Stop, Children, What’s That Sound?

Warriors Publishing Group
4 min readJan 25, 2023
Paperback, ebook, and audiobook covers for DEROS: Vietnam

Yes, that sound? It sure wasn’t Buffalo Springfield singing “For What It’s Worth.” It belonged to an acerbic voice, one that sounded as if it was laced with equal parts marijuana and barbed wire…

It was January 1, 1971. I’m feeling sorry for myself because I still had more 182 days left in my Vietnam tour, and I’m listening to Armed Forces Vietnam (AFVN) radio when this voice, that sound, comes on. We GIs knew immediately this was not your U. S. government approved AFVN D-J. The voice growls: “Vietnam, in just 30 seconds your radio experience will change forever. Turn your radios to 69 Megahertz on your FM dial. If you don’t, we are going to re-up you for another tour of Vietnam.”

And it was gone. Before we could ask how some crazy stoner had preempted AFVN on their own frequency, one of the guys tuned the hooch radio to 69 Megahertz. Our jaws dropped as a steady stream of whacked-out, druggie, psychedelic music burst forth — “Double Cross” by Bloodrock, “Soul Experience” by Iron Butterfly, “My Flash on You” by Love — punctuated by the most stoned-out voice we’d ever heard from a DJ who called himself Dave Rabbit. This wasn’t Uncle Sam’s AFVN pablum. In between “Funk #49” by the James Gang and “Fresh Air” by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Dave Rabbit became a sonic savior, trashing the brass and the war and extoling the virtues of getting high and staying there. Who was this guy and how was he able to pull this off?

Didn’t matter. We tuned in to “Radio First Termer,” the name Dave Rabbit gave his radio show, for three hours every night. Rabbit kept cranking out “hard acid rock music to blow your mind with” as he continuously bad mouthed the brass. Almost daring them to come and find him.

According to Rabbit, Radio First Termer was being broadcast from a brothel in nearby Saigon. He and his sidekicks, a fellow he called Pete Sadler and a woman named Nguyen who sounded more like she was from Detroit than Danang, put on off-color skits and told raunchy jokes. The trio would also supply regular “news reports” they uncovered in restrooms and pass along other helpful hints for us listeners–“If you’re at the Magic Finger Lounge tonight,” Rabbit warned us one evening, “stay away from the Korean at the door, he’s pushing some bad H.”

And the next thing you’d hear would be John Kay of Steppenwolf screaming about “the pusher man.” “God Damn!”

We combat correspondents and photographers in the IO hooch were hooked, and we weren’t alone. Soldiers and Marines up and down Vietnam — “from the Delta to the DMZ” as AFVN liked to boast — told us that they too were tuning in to Radio First Termer. Uncle Sam and the brass were not happy but the hits just kept on comin’.

And then as unexpectedly as it started, Radio First Termer stopped. January 21, 1971 marked the last broadcast. Not another word from Radio First Termer. We all figured Dave Rabbit and his pals had been busted and were probably singing the court martial blues in Long Binh Jail.

But oh, what a liberating three weeks it was. Not to mention 63 hours of mind-altering music. A GI Revolution in A minor…

That was the sound, the voice on the radio. A sound you heard mostly in the rear in Vietnam, where music played constantly for guys like me “stuck in the rear with the gear.” That’s because a lot of our gear was music-centered — cassette decks, radios, reel-to-reel tape decks, headphones — as we battled boredom, racial tensions, the military brass, drugs, alcohol…and occasionally the enemy.

Like Dave Rabbit, I decided to unmute my Vietnam voice and provide a rear-echelon perspective of life and times in Vietnam, one that would provide a fresh take on the American experience in Southeast Asia. It took me 40 years to do it, but DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle was published in 2012. And now, it’s available as an audiobook.

Compared to the steady diet of combat-oriented works about the war in Vietnam, listeners will find DEROS Vietnam revelatory and entertaining, even if a lot of the humor is dark in ways that only soldiers can truly appreciate. Who other than a war weary GI would find something to smile about in a tiger mauling a fellow soldier in the jungles of Vietnam?

Dave Rabbit came clean in 2007. His real name was C. David DeLay, Jr. The former Air Force sergeant had served three tours in Vietnam and received the Purple Heart. He went back to his Texas roots and back to radio. But he passed away in 2014.

There was something happening when Radio First Termer burst on the Vietnam scene in 1971. And a lot going on in the rear when a lot of us were there. Stop, children, find that sound. It’s DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle.

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(Vietnam veteran Doug Bradley is the author of DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle and co-author, with Craig Werner, of We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War which was named best music book of 2015 by Rolling Stone magazine. His most recent book, Who’ll Stop the Rain: Respect, Remembrance, and Reconciliation in Post-Vietnam America, was released by Warriors Publishing Group in December 2019.)



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