Bill DeWitt, MA, MFT, LDAC served as an infantry platoon leader and company commander in Vietnam, 1967-68.
His 25+ year career in counseling began in a “street program” for substance abusing adolescents. After obtaining his Masters in Counseling, DeWitt became a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor as well as nationally licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
His career path has included: counseling at a maximum security prison and women’s prison; Family Therapy consulting for a female adolescent residential drug treatment program; an external consultant for First Responders (fire, police, EMTs) in crisis; staff Consultant for an AIDS/HIV clinic.
Throughout his career, DeWitt has had the opportunity to work with combat veterans (and their families) from every war, WWII to Iraq and Afghanistan. He currently lives in California with his wife.
Originally from Roseville, MN, Lang has been writing music and stories for the past nine years in San Francisco. Over the past 6 years, he has worked at BAMM.tv and is currently the VP of Programming. If he could be any person throughout history for one night, Lang would be Otis Redding at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival.
Lang came to California to earn his M.F.A. in Creative Writing at the University of San Francisco. He first picked up the guitar at 21 while finishing up his undergrad at Augustana College (Sioux Falls, SD). Once in California he started writing music. It was at this time when he first shared his music with Chris Hansen, a fellow M.F.A. student who would eventually go on to found BAMM.tv.
Bill’s Notes on “Stands Still”
Upon first hearing “Stands Still”, I was frankly surprised that Phil, even though himself not a combat veteran, could tap so deeply into the profound truth about the cost of War. Obviously, it must have sprung from some very intimate, personal place.
Certain lines in the song looped me directly back to memorable encounters I have had with many combat veterans over the years, all of them struggling to come to terms with intense residual pain:
“Oh, my love will drown you
Oh, my love will kill
Oh, my devotion will confound you
Oh, my love stands still…”
I was also reminded of my own experience of pulling freshly killed Viet Cong bodies out of a small, languid river in Viet Nam, feeling not elation or victory, but simply an endless treadmill of brutal fatalism.
Throughout this process I frequently thought of the words of William Shakespeare, through the character of Michael Williams, a common soldier with uncommon insight; he is speaking to Henry V (incognito) on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt:
“…But if the cause be not good, the King himself hath a heavy reckoning to make when all those legs and arms and heads, chopp’d off in battle, shall join together in some later day and cry ‘We died in such a place’, some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, the debts they owe, upon their children rawly felt…I am a’feared there are few die well that die in battle…” Oh, my Samuel, indeed.
Phil’s Notes on “Stands Still”
I didn’t set out to write a song about combat and war. For me a song always starts as an image, phrase, or melody that refuses to be forgotten. In the case of “Stands Still,” it was that first line – “Oh my Samuel.” It wouldn’t leave me alone.
I knew nothing more than this was the voice of a soldier. He’s alone, it’s late, and he’s calling out to his country – Uncle Sam: Look at the horrible acts I’ve done in your name. Look at what these acts have done to me. Do not look away. This soldier is scared and vulnerable, and that makes him dangerous. Despite the pain serving his country has caused, he still loves his country. This is not a love to be proud of; it’s simply immoveable.
Oh my Samuel / Oh my Samuel / Don’t you dare lead me on / Don’t you dare lead me on today / Too much at stake
At the most basic level, the first verse lays out an inciting event and responsible parties. We have two characters introduced – the narrator and Samuel. They are on the verge of a moment of great consequence. There narrator is asking for something, which implies that this Samuel character is in a place of authority.
Through more images and actions later in the song, it’s revealed that Samuel is Uncle Sam – the personification of the US government and military propaganda tool.
Let it go, but I just can’t let you go – this mantra is repeated throughout the song, and what it specifically means becomes more defined – and more hopeless – with each passing line.
Every body come in / no body going to stay / everybody promise / a bumper-sticker promise / don’t matter what you say just say it with grace / oh my good old days / so romantic when we recreate
Isolation within a group. Groups of bodies rather than a group of people with relationships. The communal, Hallmark, blind support of an idea/belief that’s easier to romanticize than understand. People visit the soldier/narrator. They blindly support the narrator and the cause without asking themselves if the actions (and the narrator’s actions) are worth supporting. Narrator is alone in a crowd with his experience. He has doubt in the cause plastered on bumper-stickers to which he is forever bound. He can’t erase his part in that. He can’t let go, because it’s a part of him and what he’s done.
Bill’s comments in the interview about the impact the draft (and now the absence of a draft) really speak to this. We’ve become desensitized to war. It’s foreign – it happens in foreign lands and is fought by people I don’t know. I can think about it and ignore it at my choosing. That’s a dangerous circumstance. Bill is right on when he says our “moral culpability” gets lost.
Narrator returns to Samuel with these statements:
My love will drown you – what I’ve done in your name will be your downfall
My love will kill – what I’ve done is permanent and dangerous
My love devotion will confound you – this relationship between you, Uncle Sam, and me, is really messed up and at some point in the future that will be as apparent to you as it presently is to me.
My love stands still – as messed up as all of this is, I still love parts of you. I am a part of you, and I don’t have a choice. My love still stands, in spite of what we’ve done.
Supplemental Reading on Combat and War
Bill’s Supplemental Reading
Phil’s Supplemental Reading
Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand) – WWII
The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien) – Vietnam
Confessions of an Economic Hitman (John Perkins)
Slaughter-house Five (Kurt Vonnegut) – WWII
Why We Fight (documentary) – trailer
Bush at War (Bob Woodward) – Iraq & Afghanistan
Against All Enemies (Richard Clarke) – 9/11 and the lead up to Iraq.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Doris Kearns Goodwin) – Lincoln & Civil War
Faith of My Fathers (John McCain with Mark Salter) – Vietnam
Thoughts from Bill’s Daughter, Sophie DeWitt
I’m incredibly proud that my dad had the strength to participate in this production. It was hard to repeatedly ask him to revisit the darkest days of his life. I am grateful that he can speak so eloquently about his experience. It hurts to see him cry but I so appreciate how he has used that hardship and turned it into something useful, a tool with which he has helped many others, people who suffered like he did.
I respect him for having the strength and wisdom to stand up to authority when he needed to. And I am forever grateful that he survived and became my father.
As difficult and emotional as this production was, I am so grateful to Phil for writing this song, which contributes to such a necessary and valuable dialogue.
I appreciate how my dad’s ability to share his experience has shaped both my understanding of who he is, and of the culture of war. There are some things I’m sure I’ll never know about his time in Vietnam, but I can see the scars.
Because my dad has passed on his love of history to me, and because I now understand how easily history repeats itself, I’ll end with this:
“Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” -Herman Goering at the Nuremberg Trials
Phil Lang and Bill DeWitt
Show Created by
Phil Lang, Jeff LaPenna and Molly Fosco
Director of Photography
Production Design by
Matt Goodwin, Drew Nelson, Francisco Puentes, Bianca Yeh, and Catherine Le Pape
Sound Recorded and Mixed by
Sound Design by
Show Intro Animation by
Chris and Nick Hansen
Original Song “Stands Still” by
The DeWitt Family
Albany Veteran’s Memorial
The BAMM.tv Staff
This One’s for You was filmed at the Albany Veterans’ Memorial Building – have a look at the history of this beautiful building right here.
IAVA – Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.iava.org)
Veterans for Peace (www.veteransforpeace.org)
Related Music Links
The Shants (their song “You Win” is used for the closing credits of the show).
Megan Keely, who provided the voice over for the intro, is also a very talented songwriter.