Written by Robin Trimarchi, Ledger-Enquirer  |  April 27, 2018

It’s been said that it takes three chords and the truth to make a hit song.

Nashville songwriter J.T. Cooper found that truth in Korean War veteran Murray Bradfield when they spent a weekend together recently at the Warrior Outreach Ranch in Fortson. Scott Singer of Midland joined them with his guitar, and together they found the universal message in the West Point native’s life — and put it to music.

“I grew up in those Georgia pines/God blessed me with a traveling mind/I had to leave to want to stay/I prayed to God get me home one day.”

The weekend was part of Operation Song, a nonprofit founded in Nashville in 2012 that brings together professional songwriters with military veterans and their families to tell their stories. About a half dozen vets and a few youngsters sat around the ranch’s community center, the front porch and the pool to talk, reminisce and share their experiences.

“Korea was no place to be/the Army didn’t issue a fishing pole to me/I learned to pray to get back home/back to where God put me all along”
“I like it,” Bradfield said, tapping his hand to the beat. As a young man, Bradfield enlisted in the U.S. Army, and soon found himself on the other side of the world, fighting in the Korean War.And Cooper understands the war experience. His 10th Mountain Division unit was deployed to Mogadishu, Somalia, to assist U.S. Army Rangers in what became known as the battle of Black Hawk Down. He lost his roommate and close friend in the fight.“I dealt with a lot of survivor guilt,” Cooper said. “Somehow, someway I wanted to tell the story. And my mom kept asking me what was wrong, and why I wasn’t who I was when I left, and I couldn’t articulate that to her. So it become a goal for me to figure out a way to articulate that story. And I realized that there are a lot of people who can’t articulate the story.”“I’ve loved my wife for 70 years/by the grace of God we’ve made a life here/Kids and grandkids now are grown/I can go down to the creek and skip stones”

The trio got stuck and the last line. “A lot of songwriting is listening,” Cooper said of the process.

He took notes as Bradfield spoke and Singer strummed the melody. “Looking back is like skipping stones,” Cooper sang, still working on that line.

When the music and lyrics come together, it becomes a song to share with other people. “If you can get them to feel the same emotion, that’s when you really know that you’re having an impact,” Singer said. “So, you find the emotion, you work it, you tease it, and then you share it with other people, and that’s really the completion of the process, is sharing it with other people.” And if others share it, “that’s amazing.”

“It was a blessing, when I volunteered/It was a blessing when I faced my fears/As I young man, I had to learn that I was wrong/There’s no place like home.”

Songwriters also work with veterans and active-duty soldiers who have physical injuries, post-traumatic stress disorders or broken families as the result of their service. Military children have their own stories to tell, having to cope with parents who deploy into combat zones, fathers and mothers who might or might not return home.

“My musical ability and my drive became a way to help the average person understand something that is unattainable for those who haven’t walked it.” Cooper said of the soldier’s experience. “Sometimes I get close. Sometimes we hit on the truth, or we find a place, but a lot of what I try to do is encourage.”

The fruits borne of Operation Song are often more than a personal ballad. For many, it’s therapy.

“I had to have that song to get out of bed this morning,” said one message that Cooper received. “I was having a rough morning, and I pulled that song out and I remembered some of the things you told me.”

For Cooper, that means that he is still serving. “I felt like my oath of enlistment was for a lifetime.”