To Angel Fire and Back: The StoriesTo Angel Fire and Back
Deciding on a name for anything is usually hard. Many different names occured to me while recording this album. But the name "Angel Fire" evokes powerful images. As I thought about the whole 12 year process of what happened during my time in New Mexico and my many visits to Angel Fire, I felt I could see the hand of God at work. I realized that I had come full circle with this experience. The First Song
"Daddy always loved to See a Hero" was at my father's request when he was dying, in California 1985. It took a move to Taos, New Mexico for me to finally write the song in 1988. There was no better place to sing the song, than at Angel Fire Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Which led to developing a relationship with the memorial and the people who go to visit there.
At their request, more songs were written, about different aspects of the Vietnam experience. Though I recorded "Daddy Always Loved To See a Hero" in 1990 in Taos, I never seemed to have the means to record the other songs which were developing. In 1998 I felt the pull to return to California. Once again, I could not explain exactly why I was so sure that it was the right thing to do. I loved living in New Mexico and never thought I would leave. But I knew there was something pulling me back to Ojai. Within the first year back, during dinner with girlfriends, a question was put to me "When are you going to record a CD?" I told them "now!" I didn't know how it would happen, but I set a goal of releasing a CD by Veterans Day 2000. Events began to occur to help me accomplish this.
My car salesman led me to Audio International Recording Studio, which led me to Richard Fowell, which turned me on to Ojai Songwriters. During a songwriters meeting, I shared some of the songs in this album and it was unanimous - I had to make this Vietnam Veterans project my first CD. I had come full circle - or "To Angel Fire and Back". Once I decided on the name, I thought "now I need a title song". That is a bit intimidating. The hook "I've been to Angel Fire and back again" kept flowing through my mind. It took some time for the rest to develop.
I've tried to write a song that attempts to explain the larger picture of the whole 15 year experience. That picture is one of personal healing as well as reaching out to facilitate almost a universal healing of all those involved in the Vietnam experience. It incorporates the north and the south. It incorporates the dead and the living. It reaches out to the believers and the non believers. It is a huge undertaking which I hope will help at least in some small measure.
This song is composed by songwriter Milt Kelley, also a Vietnam Veteran. Milt tells of the many encounters he had with young soldiers who had to leave their high school sweethearts behind. When he returned home he watched them as they put together the pieces of their love and romance. As I sing this song I am reminded of two of my best friends, Bobby and Sharon. Our friendship began in Junior High School and still remains strong. Bobby and Sharon were high school sweethearts who married after graduation. Within 6 months Bobby had been drafted and went to serve in Vietnam. He returned home to find his sweetheart waiting, and they remain married to this day.
Side by Side, Hand in Hand
My mother and father requested that I write a song for them to be sung at the church services when they repeated their vows on their 30th wedding anniversary. They celebrated their anniversary in 1980, just months before my father was diagnosed with cancer for the second time and underwent major surgery.
My parent's love story started during World War II. My father ( a Navy Seabee) found a wallet. Inside was a picture of four young women. When the owner was located, my father told him he would only return his wallet to him, if he gave him the name and address of one of the young women who had caught his eye- my mother. Thus began a correspondence that lasted four years. During that time they would become engaged to other people and the letters would stop. Then they would break off their engagements and begin writing again.
Finally they decided they should meet and my father flew from Utah to Texas to meet my mother. Two weeks later they were engaged and 6 months later, on January 1st, 1950 they married in Beaumont, Texas. At that time, they could not marry in the church, as my father was not Catholic. They were married in the church rectory.
My father became a Catholic in 1963 and in 1980 they decided to repeat their vows in a church service. The song I wrote for them has been a favorite of others, and has been sung for weddings and anniversaries on numerous occasions. Since my involvement with the Vietnam Veterans and their families, it has become a song of love and devotion that represents the couples who have experienced the strain of the aftermath of the Vietnam experience and its effect on their relationship and their lives. This is a song for those, like my parents, who made it "Through the Fire" and came out on the other side - together!!
Is Anybody Out There?
A song for veterans who suffer the effects of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and depression and who have, in many cases chosen to end their suffering through suicide.
It was 1994. I had just finished singing "Daddy Always Loved To See A Hero" at the Angel Fire Vietnam Veterans Memorial, having been invited back for their Veteran's Day celebration. A soldier approached me and we began to talk. He was well dressed, in a business suit and tie. But he had those "eyes." The eyes I have begun to associate with those experienced with pain and suffering, with trauma. I've seen those eyes in
Hiroshima, Japan. I've seen those eyes in adolescents locked up and addicted to drugs. I've seen those eyes in Angel Fire. He asked me if I had any songs for the Vietnam soldiers who have died from suicide since the war. He shared with me the information that more than 150,000 Vietnam Veterans have died from suicide since the end of the war, more than double the amount lost in the actual war. He added that he himself had attempted suicide more than once. We spoke for awhile. I asked him if he would like me to write a song. He said "yes." I invited him to live, and listen for the song. I hope he's still out there. When I performed this song in Angel Fire, I invited those listening to close their eyes, and hold the hand of the person next to them. At the end of the song, I asked them to open their eyes and look around, as I sang the last line "Is anybody out there?" The answer is undeniably yes. Just let us in.
Daddy Always Loved To See A Hero
This is the song that I wrote in memory of my father. It took me fours years to write it. I didn't know where to start. Then one day I thought, "just tell the story". My father was an idealist and a dreamer. He never ran out of ideas, hopes or dreams. He had a hard life, like many others raised during the depression. He was extremely patriotic, and he cried easily at sentimental movies, beautiful stories, heroic tales, and just about everything his children did. He didn't die a rich man. His battle with cancer, and the government's refusal to accept any responsibility, left the family with a mountain of debt. But he died a hero. He never gave up on himself, his doctors, his family or his country. We are continuing his battle with attempting to get the government to show some responsibility to veterans and their families who have suffered the effects of agent orange exposure, and other unacknowledged side effects of war.
His Vietnam story is as follows: He re-enlisted in the Navy in 1968, as a Petty Officer 1st Class, Seabees. He was sent to Vietnam to serve for one year. It was at a time in his life when he was 39 years old, unemployed and desperate to find a good job that would provide his family with stability and health insurance. They promised him good things. Enlist and serve in Vietnam and when your two years are up, you can re-enlist and eventually retire. Your family will be taken care of. You will have good benefits and health insurance and you will have a retirement for your old age. It seemed a wonderful opportunity. Provide for you family and provide a service to your country at the same time. Vietnam 1969
So he went to Vietnam. One evening, while guarding a bridge with 12 other men, planes started flying overhead and spraying. My father, along with the others, felt a wet "rain" and smelled a strong smell. They radioed in and were told that it was a mistake and the planes were off course. It took more than 20 minutes for the information to get to the pilots and for the pilots to fly away. Immediately following, my father began to experience sore throats. The doctors would check his throat, give him antibiotics and send him away. But it never got better. My father thought it was odd, but didn't think there was much he could do. He never thought for a moment that it might be related to that night of "spraying". He returned home in 1969 and was stationed in Pt. Hueneme, California. The sore throats continued. Nothing gave him relief and the doctors could not tell him anything. Meanwhile, President Reagan was in office and it was decided that no soldier 40 years or older could re-enlist after their two years, unless they had a consecutive number of years of military service before that time. My father was denied re-enlistment due to his age. Swallowing his disappointment, out in the job market once again, he opted to remain involved in the reserves. While in the reserves, his health was failing, feeling increasingly fatigued, and having chronic sore throats, he began to experience seizures. On one two week training period, he seizured and they "booted" him out, stating he was not "fit for service". He went through a period of depression, unemployment and illness, finally being diagnosed with throat cancer in 1975. The cancer was responsible for the sore throats, fatigue and seizures. My father began an extensive bout of chemotherapy and radiation, suffering all the side effects one does from such invasive procedures. But his cancer went into remission. During this time he received information about other veterans and their illnesses believed to be related to Agent Orange exposure. My father remembered that night on the bridge and began the long process of filing claims, being denied, appealing, etc. In 1980 my father was again diagnosed with cancer, this time in the jawbone and soft surrounding tissues. Still retaining more than the "safe" amount of radiation in his body from previous treatments, surgery was the only option. My father underwent massive surgery, where they removed a portion of his jaw and tongue, permanently disfiguring his face. Along with that came more than a year of recovery, being fed through tubes. But he got better. And he filed claims. And he was denied. With his life back on track, ready to graduate from junior college, he was once again diagnosed with cancer, the end of 1984. This time it was terminal. But he continued to fight. Both the government and his own body. We brought him home from the hospital where he could spend his final days. One evening he took my hand, looked me in the eyes and asked, "don't let your mother give up the fight maybe you can write a song for me and the others like me, that might help". Daddy here's your song. I love you!
NOTE: At the time of his death, 11 out of the original 13 men serving on that bridge were dead due to "illness". It is unknown whether the other 2 are still alive. My cousin, who served three tours of duty in Vietnam has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an effect of Agent Orange exposure.
Gold Star Mom
Written by request for mothers who have lost children in war. This organization was started after World War I, and continues its membership today. www.goldstarmoms.com
American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. a federally-chartered organization, is a member of the National Veterans Affairs Voluntary Service Advisory Committee. The 200 chapters of Gold Star Mothers throughout the United States give many hours of work and personal service in hospitals for the veterans, and to the veteran and his family. The organization works closely with and is respected by all veterans organizations. The American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., a non-profit, patriotic organization, receives funds from dues and donations only.
The same day I sang "Is Anybody Out There?" I was approached by Peter. Peter is a Vietnam Veteran who lives in Taos, New Mexico. I had seen Peter on the fringes of those events where I sang for the veterans. He's tall, intense, and stands out in a crowd. This time Peter approached me and said "Now you have a song for your dad. You have a song for the Vets who have died of suicide. How about a song for the Goldstar Moms." I was at a loss. What is a Goldstar mom? Peter told me they are the mothers who have had children die in the service of their country. I thought, maybe I should try to write a song for them. But the song didn't come. I got busy. I put it away on a shelf. In 1995, I was singing once again in Angel Fire. I was sitting up front, with the other presentors when I looked at the woman next to me. Curiously, she was wearing a gold star on her jacket. I thought "Okay God, I get the message. You want me to write this song!" I spoke with her and she referred me to Molly Teater. Molly is the past National President of the Goldstar Mom's organization, and coincidentally lived right in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I called up Molly, and introduced myself. I told her that I was requested to write a song for her and others like her, and that I needed more information about their group. Molly was delightfully energetic and helpful. She sent me pamphlets and news clippings detailing the history of Gold star Mom's. I learned that the Gold star Mom organization was begun by President Theodore Roosevelt after WW I and finished by Woodrow Wilson. The country's morale was low and grieving the loss of many of its fine young men. President Roosevelt felt that an organization honoring those men and their mother's, and recognizing their sacrifice and loss was in order. Since then, the organization has continued. Their membership has decreased (thank God!). After I wrote this song, I sent a copy of the lyrics to Molly Teater and asked her "Is this Okay? Does this accurately reflect what you stand for and what you want to say?" The response was an overwhelming "YES!." She loved the lyrics, but until now, had not heard them put to music. Molly -- this song is for you, your son and all the others out there like you. God Bless!
There's A Reason
A song of faith and hope. I wrote this song right after my father died. I was struggling, dealing with the loss of my father and the self-imposed loss of my career in Japan. I was raising two teenagers and an infant son and trying to make sense of it all. This song was "sent" to me as an affirmation of faith and hope, in that there is purpose and reason in all that happens. God never gives us more than we can handle. I relate this philosophy to all aspects of my life. I relate this to the Vietnam war experience for our nation, our families and our friends. It taught us important lessons, it challenges us to cope, to overcome and not to repeat the past - and to go on.
Roots and Wings
When I first started writing songs and singing professionally, I had dreams of making a lot of money and being able to give my children everything they ever needed. I was a single mom and my kids were just babies and I worried about how I would be able to provide for them adequately. As the years passed by the riches didn't come. But I was able to give them what they needed from what did come in. At some point I realized that my riches were to be found in the experiences we had and the people whose hearts were touched through my music. I began thinking that maybe all I would have to leave them when I died were my songs.
I started writing a song for them, but only came up with the bridge "May the wind always be at your back" which was inspired from an old Irish poem. In 1993 I attended the funeral of my husband's cousin. She was only 42 years old and had died from cancer. I observed her children sitting in the front of the church while I was listening to the eulogies. My heart went out to them and I thought to myself "That could easily be me. Those could be my children". A man up front who was speaking made the comment "She was a wonderful mother. She gave her children roots and wings." The song was born. After that it came together in one piece.
Years later, as I am working on this album project, I realize that this song must be included. I think of my Aunt Vee who lost her soldier/husband to depression and suicide after World War II. She was left to raise 5 children at a time when there wasn't much out there for women to work at and make a living. She watched her son Monte go off to the Vietnam war, and waited for him to return while he fought three tours of duty over there. She watched here brother (my father) die of agent organge related cancer from the Vietnam War. She was the foundation around which her 11 children built their lives. They always were able to return to her when they needed her support. So I decided to include the song in this album. I dedicate it to my children Jason, Shannon and Micheal. And to my grandchildren, David and Chloe. And to the children of the world, in behalf of all their mothers.
Papa, Are You Watching?
When I first started this CD, I thought I had all the songs I needed to complete the project. When others discovered what I was doing, their interest and excitement grew. Out of that came more stories and new ideas for songs related to the war. The more subjects I wrote songs about, the more areas I found that were still to be covered. One morning my mother related a story to me that she had just watched on MSNBC News Magazine. The story was about a Vietnam Veteran who had carried around a small photo of a North Vietnamese soldier and a very young girl.
The North Vietnamese soldier was the first "enemy" killed by this young American soldier and it had a profound impact on him. The photo was found on the enemy soldier's body. Though the American soldier had to kill again during the remainder of the war, this first experience stayed with him, unresolved through the years. When he looked at the photo over the years, it was as if that young girl was requesting something from him. He did not know what to do. Eventually he decided to take the picture to "The Wall" in Washington D.C. He left the photo there with a letter to the little girl. He felt relief, like he could now go on with his life. As it turned out, the story was not yet finished. Through strange events, the picture was returned to him, and once again he struggled with the event and tried to figure out what it was that he was supposed to do. Finally he decided that he had to try to find that young girl, now a woman, and give her the picture. He sent his story and a copy of the picture to Vietnamese newpapers, asking if they would publish them and ask if anyone recognized the two. Through another series of unusual events, the young girl was found. Arrangements were made for the American soldier to fly to Vietnam, to meet the young woman and give her the photo, which turned out to be the only existing photo of herself and her father. The meeting was a beautiful example of love, forgiveness, healing and completion. When my mother told me the story, I cried. When I watched the taped TV program, I cried again. I knew there was no way I could leave this story out of this album project. I dedicate this song to them, and thank them for their generosity in sharing with the world their beautiful example of how love and compassion crosses all cultures and borders.
How Do I Want to Be Remembered?
In 1997 I was invited once again to sing in Angel Fire, for the Veteran's Day services. When the Director called me by phone and invited me to perform, he asked me, "Oh by the way - do you have any new songs?" This had become the invitation to write a new song for their special event. I laughed and said, "What's your theme?" He told me, "This year we want to do something different. We want to be upbeat and proud of who we are.
All the pain and subsequent healing that goes on here is good, but we want the world to know that we are more than a sad story. Alright!! So I wrote the song "How Do I Want To Be Remembered?" It opened up with everyone in the audience providing percussion "handclapping" to get the song going. The song speaks for itself. I can't describe to you the satisfaction and pride I saw in the faces of the veterans as I sang this song of affirmation and validation. Everyone wanted a copy of the song. Here it is - just for you!
***BONUS SONG from Shareen's Peace Concert Album. The 1984 World Peace Conference Theme song written and performed by Shareen in Hiroshima, Japan. An affirmation that we can change the world, when we stand together.
I debated over whether to add this song to this CD. It is directly related to the war experiences, but it came about from my involvement with the International World Peace Movement. I am not a person who believes you should never fight. I believe that there are times when you must stand up and fight. As a world people we cannot allow mass destruction or genocide. Those of us who have food, shelter and healthcare need to be available to help those who do not. Freedom to choose is important. All that stated, I still feel a terrible sadness when our differences are unable to be resolved and end in war.
My involvement with the World Peace Organization came about because of my experiences as a young American living during the Vietnam War era. This song was developed for the Gensuikyo Organization in Tokyo, Japan. They asked me to write the theme song for their World Peace Conference, which is attended each year by participants from over 30 different countries. I struggled with the importance of the task assigned. What did I want to say? I decided that the message should be one of hope and confidence that we as individual people can make a difference. If we work together, we can change the world. The Vietnam War was a big part of my developmental years. Many of my philosophies, my actions and my very way of being are driven by my impressions and experiences during the 60's and 70's. And that way of being is to be a model of peace. Peace in even the smallest unit - between myself and the animal kingdom. Peace between myself and my friends, family, community, state, nation and world. This song represents my belief that each and everyone of us plays a major role in how the world will be. I believe that together, we can shape our world into one which operates in peace and harmony.