It is a Saturday January 1970… I am 11 years old.
The mail is delivered through our slot in the afternoon. I push my dog aside to get to the pile, searching for one of my horse magazines, and see a letter trimmed in red, white, and blue, addressed to me. My mother takes it out of my hand, and opens it to protect me from the unknown sender. The letter is from a soldier named George stationed at the Army Training Center in Fort Dix, New Jersey. It starts out:
“Hi Carol, well you don’t know who I am but I found an envelope in my locker with your address on it, so I thought I would drop you a line.” He goes on to say that the letter was left by another soldier who previously had his locker. That soldier was my brother’s best friend Jacky. George thought I was Jacky’s girlfriend, and was just looking for a girl to write to…someone who might think of him when she watched the news, or while she was hanging out with her friends. Someone George might imagine was pining for him, waiting for him to come home to her.
But instead it was me, a chubby eleven-year-old with braces, who loved sports and horses. My mother told me to write back to him and explain—that he might still like to have a penpal from home. So I did, and that was the beginning of our unusual relationship. I wrote to Jacky and George that whole year, telling them about each Boston team’s triumphs and trades. There was nothing else to talk about, but I was eleven; I didn’t understand.
In the early days of the war, they would politely reply each month, voicing their outrage at the Sox’s Jim Lomborg being traded, or how many fights were in the latest Bruin’s game. But soon after they arrived in Vietnam, the letters started to change. The peace sign, and the words scribbled, “pray for peace,” started appearing on the backs of the envelopes. They talked about “Charlie,” and rats, and rockets, and skies on fire. Again, I was eleven; I didn’t understand.
My mother started monitoring the letters closely, in fear they might forget they were writing to a child. But now, as I study these letters, it is easy to read between the lines and feel the sadness, despair, and even horror that none of us could understand, unless we were there.
It is Saturday January 2004. It is 11:00.
My husband Jeff and I are sitting at our kitchen table with our friend Billy, who has stopped by with coffee. Billy was a chopper pilot in Vietnam, and we are discussing the war in Iraq. It is a bitter subject for him, so Jeff starts to talk about a recording project I had been working on to take the conversation somewhere else. I began to talk about the album’s theme, and ultimately the subject really didn’t change. I told him I wanted to do a collection of songs to remind us of what war really is—that when somebody’s darling puts on a uniform, that he or she may never be coming home.
When I told Billy the theme, he began to recite the famous Veteran’s poem, In Flander’s Field. Visibly emotional, he said “you should put that to music, out of respect.” It was clear to me then, what my album would really be about.
Our country has always been divided about war, but ironically it is the casualties of those wars that unite us. No matter what side you are on, what time in history, or what ocean borders you, the loss is still the same. In 1970, I trivialized the war by writing to George and Jacky like they were simply big brothers away at college. But in 2004, it is easy to write a song as I watch the news and see a soldier’s high school picture, while his mother cries into a microphone. At least now I can begin to understand the tragedy. The problem with that is, until we walk in that mother’s shoes, or put on that soldier’s boots, we still don’t really get it. Until we “read between the lines” we don’t have the right to get it.
We can start by facing the walls, looking up at the names, and then praying for peace.
My album will be dedicated to my father, Jeff’s father, Kevin’s father, Mary’s brother, Noreen’s husband, Katy’s uncle, Michael’s best friend, Dawne’s cousin, Brian’s sister, Emma’s grandfather, Henry’s son, Carol’s penpal………Somebody’s Darling.
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