The Weight of a Solider’s Heart

The Weight of a Solider’s Heart
Photos Courtesy of Stephen Ironside Jacob George smiles while doing what he loved, playing making music, while recording his album, “Solider’s Heart.”

Photos Courtesy of Stephen Ironside
Jacob George smiles while doing what he loved, playing making music, while recording his album, “Solider’s Heart.”

The first and only time I met Jacob George, a since-deceased Afghanistan war veteran and peace advocate, I wasn’t sure what to think about him.

We met at the Roots Fest Garner Farm VIP event. He wore a tattered sleeveless shirt showing his sleeves of tattoos. He sat down next to me at the dinner table and we exchanged pleasantries. By chance, across the table sat another Arkansan veteran farmer, and they talked about life post-war and the problems their fellow veterans encountered with home life. He was psyched to hear that I was the editor of The Free Weekly, and before long he got up and continued to rove the farm.

I could tell he was a good man who was on his own path, and for a moment, both of ours crossed.

*Now I’m just a farmer from Arkansas, there’s a lot things I don’t understand

Like how we send farmers to kill farmers in Afghanistan

Now I did what I was told for my love of this land

And I come home a shattered man with blood on my hands

Beloved by the Fayetteville community for his kindness and moral strength, Jacob David George, 32, was a humble man. He committed suicide Sept. 17, 2014 in his home in Fayetteville, about a week after President Obama announced military action would be taken on Syria and the Islamic State.

George was a disabled veteran who served three tours as a U.S. Army Special Operations combat engineer with Operation Enduring Freedom. After serving, he returned home and attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He eventually took up songwriting and went on to record an album about his post-war condition he referred to as a “Soldier’s Heart,” which he explains in his lyric book was used in the Civil War era to explain post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms. In the song, George extends the metaphor of the relationship of his solider heart with his country, and addressed his moral injury he suffered from when he returned from war and how he felt betrayed by his country.

“It’s difficult for us to reconcile his decision, but we can’t judge another person’s choice,” said Ginny Masullo, a friend of George. “I think of him as a star. His light reached a lot of people, and even though stars have since died, their light still shines across time.”

Now I can’t have a relationship, I can’t hold down a job, oh, and some may say I’m broken, well I call it a solider’s heart.

But cause every time I go outside I got to look her in the eyes, Oh then you know it, she broke my heart and turned around and lied.

Red, white and blue, I trusted you. And you never even told me why.

George’s Facebook location status is permanently left on “Sitting – My Bicycle.” For about three years, George rode his bicycle 8,000 miles across the U.S. for A Ride Till The End, a peace movement he led. Along the way he’d share his story about enlisting and serving in the military and discussed his own solider’s heart. Eventually, he traveled back to Afghanistan to meet with Afghan anti-war activists with fellow veteran Brock McIntosh.

SEI20130326_0006-Edit“Jacob grew up in the mountains of Arkansas, and he also went to war in the mountains. He found reconciliation in the mountains of Afghanistan,” McIntosh said. “When Jacob traveled there, they both had just gotten done planting potatoes and they both mused over the absurdity of farmers killing farmers while people are starving. He made a lot of great friends there.”

The connections he made with the Afghanistan people helped him shape his understanding of peace.

“He had the idea that people were all alike even though we have so many differences,” said Bertha Gutierrez. “He thought we needed to stop killing each other. Once that stops, you can start really creating connections with them. That community for him that was, he was all about. Creating that community and getting to see the connections of people between one another.”

Before starting his path to peace, George was pro-war for a time after returning from his first tour, said Stephen Coger, a long-time friend and family member from Danville. One of the first instances that changed his mind was when the military turned around and told him they wouldn’t pay for his college education, which his recruiters promised him they would.

For a while, George worked for the University of Arkansas parking and transit department. One day, his boss was yelling at him, and he told Coger later that he wanted to “punch this guy in the fucking throat,” but immediately following that he thought, “But what if I don’t?”

That was his first instance of discovering nonviolence as an avenue to walk down, Coger said.

“He looked at me with his fire in his eyes, and he said ‘I’m never going to make money from anything I don’t love to do ever again,’” Coger said. “Jacob has multiple levels of fire in his eyes. When he said that phrase, he had that fire like a six out of ten, and it almost put me on fire. That’s how intense Jacob could be.”

George was also the first person Coger came out to about his sexuality in his family.

“You just felt safe with the guy. I felt safe physically, partly because of his muscles, too,” Coger said. “I could tell him anything. He just had such a huge heart. He gave me a level three fire in his eyes of support, love and enthusiasm. He was so encouraging. I remember he was just like, ‘You’re gay? Well what are you doing about it?’”

Now it’s the summer of 2002, I just got off at the Pakistan border.

To get out of the heat. My sergeant handed me some orders and told me to breathe.

Well it called for the mobilization of 500,000 soldiers, sailors and marines for the impending invasion of Iraq the comin’ spring.

At George’s memorial, which was really more of a celebration of his life, it was obvious how many lives George left a meaningful impact on. The event easily had more than 100 in attendance. The connection the community felt and had with this man was present with every hug, tear, whisper of support and shared laugh. It was a potluck, and people brought fruits, vegetables, homemade baked goods, desserts, sandwiches, chips, dips and even a few boxes of Eureka Pizza.

Adam Cox, a local singer/songwriter who helped write the music of “Solider’s Heart” with George, opened the event as a tribute to George’s memory with the music of old gospel songs.

“We’re not playing for a war hero or an activist,” Cox said before starting. “But I’m playing these songs for my friend, whom I love. I’m playing these songs for a brother, a cousin, and a mother, and I’m happy to do it.”

Opposite the wall of contributed food sat a portrait of George with his banjo, and beneath the portrait rested his tool for peace—his banjo—which he named after Bertha Gutierrez, who painted it. Many approached the banjo with reverence, as if they were feeling his presence through the frets.

McIntosh was able to have friends from his and George’s Afghanistan trip Skype in to say some words. They spoke of his grace of asking for forgiveness from the people of Afghanistan, called him a “spirit that seized peace,” and thanked him for throwing his war medals back to NATO.

George’s mother, Robin, came up to speak afterwards.

“While it is so shocking and deeply wounding, he felt very clearly about how much he loved his family,” she said. “He was a beautiful soul that loved the earth and the good things it gives us.”

I got home a couple months later and I heard the drums, I heard the drums of war.

They had y’all dancing all around and asking for more.

Well this soldier’s couldn’t take it, I said this solider’s heart couldn’t take it anymore.

*Excerpts from Jacob George’s song, “Solider’s Heart,” the title track from his album released in 2013.

Categories: Cover Story