Father Earl and Country Joe

image160

It was well known at Aquinas that Father Earl La Riviere piled on the homework.  And he expected each student to show up in class with their homework assignments completed.


Recently I was with a few of my former classmates and we were reminiscing about our days as students at Aquinas.  At one point Chuck Kramer said "Do you remember that time when Father La Riviere assigned us the task of writing an original poem and Steve turned in a poem with the lyrics from Country Joe McDonald's "Viet Nam" song?  (I was not enrolled in the class and this was the first time I had heard the story).  I remarked "That really happened?"  Sheepishly Steve Neyses admitted that it was true.  He said that the writing of an original poem had been assigned earlier in the week and it was due on Friday.  Neyses remarked "I never got into poetry and this assignment was daunting.  By Thursday evening "I had nothin! I was beginning to panic because I knew that if I came into Father La Riv's class empty handed there would be hell to pay. 


As I was sitting there contemplating the certain humiliation that would befall me during the next day's class I began to fixate on a song that was playing on my stereo.  It was Country Joe McDonald's Viet Nam song which was very popular at that time. I had heard the song many times and I could almost recite the lyrics verbatim.  I thought to myself maybe I could turn in some of the lines from the song.  It's unlikely that Father La Riviere listens to album oriented rock.  I might just get away with it! And many of the song lyrics rhymed.  Without much further thought I surrendered to the temptation and copied down the first couple of stanzas of the song and was prepared to turn in the words as my own."  


The next morning when Steve arrived in Father La Riviere's class he was overwhelmed with anxiety and guilt.  But he thought to himself "What's worse?  Having no homework assignment or being discovered as a plagiarist?" 


Steve did not have much time to think further about this dilemma because after taking roll Father La Riviere said "I assume that each of you have prepared a brilliant original poem so let's hear what you have.  NEYSEES come up to the front of the class and let's hear what you have written!"  Steve said that his heart missed a couple of beats and then panicked thoughts began to race through his mind.  "Hearing him call my name was like thunder coming down from a mountain.  Why me?  Why now?  Me FIRST?  I cringed and never felt so small!  I don't know how I stood up.  With guilt written all over my face I walked up to the front of the class.  My feet felt like concrete blocks!" 


Steve began to read aloud the words but his delivery was timid.  Father La Riviere barked "Boom it out!  Speak loudly, clearly, and distinctly!"  So Steve picked up the energy and attempted to speak loudly, clearly, and distinctly.  Fellow classmate Chuck Kramer remembered the incident vividly and said that it looked like Steve's knees were knocking.  As Steve continued his recitation classmate Dave Burback, who was seated in the front row, began to tap his foot to the cadence which he knew so well from hearing the song frequently.  Steve struggled to ignore Dave's foot tapping so that his delivery would not fall into the same cadence.  He was terrified that Father La Riviere would notice the cadence and realize that the words were from a song.  About half of the class was familiar with the song and those classmates sat on the edge of their seats wondering if Father La Riv would excoriate Steve for his plagiarism.  But Steve pulled it off!  After reading his poem Steve collapsed into his seat.  He doesn't remember much about what Father La Riviere said in class about his poem because he was so relieved that his recitation was over!


A few days later Steve received his homework assignment back with the grade written in red at the top of the page.  He received a B Plus for his supposed original work!  When Steve finished recounting the story he said "You know, I bet that Country Joe would have said that his words deserved an "A!" 


(See Country Joe's song lyrics below)...


Well, come on all of you, big strong men,

Uncle Sam needs your help again.

He's got himself in a terrible jam

Way down yonder in Vietnam

So put down your books and pick up a gun,

We're gonna have a whole lotta fun.

And it's one, two, three,

What are we fighting for ?

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam;

And it's five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain't no time to wonder why,

Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Come on Wall Street, don't be slow,

Why man, this is war au-go-go

There's plenty good money to be made

By supplying the Army with the tools of its trade,

But just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,

They drop it on the Viet Cong.

And it's one, two, three,

What are we fighting for ?

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam.

And it's five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain't no time to wonder why

Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Well, come on generals, let's move fast;

Your big chance has come at last.

Now you can go out and get those reds

'Cause the only good commie is the one that's dead

And you know that peace can only be won

When we've blown 'em all to kingdom come.

And it's one, two, three,

What are we fighting for ?

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam;

And it's five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain't no time to wonder why

Whoopee! we're all gonna die.

Come on mothers throughout the land,

Pack your boys off to Vietnam.

Come on fathers, and don't hesitate

To send your sons off before it's too late.

And you can be the first ones in your block

To have your boy come home in a box.

And it's one, two, three

What are we fighting for ?

Don't ask me, I don't give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam.

And it's five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain't no time to wonder why,

Whoopee! we're all gonna die


(Contributed by Chuck Street)