Wed, 07/01/2020 -
By CASEY COLLIER, Reporter St Mary Now.com & The Franklin Banner-Tribune
Local resident and veteran Gregory Mitchell was suffering last year a debilitating mental anguish.
The former Redeye, Stinger, and Chaparral missile crewman had served on the Redeye Team, Combat Support Company, 3rd and 32nd Armored Division of the US Army from 1977-1980, and was in the throes of post-traumatic stress disorder pertaining to his service.
He attempted to end his own life, and was brought to the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi, Miss. But he still felt the effects of his trauma after undergoing professional treatment there.
He said a friend of his told him about a program to help struggling veterans, called, Freedom Sings USA.
So, he got in touch with the non-profit organization, and was accepted to their Little Rock, Ark. ongoing classes, for a two-day songwriting workshop where he was greeted by fellow veterans, and invited to work with professional songwriters to carefully craft a song about his personal military experiences, perform it in front of an audience, and have it professionally recorded and made available to the public.
“The first day,” Mitchell said, “took place on Friday when we had the ‘meet and greet’ at the McArthur Museum (of Military History); and that is the time that we paired-up the writers (veterans) with the singers/songwriters they wanted to work with.”
Mitchell went on to describe the next day at the Eugene J. Towbin Healthcare Center as, “the writing sessions.”
He said the writing process was not so arduous for him, as it may have been for others, because he had been writing songs since 1976.
His first song, “America, You’ve Come a Long Way,” Mitchell recalled, garnered him a letter of appreciation from then U.S. President Gerald Ford.
His newest song, “It Shoulda Been Me,” written during that Saturday’s writing sessions in Little Rock, was performed at a private concert that night at the hospital, by none other than Mitchell himself, accompanied by a lone guitar.
“It was absolutely rewarding,” he said, “absolutely. It was so rewarding because I really didn’t know the difference it would make to me until I heard myself performing it for the first time, witnessed by others. It was awesome, truly awesome.”
“The beauty of it is,” he added, “once the song is written, they (the professional songwriters) go back to Memphis, to their studios, and re-record your song. Then, they burn it to CD and make it available across the nation. And once the song is written, it’s yours. You retain the rights to your song.”
President of the Board of Directors for Freedom Sings USA Skip Skipper explained that the royalties from the recorded versions of the vets’ songs are divided up between the professional songwriters and the vets themselves, with the vets receiving half of the credit for the recording, and the songwriters receiving a quarter of the credit each, as there are usually two songwriters per recording. However, the rights to the song itself belong solely to the veteran, whose story it is.
Skipper was a Warrant Officer W–2, Cobra helicopter pilot with the 361st Aviation Company Escort, in Vietnam in 1968–1969.
Recalling his experience coming to FSUSA, he said, “This is called the alternative therapy of music. It has changed my life and my personality. I have heard many testimonials where the veterans have said this program has changed their lives and even saved some of them.
“Many veterans have told us they have told things in class that they have never told anyone, including their families.”
He added, “We’ll ask them (class participants), ‘How many of you were thinking about suicide before you started this class?’ And then, after a little while, one hand goes up, and then another… So, we know this saves lives. We know we’ve saved lives.
“We are brothers and sisters—we are like family in there.”
As for Mitchell, he said that if he was to reach out to a suffering veteran who was looking into FSUSA as a form of treatment, he would say, “Do not be afraid. Have an open mind. Be honest with yourself, and the writers, because it is going to be difficult. It is going to be painful. But it has a way of washing away some of the hurt, because all that is needed, most of the time, for you to feel better, or to get a better handle on what you are going through, is the act of sharing it, the act of expressing things you have had bottled up in you for so many years.
“It is invaluable.”
He concluded by saying, “Louisiana’s veterans have been underserved for PTSD treatments.
“For one hour every week, they are seen by clinics and therapists, and that’s not enough.
“When I went to Little Rock, it was a more intense therapy. We got into root causes, and what had been bottled up for so long.”
FSUSA states their mission as: helping veterans, active duty military and their families throughout the country reach emotional balance by telling their stories through the creative process of songwriting.
Songwriting along with peer support helps provide veterans and their families the tools necessary to cope with trauma or readjust from military service.
Our mission is to also promote public support, education and appreciation for the sacrifice the veterans and their families make serving our country through the hearing of their stories as told through song.
To purchase Mitchell’s song for $1, go to: https://www.freedomsingsarkansas.org/our-music(link is external), or you can buy the whole album.
To purchase Skipper’s song for $1, go to: https://www.freedomsingsusa.org/our-music(link is external), or you can but the whole album.
To donate to Freedom Sings USA, go to: https://www.freedomsingsusa.org/(link is external).