ROME, MAINE – Songwriters from throughout the country convened at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat for a songwriting program with veteran organization CreatiVets, all of which was made possible by Sponsor Operation Hat Trick.
Artists in attendance included Filmore, Johnny and Heidi, CJ Solar and Robert Arthur. They worked with five veteran participants to develop personal songs that were performed by the artists for a small group at the Retreat in the beautiful Belgrade Lakes Region of Maine.
U.S. Army SSG (Ret.) Travis Mills and his wife, Kelsey, opened the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat in 2017; in 2012 Mills lost portions of all of limbs in an IED explosion during his third tour in Afghanistan. They established the now year-round Retreat for recalibrated veterans like himself and their families to participate in adapted activities, rest and reconnect.
“This was a first of its kind program where three amazing organizations came together to help heal veterans who are struggling from the effects of war,” said Brett Gillan, Program Director at CreatiVets, a nonprofit organization that offers opportunities for relief and healing for the mean and women who have sacrificed for our country.
The retreat was setup as a reunion style program, according to Gillan.
“Veterans who had completed the CreatiVets songwriting program invited a veteran they served with to participate,” Gillan added. “This ‘word of mouth’ veteran participant selection is crucial in our campaign to end veteran suicide as 70% of the veterans who commit suicide do not reach out for help. Having three organizations combine their efforts really lead this program to be a first-class program for participants.”
Operation Hat Trick, out of Hampton, NH, generates awareness and support for the recovery of wounded servicemembers and veterans through the sale of OHT branded merchandise and products, proceeds of which are donated to selected organizations that fulfill the OHT mission.
OHT and the songwriting program at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat, is dedicated to Nate Hardy and Mike Koch, two Navy SEALs who were killed in Iraq in 2008 and are buried side by side at Arlington National Cemetery. The two-day songwriting portion of program was also dedicated to Josh Hardy, Nate’s brother. Josh passed away at the age of 17 from brain cancer and found comfort in music and art to deal with the enormity of his illness.
“Operation Hat Trick started as a way to honor Nate Hardy and Mike Koch,” said Dot Sheehan, Founder, President and CEO of the nonprofit organization. “It’s an honor for Operation Hat Trick to spread the word about these brave men, and to recognize Josh Hardy and the healing power of music with this incredible collaboration.”
Steve Hardy, father of Nate and Josh Hardy and Chairman of the OHT Board, along with his wife, Donna, attended the songwriting portion of the week at the Travis Mills Foundation, and were honored with a songwriting session themselves.
“Ours would be a madcap session, unlike the other veterans,” Steve Hardy said in a blog post he wrote after the event. “In the one-hour session before lunch, CJ became clear the song would be a message from our boys to us.”
Larry Jordan, a Vietnam veteran from Beverly, Massachusetts, attended the songwriting retreat with his service dog, Koz, and worked with artists Johnny & Heidi Bulford and Robert Arthur on “Willy’s Song” and “Never Forget Them.”
Lyrics from “Willy’s Song”
He was there when we cried
He was there when we laughed
Always there by our side, always watching our back
Everyone knows how they want it to go
Sometimes it does til it doesn’t
He was our friend right up to the end
Will was there until he wasn’t
“The opportunity to meet such talented, caring professional musicians, singers, songwriters was a great experience,” said Jordan. “They were all very intent on listening to our story in order to ‘feel’ where we wanted to go with a song. Johnny, Heidi and Robert asked great questions, were respectful and brought our thoughts together for both songs … simply amazing.”
On one of the last nights of the program, the musicians performed the songs they helped write for the veterans and small group at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat.
“Listening to Johnny and Heidi sing the songs, accompanied by Robert with his amazing guitar ability was a journey back to moments in my life in Vietnam that were filled with emotion and pain,” Jordan said. “However, a reward follows by knowing that the songs are meant for others to find closure and meaning. It has been a significant event in my life.”