. Time has come for Kenny Rogers’ living voice to cease now. But there is a voice from above, though faint, that is still speaking to us with words that will answer that universal question—“Why?” If we believe that we can hear that voice, we will hear it.     Kenneth Wayne Hancock


Filed under Vietnam Stories

7 responses to “The Death of Kenny Rogers and the 18th Surgical Hospital, Quang Tri, Vietnam, 1968

  1. Sara CARRAN

    Well said. Beautiful writing and oh so true message.

    • Thank you, Sara. We all must keep walking on in the Spirit. There is great reward in doing that. Read Psalm 91: 10: “There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.” DAD

  2. Evelyn G.K. Goh

    May Kenny Rogers rest in peace.
    May we too sing the songs of peace n love to a world that is hateful, bruised n filled with discord. May we be faithful in life n death.

    • Thank you, Evelyn. Christ the Prince of peace is coming. Then all will be well. May all of our brothers and sisters all over the world be safe from this plague. He said if we are faithful to Him that no “plague would come nigh to thy dwelling” (Psalm 91: 10). Be careful safe and be of good cheer. For He has over come the world, and we shall also.

  3. I had no idea you went though all that, or that “see what condition my condition was in” was Kenny Rogers. Thank you for sharing, and God bless your service for our Country. I cannot imagine, I only lasted four years in ICU as a nurse before the toll on my senses caused me to seek the almost pristine nature of being an outpatient recovery room nurse, PACU, in a private surgery center, where I met my late husband who was doing his final fellowship in sports medicine with the Chargers NFL team doctor. God bless you and your loved ones.

    • Thank you, Yvonne, for those kind words. I have utmost respect for you nurses. You are our angels. You answer the call from above to nurture, care for, and just plain show mercy to those afflicted around you. And you are still doing that on your website. I see the Spirit ministering through your words–joyful words–words that only He can give down and through us to others.

      For I know when I’ve truly met one of His followers. Their light, the true light, shines bright like a candle of hope in a dark and dank room. Continue nurturing others. Very few of His lambs ever get to the knowledge of the Oneness of God. It is wonderful to hear from one who does. Wayne

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