Memorial Day Requiem for Our Broken Counterterror Warriors
Ron Capps, a former Army intelligence officer and crisis-scene diplomat, embraces fellow veterans with heartbreaking songs of loss and recovery.
Memorial Day honors all our fallen, but the costs over the past 20-plus years now have been borne mostly by those sent to battle Al Qaeda and ISIS or their affiliates across Africa and Asia.
Ron Capps, a CIA-trained Army intelligence officer and later crisis-scene diplomat with the State Department, was inserted into the middle of some of the world’s worst catastrophes of the 1990s and beyond, from Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan to the civil wars and genocide raging across Central and East Africa.
It just about broke him, as have the repeated counterterror tours carried out by so many of our veterans, who are now struggling in unprecedented numbers with post-traumatic stress.
Over the past decade since leaving government service, Capps has returned to his youthful roots as a country-style singer-songwriter to craft haunting odes to his fellow suffering former war fighters. In February, I featured Ron’s work and backstory on a weekly edition of the SpyTalk podcast.
But for this Memorial Day weekend, I thought it appropos to open the window a little wider on his veterans-oriented music. I especially wanted to revisit the heart-breaking refrains of This Time:
And you come home
With the smell of war still on your clothes
And the airport’s a freak show
And it’s hard to fake a smile.
You’re wearing your past,
In the ribbons there on your chest.
But they can smell the future on your breath.
It’s just a shot to calm your nerves.
And your little girl wants to know,
When she sits down for suppertime,
Is that the last time you’ll have to go?
Daddy, did you win the war this time?
One of the many spirit-crushing effects of repeated counterterrorism missions is the guilty feeling of not having been being to prevent the wanton murder, rape, and genocide that so often accompany mass civil strife—indeed, maybe even having directly or indirectly contributed to it in some fashion.
“And when the walls close in, he’ll pray to St. Tequila,” Capps sings in Trying to Catch Amnesia.
“I’m in prehab,” he writes in another lament, about spending afternoons drinking away the war in the local bar.
"It’s midnight on my front porch," Capps sings in The Forever War. “And I’m out staring at the war.”
I don’t sleep much anymore.
Visions of shock and awe,
Like a thousand nights before,
Bring the war home to my door.
Ron and his wife Carole and their beloved dogs recently moved to Maine. In the woods overlooking a coastal waterway, he’s still mining grit for himself and thousands of other brothers and sisters-in-arms from our mounds of despair.
“There’s an angel here before me,” he sings in Carry Me, “but I’m not ready.”
Neither are we, yet, on yet another Memorial Day. But boy, it’s getting tough.
Listen to the work, and learn more about Ron Capps, here.
Ron, your poetry will win. And thank you, Jeff.
I worked with so many vets who were struggling. It was a residential six month program for ‘psychosocial’ skills. It helped those who did the work and it help me put salve on Vietnam.
Ron, My friend, Jeff Stein, shared your songs with me. Given your extraordinary intelligence career and your unique poetic ability to express the smell of war, I think you're a national treasure.