May 28

In Memory of the Vietnam War: “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”

In Memory of the Vietnam War: "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" 1
Memorial Day Photo Credits:

To be a part of a war is one of the biggest challenges one may encounter in his/her life. To sacrifice one’s life is pure heroism. Bloody, disastrous, costly — these are more than just words to describe such occurring events that take the lives of many. Today, we remember all the sacrifices and the patriotism our fallen soldiers had shown our country. We commemorate the bravery, strength, love and hope that they had given and shared with us that led to the progress of our nation to this day.

Music has been a part of our lifestyle. It played an important role during wars. It made the lives of our soldiers somehow at ease and served as their past time in a place where uncertainty and fear live. As for the Vietnam War (1 November 1955 – 30 April 1975), music helped our folks in expressing their rebellious views of a blend of two generations — the young and the traditional.

In observance of the Memorial Day, Country Thang Daily is one with the nation in commemorating the heroism of our “gone but not forgotten” heroes — our soldiers. One of the songs that captured the emotions of people for and against the Vietnam War is “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy“. It reflects the mood of an increasingly diverse country amid dramatic social and political change.

In Memory of the Vietnam War: "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" 2
American soldiers during the Vietnam War Photo Credits:

We were waist deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on
The sergeant said, “Sir, with all this equipment
No man will be able to swim”
“Sergeant, don’t be a Nervous Nellie”
The captain said to him
“All we need is a little determination
Men, follow me, I’ll lead on”
We were neck deep in the Big Muddy
And the big fool said to push on

About the Song

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” is a symbolic song that tackles the Vietnam War, as well as then-President Lyndon Johnson. It was written by Pete Seeger in 1967.

In Memory of the Vietnam War: "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" 3
Pete Seeger Photo Credits:

The song is a story of a platoon of soldiers fording murky waters during World War II. Seeger created the tune as an allegory for the involvement of the US in the Vietnam War.

When Seeger sang it on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in September 1967, CBS censors cut the song before the show was broadcast. The Smothers Brothers protested the censorship, and the network eventually relented. Seeger returned to the show five months later to perform the song.

The Story Behind the Song

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” talks about the story of a platoon wading in a river in Louisiana on a practice patrol in 1942. Domineering and ignoring his sergeant’s concerns, the captain commands the whole platoon to keep on going with himself in the lead. They continue to wade the river until they are up to their necks. All of a sudden, the captain drowns and the sergeant immediately orders the platoon to move back to the shore. To everyone’s surprise, it turns out that the captain did not know that the river was deeper with a joining stream upriver.

In Memory of the Vietnam War: "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" 4
Soldiers wading the murky river and mud Photo Credits:

The moral of the song is not directly stated. However, the song presents that the nation itself is being led into similar peril by ‘authoritarian fools‘. With every verse ending with a line “the big fool said to push on“, it is believed that the ‘big fool’ is referring to the president during that time.

Song’s Symbolism

The song was very symbolic of the Vietnam War. It pertains to the situation of the country when the war was at its peak. In addition, part of the song talks about President Lyndon Johnson and his policy of escalation. He was widely believed to have pushed the United States deeper into the infamous war. In the song, the captain drowned because he was unaware of what he was going to. Similarly, Johnson also lost the presidency in 1968 due to the war.

With its deep message, Seeger often sang the song at concerts and rallies. In late 1967, he performed the song on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. However, CBS management objected to its political tone and censored the song prior to broadcast. The show’s hosts, the Smothers Brothers, on the other hand, gave Seeger their support. Later, CBS allowed Seeger to come back and sing the song on the show.

Watch Pete Seeger perform his heartfelt song in memory of the Vietnam War, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”.

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memorial day, Pete Seeger, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

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