VOICES: “Thanks to Vets” concert to foster peace, healing through music

Every Veterans Day, this former US Army combat intelligence specialist is thanked for my service. I’m no hero — three Bronze Star citations only show I did my job. They can’t hide my role in a South Vietnamese bombing of a naked 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phúc — “Napalm Girl” — photographed as she ran screaming from burns on June 8, 1972.

I knew then I should never have been there. I should have been home with siblings and a family in crisis, but I also had a family of brothers in Vietnam. It’s those events and personal conflict that feed my guilt, anger, PTSD — suicidal thoughts that claim 22 vets a day.

A combat soldier’s job is a 24/7 effort: stay alive, complete the mission, protect buddies, avoid “collateral damage.” A combat veteran’s challenge is to live at peace. To do that I returned to playing guitar after four decades with guidance from a wonderful VA music therapist.

I began writing songs I shared with a helpful Dayton Vet Center counselor for a few years. I could write what I think, I could speak my mind... but only through music could I share my feelings. Counseling and songwriting helped me replace a dozen daily pills with guitar, ukulele, kazoos, songwriting.

I still had conflicts with work, family, friendships. Rage. Depression. “Fight or flight?” It was almost always “Fight!” until I visited Dayton’s International Peace Museum.

Japanese tourists were visiting its nuclear weapons exhibit. I was strumming a guitar to relax in its lobby as they left that room, somber, heads low. I began playing a Japanese love song, “Sukiyaki.” They burst into smiles and sang the lyrics as images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki gave way to those of love and joy. I’d found a place to heal and find peace.

I met Executive Director Kevin Kelly and was his volunteer manager and outreach coordinator for a year. I began writing songs about feelings, failings, hopes, my stories and shared stories.

What soldier who fights doesn’t wish it would end? And what advocate for peace doesn’t wish to avoid war? At the Peace Museum, a veteran musician found common cause with a vegan peacenik.

Kevin and I discuss war and peace, civil rights and human wrongs, love and anger, loyalty and betrayal. We can disagree, but not disagreeably... at least, not often. And whenever music starts, it’s easier to dance, clap, sing or he’ll scream, “More cowbell!”

On Saturday, Nov. 12, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the International Peace Museum, I will be among three vet-fronted bands for a “Thanks to Vets” concert.

Anyone with a veteran or military ID will be admitted free to the museum on Veterans Day and on Saturday. The concert will also be streamed on the International Peace Museum’s YouTube and Facebook pages. The concert will also be streamed on the International Peace Museum’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

Performers will include: Carolyn Sargent (USAF) and the Freedom Eagle Veterans Flute Circle; my Storied Blues Band featuring guitarist Jerry Greer (US Navy) finessing my original songs; and Gary Williams (US Navy) & The Westside Players.

We’re ready to serve again, this time to raise a joyous noise for Peace.

Dennis Geehan, Beavercreek, has written for newspapers for over 50 years. He volunteers teaching guitar and playing for patients at the Dayton VA Medical Center.

About the Author