Nashville songwriter shares stories of central Illinois veterans | Military

At left is Nashville songwriter Don Goodman, setting up interviews Friday for Central Illinois veterans Paul Petry and David Henard. Goodman writes songs about the lives of veterans and their families for the non-profit organization Freedom Sings USA.


HEYWORTH – Nashville, Tennessee, songwriter Don Goodman said he does really touching work for Freedom Sings USA.

On Friday, Goodman interviewed several central Illinois veterans who met in Heyworth for a Zoom call, including Paul Petry of Heyworth, who served in World War II, and Vietnam War vet David Henard, of Clinton. Through interviews like these, Goodman said he’s helped write 200 to 300 songs that tell the stories of service members and their families.

“It’s so cathartic,” Goodman said. “A lot of people don’t want to talk about their experience. Many people suffer from PTSD and continue to wage this war.

“They will fight it for the rest of their lives.”

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He said the songwriting process allows veterans to say things they haven’t been able to discuss before because they’re not just telling a story, they’re caught up in writing a song.

Later, Goodman said he was told by wives and children of veterans that they were hearing some things for the first time.

“A little kid says to me, ‘wow, I think I know now why my dad cries sometimes,’ he said.

Goodman said he was told by veterans that he had saved their lives or that “I had the gun in my hand. I was ready to pull the trigger.

“More than once, going through this program…. They just turned it around,” Goodman said. “I’ve seen it absolutely transform them; they go from being totally reclusive to coming to shows and concerts and we perform their songs for them.

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He also said they wrote for a whole class of female veterans.

Goodman said he had been writing veteran songs for nine years. He first launched Operation Song with Bob Regan, and it made its appearance in Freedom Sings USA, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

He said they hadn’t missed a weekly Wednesday songwriting session in seven years.

“Holy Huey” ride

On Friday, Goodman interviewed Henard exactly 45 years after he left the United States and went to war in Vietnam.

“That would be a damn good way to start a song,” Goodman noted.

Henard, 78, flew helicopters for the US Army during the Vietnam War and attended flight school at Fort Wolters, Texas. He told Goodman he liked and trusted the Huey helicopter, especially the Charlie model for its larger rotor and blade.

“It fits me like a glove,” Henard said.

When he graduated from flight school, Henard recalled a speaker telling him to “take your humor time with you (in Vietnam)…. You are going to need it.

Goodman commented that this was as true as it gets.

However, there was a Huey run that would change Henard. In March 1968, during the Tet offensive, the army pilot disabled a helicopter. It was the only one available. He said he was flying at 1,000 feet and was five “clicks” from station when the control stick hit him in the stomach.

Henard said the nose of the helicopter was too high and his life flew through his brain. He imagined the vehicle would overturn and fall backwards, hitting the ground nose first.

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Instead, Henard said he felt a bright light behind him and above the helicopter, then the control stick released enough for him to make a gradual descent.

Later at the base, Henard said he was having a beer when a maintenance man told him he was the first aircrew to land after this kind of mechanical failure.

He explained that the control stick connects to a squash plate which tilts the plane of a rotor. Henard said an undersized bolt was installed in the squash plate, causing it to jam.

If the squash plate had not failed in the position it was on the rotor, he said the incident would have been unsurvivable.

“I knew God had intervened in this case and my guardian angel gave me the external strength to land this helicopter,” Henard said.

The experience then reaffirmed his faith in Christ, and Henard said he had done his best to serve the Lord ever since.

For more information about Freedom Sings USA, visit

Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison

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