When the New Mission Singers take center stage at Flag Day ceremonies at Fort McHenry on Friday, Glenn Beckman hopes it will be one more step in his dream to make his song a national ode to fallen Vietnam War veterans.
The New Mission Singers, based at a Rosedale church, will sing "Names in Stone," a three-stanza song by Beckman, who wroteit at his dining room table one night three years ago, after listening to a veteran's widow on television.
The 50-year-old Edgewood resident dreams the song will someday become a nationally recognized ode to the war dead whose names are etched in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
"I don't write poetry or anything like that," says Beckman, a retired shoe store manager and peacetime Army veteran. "A power stronger than me was behind me when I wrote it. Believe me."
"He didn't know what he wasdoing," says Hickory resident Wil Manley, a 65-year-old World War IIveteran and retired electrical engineer who set his friend's lyrics to music three years ago.
This winter, Manley and Beckman formed the New Mission Singers and recorded their song with arrangement, production and vocals from Essex musician Darryl Matarozza. Matarozza writes, performs and records Christian music.
"Names In Stone" is a tribute Beckman and Manley say Vietnam veterans especially need now because they are being overlooked as Persian Gulf war troops are welcomed home with high-flying flags and plenty of yellow ribbons. Many Vietnam veterans did not see such support when they re
turned, and some recall ugly homecoming scenes, the two songwriters say.
"We want the song to be part of the healing process for Vietnam vets," says Beckman. He wants to combat the jealousy that Vietnam veterans might feel toward Persian Gulf troops.
Jerry Bailin, a Vietnam veteran and chief of the field section of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in Baltimore, said, "It brings emotion to you . . . emotions of sadness, a feeling of pride that somebody took the time to memorialize these people, giving them the honor that I think is long overdue."
Bailin first heard "Names In Stone" when Clarence Bacon, director ofthe Maryland Veterans Commission in Baltimore, offered him a tape touse during memorial
Bacon, recalling a performance of "Names In Stone" that the New Mission Singers gave for his staff inMarch, said, "Everybody here was tremendously impressed. . . . It reminded everyone of the sacrifices the veterans made."
"Names In Stone" is a mournful, evocative melody that begins with taps and carries the military music theme throughout. It starts, Beckman explains, with survivors of those killed in Vietnam pondering the death represented by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial:
"Names in stone
their loved ones cry
then ask why . . ."
The music crescendos slowly as the song attempts to resolve the survivors' lament.
"We're with God
do not cry
soldiers of the wall
in blackened stone
by God's hand we've come home."
Beckman said, "The ending is the soldiers answering. They're saying, 'Don't worry, we're here.' "
How does a man who never wrote a lyric in his life, a self-described "dabbler" at the piano and retired shoe store manager come to be moved to write and believe so strongly in a song?
As Beckman tells it, it started three years ago in his living room with the television on. The wife of a Vietnam soldier listed as missing in action was talking -- her husband's remains were being shipped home from North Vietnam. Butshe wasn't sure they were really his. She didn't want her husband erroneously to become a "soldier of the wall" with his "name in stone."
Beckman can't explain why, but those words wouldn't leave him alone. He --ed to his dining room table and began writing. When Beckman read his final version that same night he cried, he recalled.
He came to Manley, a friend and church choir director at the Chesaco United Methodist Church in Rosedale, and asked if he'd set the lyrics to music.
Beckman sings in the church choir, and he knew Manley's penchant for music. No newcomer to songwriting, Manley has played piano since he was 12. He occasionally writes music for his church choir. His creations include love songs, religious melodies and humorous tunes.
"If somebody likes to write lyrics, I write the music. If somebody likes to write music, I write the lyrics," he says. Manley wrote the music for "Names in Stone" overnight.
Finally, last Memorial Day, Beckman approached Matarozza, the musician, after he performed attheir church. Matarozza listened to the song.
"Being a musician and songwriter, I knew just where he was coming from. It's quite an emotional and powerful song," Matarozza said.
And after Beckman's church choir sang "Names In Stone" this Memorial Day, one stranger approached Beckman with tears in his eyes. "I've never been that moved before," Beckman remembers the stranger saying. Said Beckman, "To me, that makes the song worthwhile."
The New Mission Singers will sing "Names In Stone" at The National Flag Day Foundation's Pause For The Pledge of Allegiance at Fort McHenry at 7:45 p.m. on June 14. (The program starts at 7 p.m.)
The group will also perform at The Meadowridge Memorial Park in Elkridge, in Howard County, at 3:30 p.m. on June 15. A solo performance by Deborah Cook, one of the New Mission Singers, can also be heard at the park at 2:45 p.m. on June 16.
The park will be host to The Vietnam Experience, a traveling 240-foot replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.