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Rick Springfield On The Vietnam War: “I Killed Somebody”

Rick Springfield is best known for mega pop hits like Jessie's Girl or his stint as Dr. Noah Drake on one of the most popular soap operas of the time, General Hospital. But long before he made it big, Rick was a struggling musician in his native Australia. In this clip, Rick talks about what happened to his band during the early days when they were recruited to play for American troops in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

George Stroumboulopoulos: You've seen a lot, like your life has had some high highs, but you've also had some really interesting moments. Like a lot of entertainers would go to Vietnam to perform for the troops, but you didn't go do the regular performances for the troops, but you went into Vietnam.

Rick Springfield: Yeah, that was pretty crazy. I was 17.

GS: It was '68 you went?

RS: Yeah, '68. I was in Australia, and they were recruiting Australian bands because we were the closest occidental country to Vietnam and all the American soldiers -- you know, if you had a couple of girls in the band, that's really they wanted to see. So we put a couple of girls in the band; we were a show band, I was just playing guitar. And we went over there and we all thought, it's going to be a USO tour, we'll be really protected, and it was some American guy in Saigon who was recruiting these Aussie bands. And we got shot at, we got rocketed, I almost blew the band up with a hand grenade, truly I was minutes from killing the whole band and myself with a hand grenade.

GS: Yikes. You saw some crazy stuff, though, right?

RS: Yeah, I've done a lot of stupid stuff. I'm very lucky to be alive.

GS: Some people do it and learn from it and others don't.

RS: Yeah, I haven't. No, I have, I have. I astound myself sometimes with my stupidity.

GS: Is it true, though, that when you were in Vietnam that you actually at some point, and I read this, that you were feeding mortar shells, there was an attack and you were a part of that? It's one thing to be in that action, but you know there are other people on the end of that. What was the result?

RS: We had befriended this Navy encampment on a beach outside of Da Nang and they said, why don't you guys stay the night and we'll set you up in bunkers and give you guns and stuff. I mean, this is 1968 and I'm completely unpolitically correct. And I went to the radio shack and saw a helicopter get shot down, saw tracers, they got attacked. It was a small encampment, we could have easily gotten overrun. They said there was some movement over here, and they checked to make sure there were no friendlies, and they said, here, you throw the mortars down. So I threw the mortars down the tube. And the next morning, the soldiers came running into our villa and said, you got one. And it's still hard for me to process.

GS: You killed somebody?

RS: I killed somebody.

GS: Okay, so tell me about this, what was your reaction the moment you heard that?

RS: I went numb, I hadn't thought of the other end of the equation. It was an enemy, it was wartime, they were sneaking up on us trying to get us. But I wasn't in the army. I wasn't meant to be there. It's still something that I haven't fully processed.

GS: You were saying that you walked away for a bit to deal with some of the stuff you were dealing with, Buddhism being one way. Did you have to put a mechanism in place to get healthy?

RS: I mean honestly, I don't want to come across as some sad-sack, depressed guy, a lot of the time I love my life, and I love the people that I'm connected to and I love my family and I love what I do, I'm passionate about performing and being onstage -- that and meditating and hugging a dog are the only three times I am absolutely sure I will never get a depressed moment. So if I could go from dog-hugging to meditation to being onstage, I'd be good.

The documentary 'An Affair of the Heart', about Rick's intense relationship with his fans, is screening at the Cumberland in Toronto for the Hot Docs Festival tomorrow night, Thursday May 3, 2012 at 6:30 pm.