Veteran’s Day

Interesting historical combo platter for me (and my family) this morning to get up and see the Veteran’s Day headlines next to the headlines announcing Yasser Arafat’s death.

My father was a 28-year Marine Corps veteran, and his last combat tour was in Beirut in 1982, when he served as Executive Officer of the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit, and was part of U.S. Ambassador Philip Habib’s negotiating team of American, French, Italian and Lebanese military leaders and diplomats.

Two of the key figures in the 1982 conflict in Beirut were Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, both of whom my father sat at negotiating tables with, and both of whom he considered to be butchers. I think if you had told him (or anyone, really) in 1982 that 22 years later the key conflict in and around Lebanon and Israel would still be featuring Sharon and Arafat in key positions, he would have scoffed, since they both seemed to be so irreparably politically damaged by the events unfolding in Lebanon at the time.

There’s a very good book (that my father was interviewed for and appears in) about Philip Habib and Lebanon in 1982 called Cursed is the Peacemaker by John Boykin. Recommended reading. I also have on my coffee table at home a beautful picture book about Lebanon signed, with a personal note to me, by Bashir Gemayal, President of Lebanon, hoping that this small token would help foster relations between our countries. He was assassinated a few days after he signed it and gave it to my dad.

And I guess I should note what I was doing at the time too: I was slogging through my plebe year at the Naval Academy, under a fair amount of physical and emotional strain just caused by the day to day activities associated with the training there, but also by having to get up every morning to pick up the newspapers and make sure that my father hadn’t been killed the day before. I didn’t share that with many people there at the time, as I would have to listen to my classmates and upper class going on and on about the events there in didactic, strident, Machiavellian/realpolitik terms, while I had a bit more of a personal stake in (and often knowledge of) the things that they were Monday morning quarterbacking.

I also have a deep understanding of and appreciation for what active duty military families are going through today as they watch the country unveil its annual public display of appreciation for the military and those who have served and are serving in it. For military families, though, particularly those with loved ones in harm’s way, every day is Veteran’s Day. Those of you who have never had to check the papers for combat casualty lists every morning might want to ponder that point today as part of your Veteran’s Day observance, and then keep it in mind the other 364 days of the year as well.


I got an e-mail this morning from Scotland’s Alan Edwards, proprietor of the This Moment blog, in which he wrote (in part):

“A few months ago I read your poem ‘Happiness’, which I thought was really amusing and sharply written. I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty recently of setting it to music and thought you might like to hear a (rough) version of what I and another musician friend here in Edinburgh did with it, using a couple of guitars and an old TEAC 4-track tape recorder.”

I’m tickled not only that Alan took the time to do so, but that he also perfectly captured the rural flavor of it in the process. Wanna hear it? Here ’tis: Happiness.

I continue to be bemused and awed at the weird ways the internet makes things happen. Here’s a poem written in Upstate New York about a farm in the Carolinas, with the name of a town in Vermont grafted in because it sounded better, recorded by a musician in Scotland for your listening pleasure, wherever you might be.

As the poetry project winds down, I’ve been thinking about what happens to the works (or at least the good ones) when I’m done. I have sent pieces to various literary magazines and the like (and will do more when the year is up), and I am planning to send a chapbook out with Christmas cards this year. But since 90% of my poetry writing prior to this year ended up being set to music, I’ve always figured that it would be nice to have some of these end up that way anyway. Thing is, I’m self-aware enough now to know that my lyrical skills are far better than my melodic skills, so I’ve considered that the perfect scenario would be for me to play Robert Hunter to somebody else’s Jerry Garcia, and let him or her do the hard slogging through chords, notes, clefs and the like.

So if any of you reading this are musically inclined and interested in tackling some words that aren’t your own, let me know. All I ask for is proper credit. And a share of the royalties if you come up with a hit. One of my favorite songwriters in the Capital Region has already taken a few to knock around, so I don’t know where, what or when that’s going to turn out. We’ll see, I guess.