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VFW Magazine February 2018 : Page 19

Before Calvin Simon (second from left) was draft-ed into the Army in 1966, the men behind Parliament Funkadelic wore suits and ties and had “processed hair,” according to Simon. When he returned, their outfits increased in grandeur. I PHOTO COURTESY OF CALVIN SIMON t was the summer of 1967. The smooth, soul sounds of Parliament Funkadelic’s first hit, “(I Wanna) Testify,” filtered through the radio waves as a founding member of the group waged war in Vietnam. Vocalist Calvin Simon distinctly remembers hearing the song for the first time on the radio, then running for cover from a mortar attack. “Here I am, No. 1 in the states, [but I’m] over here in the mud with an M-16 and a .45,” said Simon, who was drafted in 1966. As “(I Wanna) Testify” climbed the Billboard charts, reaching No. 3 for R&B and No. 20 for pop, Simon remained in Vietnam and would not reunite with the group until 1968. PATROLLING THE MEKONG DELTA Simon served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 with C Btry., 3rd Bn., 13th F.A., 9th Inf. Div., as a Howitzer section chief. The unit patrolled the Mekong River Delta, a task he said was really tough. “Everything goes in and out with the tide,” Simon said. “You do everything in that river, and to see how some of those people had to live, some of the things you had to encounter. We had to do [a lot] that nobody knew about because we couldn’t report a lot of stuff.” But what stuck out to Simon, an at-large VFW member in Florida, was a conversation with a local man while patrolling the river. “[We saw] this little hut, and we went up there to investigate and there was a little family in there — one guy, his wife and two little kids,” Simon said. “And they had this plywood setting on 4x4s with straw and an Army blanket on top of it. “One of the most profound things about that day, this little guy, in broken English, said to me, ‘Why are you over here fighting me instead of back home fighting for your rights?’ ” It was something Simon hadn’t really thought about when he got drafted. But he said he had to stop mulling over the question because being in Vietnam was mentally tough enough to begin with. Regardless, the former doo-wop sing-er said his time in the service meant he was doing his duty. “As a soldier, that’s what we are sup-posed to do, even if we don’t under-stand…,” Simon said. “When [orders] do come down, it’s your duty as a soldier to carry them out, as difficult as it may seem sometimes.” He later applied the discipline he learned in the military to his music career, as it provided some “structure” in his life. “If it hadn’t been for that, I don’t know if I could’ve made it as far as I did,” Simon said. “Your mind is a pretty pow-erful thing, and it can tell you to do things and not do things, and you’ve got to make decisions. Sometimes it’s harder to keep the genie in the bottle than others.” RETURNING TO MUSIC AND FAITH Once he returned to the states, Simon went back to Parliament Funkadelic. Re-acclimating to the music industry and civilian life after Vietnam was, for Simon, “quite a transition.” Swarms of fans sent him back into his warzone mindset. Parliament Funkadelic FEBRUARY 2018   • WWW.VFW.ORG • 19

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