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Professor's tribute, 'A Million Miles Away from Home,' brings healing closer for families
Part 1 of 2

June 1, 2006
By Julia Marino

"Today we stop to say goodbye to the children who fought and died. Far too young and too alone, a million miles away from home?"

Seven Marines, four of whom were from Ohio, were killed by enemy fire in an ambush near Haditha, Iraq, on Aug. 1, 2005.  Two days later on Aug. 3, 10 Marines from Ohio were among the 14 killed by a roadside bomb south of Haditha. In total, 18 Marines were killed that week. "A Million Miles Away from Home," composed by Sing Tao Professor of International Journalism and musician Bob Stewart, is a solemn tribute to those fallen Marines.

Photo illustration by Julia MarinoThe soothing and melodic song was released Feb. 8, the six-month anniversary of the state's annual Day of Mourning. Stewart, who sings and plays guitar, says he "wrote it to help grieve the loss."

The front man for the Athens folk-rock band "The Bob Stewart Band," Stewart had known for some time he wanted to write about the war and when he heard of the Marines killed that week, he felt he had to do something.

"It's not as brave as what other people were able to do, but it was what I was able to do," says Stewart, who started writing songs when he was 15 years old. "Songwriting is what saved my life."

And in a sense, Stewart's songwriting has saved others as well.

"Lovers cry out in the night, searching for that saving light. It's far too dark and too alone, a million miles away from home..."

Stewart searched for Web sites for families affected by the war and sent the sites a link to his song. "Families of the Fallen for Change" and "Marine Moms Online" are just two of the organizations that linked to the song, yielding a drastic increase in visitors to Stewart's band's Web site. 

"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.
People from as far as Texas, South Carolina, Indiana and California were listening to his song. "Seeing that more than 1,000 people linked to my song ? it means a lot," he says.

March 9 saw a spike in traffic on Stewart's site that he says occurred in part due to the posting of a slideshow produced by Paul Shroeder, father of LCPL Edward "Augie" Schroeder, an Ohio State University graduate killed in action in Haditha on Aug. 3. The slideshow, a compilation of photos of Augie's life "from day one until the funeral," as Shroeder describes it, was set to "A Million Miles Away from Home" and included a link to the band's Web site.

"Brothers and sisters, kneel and pray; wait on for that judgment day. You feel so empty and so alone, a million miles away from home..."

"[Augie] chose to join the Marines the March after 9/11 to serve and protect his fellow Americans," says Rosemary Palmer, Augie's mother. "He knew what his duty was, but I was not in favor of him joining the military."

Palmer and Shroeder, who live in Cleveland, felt an instant connection to Stewart's song.

"I think it was in January when I heard Bob's song," Shroeder says. "Rosemary had the words first. The words by themselves were touching, but then when I heard the words with the music, I was just in tears. I couldn't hold back my emotions. I called Bob and got his machine and could barely blurt out my name and number."

The song and the pictures fit together "just perfectly," Palmer says.

"It's one way to tell the story, and it's another to actually see the story," Shroeder adds. "The pictures (are) everyday pictures you have as your kids grow up, buried in albums over time. And what makes it so poignant is how he died, and the fact that we include the funeral (in the slides). . .War is something more than just numbers, more than stats. This is actual people who are losing their lives." 

Through a series of events, Stewart and the couple connected instantly. "We could relate to each other," Stewart says. "It feels overwhelming. If it has helped people deal with the loss; that is a very humbling experience. The song tells them that somebody else 'got it.'"

"A million miles away from home - that is exactly where I feel my son is, too far away to see or talk to," says Shroeder. "That phrase right there captures what most families who lose someone in a war go through. He's so real about that. ? [Stewart] put himself in a situation he was not in, and he captures it completely.

"The mark of a true artist is somebody who can write or produce something that can be appreciated by all people," he adds. "And that's what he's done with this song."

--> Read part 2

Julia Marino is a student writer for University Communications and Marketing.

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Published: Jun 1, 2006 2:45:49 PM
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