It looks like I've been enlisted again. I play Dexter and Dex in Heart of a Soldier this season, an experience that has woven a lot of events and people together causing me to reflect on the nature of heroism and love. I served as a US Marine from 1991 to 1997, achieving the grand rank of Sergeant. During that time I was lucky enough to be employed with the air wing as an air traffic controller, and later as a computer programmer with Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico.
I worked frequently with the burial detail in Beaufort South Carolina, handing over many folded flags to bereaved families. While in Quantico, my habit of singing that I had picked up as a child performing with my family on the road across the country became an obsession. I was urged on by fellow Marines and mentors in my command. I would never have submitted myself to the discipline the craft requires of an opera performer had I not been molded by the Corps. My voice teacher then was a Viet Nam veteran, and taught me for very little money. My first classical recital was at the Chapel in Quantico, which is constructed in part from the remains of ships destroyed at Pearl Harbor.
In 2000 I auditioned for and was accepted by the US Army Chorus, an all-male group stationed with the military district of Washington DC, and tasked with performing for the President, the Joint Chiefs, and around the country. This marked my second enlistment. I found myself standing guard duty at the Pentagon following the attack on 9/11 to assist in recovery and reconstruction efforts. I recall singing at the white house for the President and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, with military chiefs in attendence prior to the launch of the Iraq offensive. I also recall singing on 9/12 at the rotunda of the capital, seated right behind Senator Kennedy as the legislators met in a solemn ceremony of remembrance and commiseration. [Above: Daniel Snyder as Dex, an American soldier in Vietnam. Photo by Cory Weaver.]
Now some years have passed, my two sons have grown up to join the Marines, and the world of the soldier and the opera singer intersect uncannily in this production. Rick Rescorla's life and death can be seen as an example of the heart I have seen in countless comrades in arms, alive and in the recorded history of the profession of arms. The story is surprisingly direct, and like Rick's final sacrifice, is haunted by that question soldiers aren't allowed to ask. Ours is not to question 'why'. Following our opening night performance, I awoke to a national day of commemoration. Sometimes everything comes together in a way that lets us glimpse the 'why'. Rick's life, like the life of all those who among the best warriors 'fight with a smile' was motivated by love. This love drove out his fear for himself in the face of our enemy death, gave birth to hope that kept him growing all his life, allowed anger that didn't cripple with hate, and in the War Memorial Opera House on 9/10/2011, allowed us who remain to become his friend. The catharsis that happened for me renewed the vision of life that makes selflessness a celebration.