Friends and classmates had died in the war. Some had even committed suicide.

At the depth of his depression in the 1970s, Al Pelletier thought he might follow suit.

After his 30-month service in Vietnam, he wore his uniform and medals with pride when he arrived in San Francisco. He and other veterans quickly discovered they were not welcome. Instead, they faced a divided country that viewed them with anger and distrust.

Maine would be different, Pelletier thought. “It wasn’t,” he said.

No one cared about his service. The only job Pelletier could find was pumping gas at a Shell station for less than a $1 an hour. 

“I was about ready to do the same to myself,” Pelletier said about the veterans he knew who had committed suicide. “I was feeling melancholy, so I just sat down with my guitar.”


In less than 30 minutes, a song poured out from his heart and soul. He said he has written dozens of songs, but none came as quickly or as easy as “The Wisdom That We Gained.” It told the story of his Vietnam experience.

While he wrote it to help himself cope, he soon realized it wasn’t just his experience, it was the experience of every service member.

Pelletier, 71, of Norway has sung the song throughout Maine at various functions. He performed it in front of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C., during its 25th anniversary ceremony in 2007.

Pelletier will perform “The Wisdom That We Gained” on Thursday in Gardiner as part of the opening ceremony for “The Wall That Heals,” a traveling replica of the Vietnam Wall that will stand at Gardiner Common from July 19 to 22. The ceremony begins Thursday at 10 a.m.

Larger than the previous traveling memorial, the three-quarters-sized replica is 375 feet long, 7.5 feet tall at its apex and contains the names of more than 58,000 service members who died in Vietnam.

A Navy man, Pelletier admitted he likely didn’t have it as bad as those who served on the ground, but said he did witness scenes of horror and atrocities. Much of his 30 months were spent serving under the commander of the 7th Fleet in the war room on the USS Providence and USS Oklahoma City.


When life grew dim after the war, Pelletier would often turn to his guitar when feeling depressed, but the catharsis he felt after writing this song was immediate.

“I’ve actually lived this whole song,” Pelletier said. “It is my life experience.”

While finding great comfort in the words, he never planned to release it. However, his brother took the song and added a soundtrack. His brother’s effort encouraged Pelletier to record the song at a Westbrook studio.

Pelletier said he has sold thousands of copies of the songs and still sings it at various veteran functions.

One function especially stands out. In 2007, he received an unexpected invitation from U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine to sing the song during the 25th anniversary that celebrated the completion of the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. He shared the stage with VIPs such as Gen. Colin Powell.

“That was the highlight of my life to stand in front of the Vietnam Wall and sing that song I wrote for myself,” Pelletier said.


He will stand in front of a replica of that wall Thursday in Gardiner to sing his song. 

“I’m honored and excited to do it,” Pelletier said.

Pelletier recovered from his bouts of depression, went to college on the GI Bill and enjoyed a successful career in business. He retired a few years ago from the commercial flooring business.

He is encouraged by what he sees now with many businesses reaching out to veterans with job offers and the welcome home ceremonies. Much different from his own experience and fellow veterans, Pelletier hopes the final seven words to his song are always remembered:

“Our kids must never see a Vietnam.”

Vietnam War veteran Al Pelletier of Norway sings “The Wisdom That We Gained,” a song he wrote about the effects of the Vietnam War, during Vietnam War Rememberance Day in Rumford in 2012. (Sun Journal 2012 file photo)

Al Pelletier of Norway (Submitted photo)

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