Combatting Veteran Suicide One Song – One Story at a time – Dan Johnson

As a staff writer for Buddy Magazine, I get lots of Press Releases about new projects from music artists. But, when the Press Release came across my desk for this project, I knew I had to try and find a bigger platform to showcase it. To say it touched my heart is putting it mildly. I was blown away by the depth and the passion Texas songwriter, Dan Johnson, put into the Hemingway Project. Let me tell you a little about it.

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Imagine you are a soldier returning home from Afghanistan or Syria or some other war-torn country. Maybe limbs are missing, or your body is scarred in some other way. Or perhaps deep in the recesses of your mind, thoughts and emotions are twisted with guilt.

At what point do you decide you have nothing more to offer and the world has nothing left to hold you?

Now you have the theme for Hemingway.

But it gets more personal, as I discovered in a recent interview with the tall bearded unassuming Texas Songwriter, Dan Johnson.

The day before Johnson turned eleven, his father, a U.S. Navy veteran, decided he could no longer cope and he took his life.

“My dad needed someone to personally connect with him. Someone to say the words to him that even though suicide might end his pain, it will amplify it for his loved ones for the rest of their lives,” Johnson said.

The story of how The Hemingway Project was born is astounding. Without a doubt, Johnson has a calling.

“It was a very specific moment for me,” Johnson recalled. “I was doing a show at Hoot’s in Amarillo. The manager, a good friend, is a Marine who came back with really tremendous post-traumatic stress. I asked why he’d changed his Facebook profile picture to a bloody red number twenty-two. He said he was part of ‘Twenty-Two Kill,’ and explained it is an organization that tries to help reduce veteran suicides through raising awareness. Then he told me there is an average of twenty-two veteran suicides per day. That nailed me to the wall. I knew I had to do something.”

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Another layer of dimension to this project came directly from the famed author, Ernest Hemingway.

Johnson recalls that the song, “Hemingway,” came to him during a visit to the late great Ernest Hemingway’s home in Florida. Standing in the study where so many of Hemingway’s stories were born was the perfect catalyst. But, because of the grave subject matter, he didn’t do anything with the song until much later. After visiting with his friend at the club in Amarillo, he had a thought.

Johnson said, “I play around two-hundred shows every year, and I have a microphone. If I ran into this guy in a bar, something tells me there’s somebody in every single bar I’m in who has either been affected by this or is currently struggling with thoughts of suicide. It was then I decided I would sing the “Hemingway” song in the middle of every show I do and tell my dad’s story.”

I don’t know about you, but I cannot listen to this song without getting tears in my eyes. War brings nothing but tragedy and it is heart-breaking.

The rest of the ideas for the project came together at a bar in Ireland where Johnson was performing.

“I was playing in a bar in Ireland and as I always do, I sang the “Hemingway” song and told my story. After the show a man said he needed to buy me a drink. I could immediately tell he was an American. And, then he told me that I may have just saved his life.” Johnson paused and cleared his throat.

“This active duty soldier was hiding out in Ireland on leave because he could no longer stand the pain of going home. He’d done three consecutive tours of duty and killed far too many people to find any sense of normalcy. Each time he went home, he felt a greater disassociation with the people he loved. For him, it became more painful to see his family than to stay in war. He displayed all the warning signs that night. He started crying and told me how much it meant to him that I would take time in my shows to try to help people. So that was it. That’s when it all came together.”

Each of the five songs on Hemingway is deep and story-driven. Johnson brings the characters to life in each line, each lyric, each aching note.

When Johnson teamed up with Texas novelist, Travis Erwin, to create short stories to accompany each song, it took the Hemingway project into a much broader spectrum. With a writing style much like Johnson’s, Erwin weaves stories together in an intricate web of multi-dimensional characters and situations that are masterfully intertwined.

From graphic violence to exquisitely tender moments, Hemingway is a journey that touches everyone in some way. No one is spared.

Hemingway released on July 27. For more information about the project, the non-profit and Dan Johnson, visit http://www.operationhemingway.org.

Folks, I know this is a long blog, but believe me when I say I only hit the highlights. There is no short way to tell this story. I am deeply moved by the depth and passion of this project and by the phenomenal results. Dan Johnson often finds himself counseling someone who has reached that brink. And, he needs our help. There is a donation button on the OperationHemingway.Org site. It’s my birthday month, and this is the group I choose to support by asking for donations from family and friends. If you are so inclined, please join the fight.

TO DONATE, CLICK HERE!

PURCHASE THE CD/AUDIO BOOK

Thank you! And PLEASE share everywhere! Together, we can make a difference.

Follow Dan Johnson:   FACEBOOK    TWITTER

 

 

 

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44 thoughts on “Combatting Veteran Suicide One Song – One Story at a time – Dan Johnson

  1. Jan- Happy Birthday. Wow this is powerful. Very powerful blog. My prayers go out to all who are suffering and can’t seem to find their way back to normalcy or Home.
    Love you Jan.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Tonya. Well, it’s not my birthday yet. I’ve started celebrating early. 🙂 It isn’t until the 21st. I’m glad you found the post interesting. Thank you for your prayers. I do believe they are heard! Have a wonderful day. Love you too.

      Like

  2. Oh, Jan, this is a powerful read and an amazing song. Before I retired, I oversaw the Veterans Services Center at a college in CA. These young men and women opened my eyes and my heart to a world I did not know, even though many in my family served. The stories are crushing, but perhaps most heartbreaking for me is that these men and women return burdened and broken, and at the time of their greatest need, we (collectively) are not there for them. We send our youth to the battlefield, pay them next to nothing, and sit back to watch multimillionaires on the football field. There are few topics that stir my passions more than this. Thank you for sharing Dan Johnson with us. I am now one of his fans. Big hugs…♥

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is so heartbreaking that we use these young men and women,, then give them nothing in return when they come home broken. The twenty-two veteran suicides per day is unacceptable to me. I have the deepest respect and regard for what Dan Johnson and Travis Erwin are doing to help. Unorthodox, but effective, through his words and music, he is reaching people one-on-one. Thank you for your beautiful comment and for sharing the post. Hugs, sweet lady!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, as a suicide survivor AND someone who has been dealing with depression and PTSD most of her life, I have to applaud the project and its focus. There is, obviously, so much more we can do for each other and even spreading the word, is helpful. God Bless us, everyone. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Bless your heart, Annette. I, for one, am glad you are a survivor. This is a powerful project and the way Dan Johnson is delivering the message is unique and genuine. Thank you so much for chiming in, Annette. Hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This post and it’s all too necessary message needs to be shared and shared again and again. We can no longer stand by watching in helpless rage and silent disbelief at the tragic loss of these tortured human beings. I have lost too many to a world where heads are shaken and helpless shrugs of “But what can I do?” hand us a get out of jail free card. Thank you, my dear friend, for caring enough to do something positive about it. I am about to reblogg this post.❤️️

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Happy birthday month Jan.
    What a powerful article about our vets. It’s a painful subject that has to be dealt with and is through music and the words. We need this reminder of what is happening around us. I will be spreading the word. Thanks Jan.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for sharing; this is important. We have a tendency to forget about the men and women who have taken the pledge, put on the uniform and been sent off to protect us. Some come back with horrendous injuries; some come back with a psyche that’s just as injured and scarred. Some aren’t even lucky enough to come back. During the Vietnam era, they returned to a country that didn’t want them; that was ashamed of their roles. Today, they come home to a government that refuses to acknowledge the debt they owe to our veterans. To the current government, these people did a yeoman’s job defending us. But, that was then; the wounds, PTSD and the other damage they may have picked up have left them labeled as weak and looking for a handout — by a government headed by a 5-time Vietnam draft dodger. I served; and to all of us who did, this is the most saddening and disgusting insult of all. We owe ALL of our veterans, from every conflict, an immeasurable debt. And, it’s time our government did the honorable thing for them.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Jeff, your comment moved me. You hit the nail on the head. My late husband’s father used to say, “It’s a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” That pretty much sums it up as far as government concern for soldiers who risk everything to protect our country. And, even now, I hear stories about soldiers who return too broken and battered to fit back into “society” but aren’t battered enough to get VA assistance. It is maddening. There is so little regard for human life by the “powers that be.” Thank you SO much for weighing in and leaving a comment. The very reasons you listed are what prompted Dan Johnson to take this to a personal level and make those one-on-one connections through his music. He will be checking back here periodically and you can bet he will read your post. Thank you, Jeff, for speaking from your heart. I appreciate you, and thank you for your service. (Those words sound so empty, but are spoken from my heart.)

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Jeff, your comment deeply touched me. I can’t imagine what your experience or that of so many others was like. The only value a soldier has is his body and his rife. I recently read where our government deported a man who served three tours in the military. That’s beyond an insult. That’s spitting in his face. Where are the benefits promised him when he enlisted? Where is human decency? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Loved the post, Jan. You have a wide reach and plenty of passion for this fight. I can how this project has changed you. I think it would change anyone who has a heart. Now, get to writing on Vann’s story!!! You have plenty to say. Love you, sister!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for introducing us to this important project. I’ve worked in mental health for years and I know how important it is to find ways to reach and connect. Thanks so much (and happy birthday, in advance).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are so right, Olga, and sometimes the most unorthodox ways are very effective. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. And thanks for the birthday wish. Hugs!

      Like

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