Dispatches from Atz’ is an on-going series chronicling the writings of Atz Kilcher during his time at Freedom Ranch for Heroes with the veterans of Project Healing Waters.
“I might as well tell you a little bit about my experience with disabled veterans who are part of Project Healing Waters in Wise River. It is another testimony and powerful experience in music and storytelling, in daring to share your journey, and believing that as humans we can affect each other in a positive healing way,”
Vietnam veteran Atz Kilcher is an accomplished singer, song-writer, musician, story-teller and proud father. He is most widely known as the patriarch of Discovery Channel’s Emmy-short-listed program Alaska: The Last Frontier. Atz joined the Project Healing Waters family in 2021 during a trip to Freedom Ranch for Heroes.
I wrote this poem for the first group of veterans and inserted their names. For the next group, I inserted new names. My first reaction was that I was cheating, that I was giving the second group leftovers. Sort of like using the melody of another song to go with my new lyrics. I feared that the second group might feel that I could not come up with something original for them. Alas, the inner workings of a creative artistic people pleasing brain. So I thought about it a while, and here’s what I came up with. There’s not a damn thing wrong with it! I could remove the names and just make it a generic poem and read it to every group. But for now I’m going to stick in the names of those veterans I just spent time with.Atz Kilcher
I know you
Fred and John and John and Jack and Tom and Jeff and Ken and Lonnie.
I know you.
Hell, how well d’you ever know anybody.
We know a lot of people, but what do we really know about em?
About the really important stuff!
The glue that holds them together.
The splints and the stints.
The bypasses and the surgeries.
The beliefs and convictions and prayers and faith that keep them going.
The important stuff.
The times they were broken.
Fell face first
Got back up
Sometimes again and again.
But giving up
was never an option.
You might’ve been at the edge
But you came back
You might’ve rolled the cylinder
I know where you’re from. I know where you’ve been. I know you’re Village.
I know your tribe.
I know your Relatives.
I know What you’ve been through.
I know how you got here.
I know what you’re doing to keep your head above water. I know if we called each other in the middle of the night In a time of need
We’d come running.
I know you. Fred and John and John
I know you Jack and Tom
I know you Jeff and Ken and Lonnie.
And when anyone asks
How well do I know you?
I will say , “I know them well.”
And it’s an honor!
Atz Kilcher was raised on a homestead in Homer, Alaska after his father and mother, Yule and Ruth, emigrated from Switzerland in the late 1930’s. The many skills learned and required on a homestead, as well as living a self-sufficient lifestyle, helped shape Atz’s character. As an adult, Atz worked as a rancher, horse trainer and carpenter. He received his Bachelor degree in psychology and his Masters in Social Work, which he used working with troubled teens and marriage and family therapy. He served in the army in the late 60’s and spent a year in Vietnam. Dealing with his own PTSD from a dysfunctional family and the trauma experienced in Vietnam, Atz developed great empathy for all veterans and anyone dealing with any type of trauma. Although he has been a therapist and been to many therapists over the years, talking with other veterans and sharing successes and failures as well as ups and downs has been the most helpful in his healing journey. Atz is an accomplished singer, song-writer, musician, story-teller and proud father. He is most widely known as the patriarch of Discovery Channel’s Emmy-short-listed program Alaska: The Last Frontier.