AVON LAKE — Jose Torres stood on stage with professional songwriter Gretchen Pleuss to perform a story about Torres’ time in the military.
The song “Where’s the Beach” was a folk ballad about one of the former U.S. Marine’s worst experiences in the military when he was deployed as part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His company was sent to go onto a boat near a beach, but they were rerouted to march into the city of Nasiriya at the last minute. The joke among the soldiers was “Where is the beach?”
He and his regiment had to secure bridges on the outskirts of the city near the Euphrates River but didn’t know that the enemy was lying in wait for them. The location would soon be known as “Ambush Alley”; 18 of his fellow troops died that day.
“I guess it’s Murphy’s Law, things never go as planned,” the lyrics say. “But none of us should have bled on that desert sand.”
The performance was part of the fundraiser at Avon Lake High School on Sunday night to aid a program called DREW — Delivering Restorative Energy to our Warriors — which is done through Music on a Mission, a nonprofit using of music to help people with special needs of all ages.
More than 100 people attended; the entry fee was $25 per person, but veterans could enter for free.
Marilyn Zeidner, executive director of Music on a Mission, said the program pairs a songwriter with a veteran. The veterans tell a story, and then the songwriter creates a song out of it. The songs are performed the following day and recorded in order to bring awareness to the struggles of military members.
The fundraisers also allowed veterans to see what it would be like to join the next program, which Zeidner said helps veterans having a difficult time dealing with traumatic experiences they had in the military.
“Typically veterans don’t talk about their service, but we need to hear their stories,” she said. “So they need to say them and we need to hear them, and (the program) brings community awareness about some of their struggles and their journey home,” she said.
The DREW program is named after a friend of the organization, Avon Lake native and Avon Lake High School graduate Drew Ferguson, who was a former officer in the Green Berets and took his own life in 2017. The earliest workshop programs in 2019 begin Feb. 9 and 10.
Torres said he didn’t talk a lot about the ambush, but the program helped him open up about his experience. He suggested that any veteran who hasn’t participated in the program to do so.
“To me it’s therapeutic as well as other things to be able to open up,” he said. “Once you go there one time, you’re going to come back.”