Monday, April 24, 2006

Remembrance


Lance Corporal Nicholas G. Ciccone USMC October 4, 1980 - October 13, 2003



Right before Easter an email appeared with a subject line that simply said Please Read. I didn't recognize the sender's name. Since starting this blog I've recieved messages from many new folks, so that by itself was no cause for concern. So, with some trepidation, I opened Please Read and the reason for the writer's urgency instantly became crystal clear. The writer, Matt, informed me that he'd just found my site and the graphite drawing of his step-brother, Lance Corporal Nicholas G. Ciccone. Whenever I'm asked what I believe to be my finest work unhesitatingly comes the reply that it's this portrait. Matt also informed me that his beloved brother committed suicide in October of 2003.

Matt's Please Read was followed by a flurry of emails from an extended network of family and friends. I had the privilege of speaking over the phone with LCpl. Ciccone's father and mother. Among other things I learned Nick's birthday, October 4th. October 4th is also the anniversary of the day my own father joined the Marines in 1938, and passed away in 1981. I can scarcely tell you how humbling and gratifying it is knowing how touched his family is by this portrait. The common thread through all their heartfelt messages is a healing sense that they've regained a piece of Nick they thought they'd never reclaim. They also wanted me to share his story-To keep before people's eyes those wounds which are rarely seen, heal the slowest, and often kill; the wounds that pierce the very soul of a person.

Here is LCpl. Ciccone's portrait again. It shows him the very instant after dropping his pack, putting down his rifle and taking off his helmet. He and his platoon have just stumbled exhausted into the blasted remains of the Kandahar International Airport terminal building after a nine day patrol among rugged Afghan mountains deep in winter's icy embrace. They had originally planned on being out for just twelve hours, but they found a huge weapons cache and the bad guys wanted it back. For nine days they battled the Taliban. For nine days they worked to destroy the cache. When they retrograded back to Kandahar they possessed what war correspondents simply call "the look". After returning to the States I had my film developed and sorted through the pictures. Ciccone's photo jumped out. I now realize why. His gear is off, but the weight's still there. Ciccone had "the look" in spades.

I personally call what had settled on Ciccone's face the "young/old" look. Walt Whitman, the greatest American poet, spent most of the Civil War as a nurse, a changer of bandages. After the war he added a chapter to his core work Leaves of Grass titled Drum-Taps. These eloquent poems are as close as you're going to get to photo-realism in poetry. Whitman, an avowed pacifist, honored the sacrifice of the soldiers he served without artifice or agenda. There's no taint of "but".....no editorializing or moralizing. He writes from a stool set beside a dying boy and not from some comfortable soapbox. Whitman wrote a poem that speaks of this young/old look called A Sight In Camp In Daybreak Gray and Dim. The poet has risen early and walking about a Union encampment comes upon the bodies of three dead soldiers laid out under heavy brown woolen blankets. Whitman pulls the covering away from each face in turn and speaks of what he sees. I give you the last stanza:

Then to the third — a face nor child nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory; Young man I think I know you — I think this is the face of the Christ himself, Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he lies.

This is the face of Nicholas G. Ciccone. At Easter each year we are reminded of our connectedness to the divine, to those who have suffered for us and hopefully to the healing that comes from awakening to the realization that we share a common lot with each other and with God. Christ's suffering upon the cross was in its finality more about abandonment and seperation, more about psychic than physical wounds. So to you Nick we say what Marines often do when pulling the blanket over the face of a fallen buddy, "go easy my brother, semper fi".

His father told me the story behind finding the drawing. His stepson Matt was up late unable to sleep thinking about his dead brother. So he did what many of us do during dark midnights of the soul, we google. Matt googled Nick's full name and up jumped a half dozen websites where the drawing is featured. A ray of light entered the dark night. I know this is not about me, but I must tell you again how profoundly moving it is for me to know that those closest to him find him alive in this drawing.

I mentioned in the previous post that I was down in New Orleans. I'm posting a photo I took there that I think is appropriate, and self-explanatory.


As always, your comments are greatly appreciated.

26 comments:

MissBirdlegs in AL said...

Thank you for sharing this. Even I can see "the look". God bless this young man's family.

V.Schroeder said...

Such events, often labeled coincidence seem far too meaningful to be mere chance. Thanks for reposting the picture and sharing the story.

GunnNutt said...

Your modesty is showing. It is about you and the job you've chosen. Touching someone's life in this way can only be done by a very, very few. Thank you so much!!!!!!

Semper Gratus!

Anonymous said...

"To keep before people's eyes those wounds which are rarely seen, heal the slowest, and often kill; the wounds that pierce the very soul of a person." Beautiful words, worthy of being repeated again and again and again. As is often said at the VA, "there are no unwounded combat veterans."

HumanBeforeJewish said...

it's great that you can express urself so profoundly, for u are not only expressing urself but ur art is a voice for so many who would otherwise be silenced. keep on keeping on.

Anonymous said...

That must have been both a sad and happy moment for his family to find your sketch. I just finished reading "While They're at War," by Kristin Henderson, whose husband is a Navy chaplain, in which she describes what the various wives found in changes of personality when their husbands returned from war, even her husband, the chaplain.

Anonymous said...

That must have been both a sad and happy moment for his family to find your sketch. I just finished reading "While They're at War," by Kristin Henderson, whose husband is a Navy chaplain, in which she describes what the various wives found in changes of personality when their husbands returned from war, even her husband, the chaplain.

Pia said...

Hello Mr. Fay - I haven't met you but I have one of your sketches on my living room wall. Even more interesting, it's a drawing of LCpl Ciccone dated 4/17/02. It's on my wall because you gave it to my boyfriend with whom I live, Major Chris Warnke. You signed it, "we'll always have Kandahar." I'll be sure to pass this information along to Chris who is now serving in Iraq. I'm touched to have this portrait proudly displayed in our home. My prayers go out to LCpl Ciccone's family.

Laurie said...

I don't have any words.

Donna, Los Osos, CA said...

I guess we never know what we do in any moment in time.. what it will mean later on. You do what you do, because it is your gift. God bless you for it! Thank you for all you do, your art, your words, your service. You are a treasue.

And thank you to the family of Lance Corporal Nicholas G. Ciccone. He is a hero, and paid a terrible price for us all. There are no words adequate. God bless you all. Rest in peace Nicholas.

Semper gratus,
Donna

Buck Pennington said...

Simply eloquent and eloquently simple. Thank you, Mr. Fay. You are an artist in the truest sense of the word.

K T Cat said...

I took the time to read much of Whitman's poetry from your link. Tragic, yet without full context. No poetry of the overseer's lash on naked brown skin nor of ships bursting with human cargo both alive and dead.

We all suffer and die eventually. God willing, our suffering will be for a good cause.

Carol said...

You have a gentle and loving heart, Mike. This post proves it.

C.

Beth* A. said...

Nicholas G. Ciccone:
Thru the gift of art, and fond memories, you live on down here.
God bless you and your family, now put down your burdens and rest.
Peace be upon you.

Huntress said...

This post has left me breathless.

There are no coincidences in life...

joyjoyfromNJ said...

Just read this posting on April 28 and it was a blow to the solar plexus that still leaves me gasping. I've prayed off and on for this young Marine since reading the archives back in February. His picture was on my cubicle at work until I had to move locations; I stored it to frame it for home. My heart goes out to his family and I will be praying that God embraces them with His strong arms of love.

HumanBeforeJewish said...

hey fire and ice. uve been tagged on my blog. copy and paste the questions to ur blog, and type ur own answers. feel free to tag 3 additional people. good luck, and get creative.

yankeemom said...

I'm so glad you are the artist behind the portrait. How good you must have been for this young man's family. Thank you for telling us the story behind your beautiful work.

Anonymous said...

Your art reaches from the keyboard as powerfully as the palette. How fortunate the USMC is. Your work deserves wider currency. Anything we can do to help?
V/R J. Westenhoff

Anonymous said...

Michael,

I grew up with Nick and miss him very much. When I saw your sketch of him it gave me goose bumps. It was like seeing him alive again. With this one piece of art you have touched so many people, and whether they knew Nick or not, they were all touched because Nick lived.

Thank you.

James Schudrowitz said...

Please continue to do what you do. I experienced the "1,000-yard stare" in the crew departure briefing room of the 91st Strategic Missile Wing. Yes, combat fatigue also was reality during War Three in North Dakota. My son and his platoon mates went through it at Haditha, New Iraq. He is recovering at Brooke Medical Center.

Semper Fi!

Marine Dad

william wray said...

lovely drawing you caught his sadness.

TDE said...

I saw this picture featured on the BBC website in a photo story about you and your work.

You are truly able to capture something in your art, thank you for sharing it with us all.

Anonymous said...

The graphite drawing of LCpl. Ciccone immediately reminded me of Tom Lea's gripping painting "The 2000 Yard Stare." Thanks for posting it in your blog. My sympathies to his family.

ashley newsom lopez said...

Nicholas was a very dear loved one to me. I have been greiving for almost 5 years now. I miss him sooo much. your picture is beautiful. You captured EVERYTHING I saw that same face when he came home..........DIFFERENT. He paid a great price for this country. Before the war, he was my hero....now, he's everyones. Thank you nick. You are still loved by all. Seeing this photo, although painfull) I think and hope may be the start of some closure for me. How can I get a print? Ii dont have many pictures of him anymore and Ii would love to get one.......if at all possible. Thank you for your kind consideration toward his family. I'm sure your work has helped us all.

Bryan Perreault said...

This was amazing! I saw this pic and I started to cry. It was like he was standing in front of me. Nick and I were in the same platoon. We shared everything from MRE's to beer! We spilled the same blood in the same mud. I miss Nick with all my soul. This picture brought back so many memories and I thank you for that! I am still crying as I write this because I miss my friend. I love ya bro! Semper Fi.
Cpl. Bryan "Frenchy" Perreault
3/6 Lima co. 3rd Plt