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Poet honors her father and soldiers with tribute poem

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By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

Darcie Cunningham was 12 years old when she walked the length of Tacoma's Union Station with her dad before he hopped a train and headed off to the Vietnam War.

As the oldest of three children the Buckley woman realized, "We were saying good-bye, but we didn't know if we'd see him again."

"I remember the despair in my mom's eyes as she sat there with these three children and watched him leave."

Her father did return, but like most veterans of that era he came back to a less than welcoming environment. Cunningham remembers the insults hurled at her father and how he quietly accepted it.

"I vowed to do something, from that day, to change that dark shadow," she said. "I knew I wanted to do something. I didn't know what, or when."

By age 15, Cunningham started writing poetry. As the years went on she gathered a following for her poems dealing with the logging industry and being a logger's wife.

In 1988, she jotted down a tribute to her father and called it "My Hero." A copy of it hangs next to a black and white photograph of her dad above her personal computer, along with a sticker that reads, "USA Rocks."

In the midst of the Gulf War, she rewrote the piece to honor all soldiers. By the time 9/11 hit she was a single mother raising two teens. She was looking for a way to express her feelings and help her children make a connection between yesteryear's veterans and today's soldiers. Another version of the poem, "Freedom - For My Country" was born.

Cunningham said she wrote "Freedom" as a remembrance of the country's forefathers and their influence on today's servicemen and women who carry the torch of freedom, upholding, she said, the ethics of service before self.

Today, she's making good on the vow she made at the tender age of 12. That heartfelt tribute to her dad has launched a series of poetic tributes she calls "The Spirit of their Will" Collection honoring military men and women in the Iraq conflict.

She is taking her poem "My Soldiers Prayer" to those who need it most - the military men and women and their families. With a graphics background, she has printed the poem - available in an Airmen, Marines, Guardsmen, Sailor, Reservist and Veterans version - on 8-1/2 by 11-inch, flag-draped prints, wallet cards, bookmarks and car mirror hangings.

All are produced in her living room with the help of her son Kyle, daughter Jamie and Jamie's boyfriend Mike Hughes.

For Cunningham it's always about honoring the soldiers. In addition to her poetic tributes, she started a military honor board at the Bonney Lake Wal-Mart where she works. On the board, she posts co-workers' photographs of loved ones off at war.

"How we feel about the war is irrelevant," she said. "We support our loved ones who are over there. Whether it's right or wrong, we love them."

"We are a strong and mighty nation, not because of our numbers," Cunningham writes in her promotional material. "But because of the depth of our commitment. Our forefathers gave their lives to defend and protect our freedoms and our service men and women now march ever forward carrying that torch."

"Everybody would like to help out. This is my way of saying thank you."

She said the poems are her way of teaching her children the importance of each soldiers' mission and letting those involved in the conflict know they will not be disregarded or forgotten.

Cunningham said she knew her intentions were on target when a soldier stopped by her home to purchase a puppy and she shared the poem with him.

"He read it word for word, line for line, then looked away, looked me in the eye and said, 'thank you,'" she recalled.

"I said I have to do more of this. I'm honoring him. I'm indebted to him. My kids and I are safe and free and he's thanking me," she said.

Cunningham said she has had the opportunity to talk to many soldiers and their families. It was one particular conversation with a soldier's wife that drove her to write "The Soldier's Lady," a poem dedicated to the mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and girlfriends who display courage and commitment as their loved ones are shipped to destinations unknown.

"This woman said, 'This is not about me. It's about him,'" Cunningham said of the soldier's wife. "How admirable is that. She's not sitting around whining. I wanted to honor their sacrifice and thank them."

"I went back in my mind to that train station," she said.

Back to the beginning when her hero - her dad - returned from Vietnam to less than a hero's welcome, when she vowed to change that dark shadow.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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