Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace
Author Biographies (alphabetical order - click on letter)
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JOHN PATRICK IGNATIUS
When the Marines stormed the city of Fallujah, I found myself fascinated with the coverage on the News Hour. I watched as squads of Marines went from wall to crumbling wall shooting and calling to each other; they even had intermittent interviews with squad leaders and platoon sergeants. These were real people, and I got to recognize them as they continued fighting during the days of that week.
Perhaps my strangest reaction to that week was the feeling like I should have been there with those hard-chargers. I had served in the Marine Reserve from 1987 to 1993 and still felt like a wayward member of this bellicose tribe. My unit was called for the first Gulf War in 1990, but that action fortunately was over so quickly we never made it out of Los Angeles. I have spoken to other former Marines who shared a similar feeling and even know of one vet of the current war who wanted to return after some of the guys in his unit died in Iraq after his tour and contract were up. I still don’t know what to clearly make of these seemingly crazy feelings.
A native Southern Californian, I now live with my family in the Diocese of Monterey in the parts of California I love the most. “The Prayer of Saint Francis” takes inspiration from a story I saw on a late- night TV news magazine about a Marine who came home from Iraq to Chicago. I do not recall the name of the Marine in the story, but this “Prayer” is for all Marines.
Now I enjoy chopping wood for our wood-burning stove and looking for sand dollars with my two sons and golden retriever on Grover Beach.
I grew up in what was then rural Maryland outside of Washington, D.C., with miles of woodland on either side of a brick home. My father was a paleontologist whose research supported the continental drift theory. He took his family with him summers camping out in mountains and deserts collecting fossils. He and my mother imbued in their children a love of nature and the importance of contributing to the betterment of our planet. My oldest brother, Marc, wrote the proposal for the Endangered Species Act and was the first scientist responsible for listing endangered species. My other older brother, Richard, is a nuclear physicist.
I liked science and built a homemade telescope that I spent whole nights using to view objects in the sky. However, my stronger interests were music and literature. I practiced the clarinet a couple of hours a day, which may have saved my life when I was drafted into the army. Like many of my generation, I was opposed to the war in Viet Nam. Three times I evaded the draft, then volunteered to be an army bandsman. I discovered many fine musicians similarly drafted. After the war I worked as a teacher and then a social worker. I studied the teachings and the contemplative sides of spiritual paths, especially Sufis, and became a retreat guide. At the age of forty-eight I decided to write poetry for the first time since college.
During a workshop, participants were asked to remember in sensual detail a significant event in their lives, and I was back in Viet Nam. I started writing about the war and located a friend from that time after twenty-six years. At the age of sixty, I discovered that I had completed a manuscript of poetry about the war. Now my interest is in transformation of conscience, individually and collectively, as well as consciousness. My day job is counseling emotionally disturbed adolescents in a school-based program. I live close to the beach in Ventura, California, with my wife, also a poet. We have two grown children who also care about the well-being of our planet.