June 15, 2006
By Julia Marino
"A mother's waiting by the phone, she prays 'sweet Jesus will you lift this stone?' Can't bear a broken heart alone a million miles away from home"
"Bob's song is not an anti-war song," Palmer says. "It can be appreciated by people on both sides. It just touches the emotions for anybody, no matter your political stance on this war. It's very real."
In the wake of their son's death, the couple chose to speak out against the way the war is being managed and then decided to organize into action. In November 2005, they founded Families of the Fallen for Change, which now has nearly 1,100 members nationwide. The group has a nonpartisan plan for promoting the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, as well as educating and acting on many issues involved in this conflict, including the face of war, the cost of war, patriotism, and war and peace.
"Flags are flying, they gently wave; soldiers fight on, must be brave. Far too young and too alone a million miles away from home."
"People are so afraid of speaking out," Palmer says. "We were pretty quiet at first."
"We wanted to promote a way out of Iraq," Shroeder says. "We wanted congressional pressure and are willing to lobby for people who are working in the same direction we are. The organization is also opposed to expansion into Iran."
Several of the organization's members are connected to the military. Some have served in Iraq, some are veterans and some have lost children or family members.
"We were just two parents, and we wanted to know what we could do to make some sort of impact on this war, because we didn't want other parents to go through what we went through and are still going through," Palmer says.
"The thrust of the program is to get people aware that we're all responsible in ending this war, not just the politicians," Shroeder adds. "The future of Americans is in our hands."
The couple has also begun a speaking program titled "A Million Miles Away from Home," after Stewart's song. Palmer and Shroeder talk about their "journey from quiet support for their son to political activism," as well as their "personal and political journey through the Iraq war," they said.
"This mountain's high, the valley's deep; the way is hard; and this journey's steep. Sons and daughters must walk alone, a million miles away from home."
Upon hearing "A Million Miles Away from Home," Stewart says his own father "wept buckets of tears."
|"A Million Miles Away from Home" was recorded with the help of various local musicians including producer and College of Communication Multimedia Lab Supervisor Chris Weibel; vocal arranger, back-up singer and university student W. Otis Crockron Jr. and back-up singers Online Editor Tasha Attaway and university student Janelle Cummings, as well as Mike Radcliffe on percussions and WOUB Broadcast Technician Terry Douds on bass. Most of the song was recorded at Media Design House, Weibel's studio in Athens.|
Stewart's upcoming album will be released Aug. 8, the one-year anniversary of the Day of Mourning. The album release concert will be held on Aug. 12 for family, friends and all fans at Donkey Coffee and Espresso in Athens.
"It was powerful to hear that," Stewart says, "since I had never before seen my father cry.
Stewart's father had been praying that the families of the fallen soldiers would find comfort somehow. He later said that the song was an "answer to his prayers," Stewart says.
Shroeder agrees. He told Stewart, "God was sitting on your shoulder when you wrote that song."
Palmer told Stewart on the phone that she tried to read the lyrics to "A Million Miles Away from Home" to her husband but couldn't get through it without crying.
"The song is helping people release pockets of grief that they couldn't release earlier because of the depth of their loss," Stewart says.
As a songwriter, Stewart says this response has surprised him. "Never have I had an experience like this one where people would say, 'I feel some healing,'" he says. "That's definitely a different level of feedback."
People who have never met Stewart also have given thanks and appreciation for the song on the band's Web site.
"Bravo," wrote Meriwether Ball, editor of CorpsStories.com. "I know how hard it is to watch our young Marines die and know that their families will suffer deeply for many years ahead. Music reaches all, and I know that your song is a comforting tribute to those loved ones. So, although this helped you to grieve, it also helps others to heal."
One listener, who only signed her name 'Bev,' described the message of Stewart's song: " 'A million miles away' is a poignant tribute, not only to those fallen soldiers, but to all of the people who love them, who are left to bear the immeasurable cost of their courage, commitment and selfless sacrifice. ...It is also an unflinching reminder that the cost of hatred and unbridled lust for power is the very lives of these precious soldiers, brothers, fathers, husbands, sisters, friends, wives, mothers, sons and daughters.
"It is the fabric of our lives given voice and encased in music that touches the spirits and hearts of those who hear it, regardless of the listener's stance on the political issues, or feelings about whether or not we should even be there. It is a thing of beauty that also causes us to remember, to think, to feel something beyond ourselves...."
"Today we stopped to say goodbye to our children who fought and died. Far too young and too alone a million miles away from home."
Julia Marino is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing.