Michael Marks

Michael Marks: IWVPA Bronze Helmet Top Poet Award of Excellence - April 2006Index of Writings


By Robert Stacy McCain
December 20, 2005

The messages come from across the country and around the world from service members and their families, thanking Michael Marks for his poetry. Posted on Web sites and circulated through e-mails, Mr. Marks' poems "A Soldier's Christmas" and "The Sands of Christmas" add a patriotic touch to the holidays.

"I am a United Methodist pastor and a Vietnam veteran A-4 pilot," one e-mail says. "I found your poem at vietvet.org and appreciate it very much. I am writing to ask your permission to read it to my congregation on Christmas Eve."

Another e-mail says, "I am writing to tell you how much your poems have meant to our family, especially to my brother who is serving on a submarine. We had sent him a copy of 'A Soldier's Christmas' because we thought he would like it.... He wrote back to say that on Christmas Eve it was read on the intercom for everybody to hear. He said that it really brought a bit of home when they were so far away on Christmas."

Mr. Marks, 41, a Leesburg, Va., resident, says he has been interested in poetry since sixth grade, when he won a school poetry contest. "I guess it stuck," says the defense consultant and author of the book, The Emergency Responder's Guide to Terrorism.

Thanks to the Internet, his poems have made him something of a holiday hero. A Google search for his poems turns up 1,000 links to A Soldier's Christmas written in 2000, and 800 links for The Sands of Christmas written in 2003.

He grew up in "a very patriotic household," Mr. Marks says. His father was a Marine veteran and missile engineer. Mr. Marks recalls going out, at age 5, "in my best little suit with my grandma selling red paper poppies to fund raise for the American Legion Auxiliary."

He turned to poetry on Pearl Harbor Day -- December 7 -- in 2000 to express concern after some soldiers' absentee ballots were questioned during that year's presidential elections.

"Sitting here listening to all this, I started thinking about ways to say 'thank you' " to the troops, Mr. Marks says. That inspired A Soldier's Christmas about a dream encounter with a soldier who says, "to know you remember we fought and we bled is payment enough."

"I put it out on the Web. I didn't think it would draw the level of response it did," Mr. Marks says. "I started getting e-mails from everywhere -- Bosnia, Okinawa, everywhere you could imagine."

That reaction encouraged him to write more poems, including The Name on the Wall about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"The 390th Strategic Missile Wing contacted me and asked me to write a poem for the dedication of the Titan Missile Museum... That poem, When Titans Walked was read at the dedication and hangs framed in the museum," Mr. Marks says.

His work is posted at the International War Veterans' Poetry Archives, but also is all over the Web -- with the poet's generous permission.

The Sands of Christmas was inspired when Mr. Marks compared his problems -- he is a fan of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, who had "lost by six" -- with the challenges faced by soldiers who have "no Christmas turkey, just a pack of MREs" or meals ready to eat.

His works have earned him no money, Mr. Marks said, but that doesn't matter. He gets paid in grateful e-mails, like this one:

"I am the mother of two sons in the U.S. Army -- one a combat engineer with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan and the other a medic with the 172nd Infantry at Fort Wainwright, Fairbanks, Alaska. Neither will be home for Christmas this year. Thank you for expressing in such beautiful words the gratitude we should all have for our warriors of the U.S. military."

When he first posted his poetry online, Mr. Marks said, "I didn't even know if anyone would read the thing.... The return on it has been more than any dollar figure that I could ever put on it.