Guitar Marine

John Petelle

I met him in a barracks in Okinawa. Faltering notes escaping a brand-new guitar he was learning to play. I was a song by Metallica, but I don’t remember which one. Only that he struggled with playing the chorus for hours, night after night. Evening after evening, right up till Taps, he practiced. What should have been a screaming guitar riff was endlessly butchered into scattered chords that could only be called music by an overly charitable, tone-deaf nun who loved to watch someone put their determination on display.
He finally mastered the song, a few days before I transferred. For those last few jam sessions, it was like living next door to a rock god, who deigned to bring the thunder of metal to the ears of a few lucky mortals.
I lost touch with him, as Marines do, but I remembered him. Afterward, whenever that song played on the radio, I remembered his transformation across the hall, the triumphant chorus that roared from his guitar.


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John Petelle is a Desert Storm veteran of the Marine Corps. His varied career includes years spent as the editor of the Nebraska American Legion’s state newspaper, computer instructor for an elementary school, and positions at numerous technology startup companies. He currently assists in the creation of machine learning algorithms, focused on healthcare technology. An experienced cook and avid gamer, John lives in Lincoln, Nebraska. He writes, “Guitar Marine Background Music is a powerful memory trigger for me, and I have many associations that music will bring back even after I have forgotten the original detail of an event. Sometimes, the catalyst is a particular song, and other times it is a situation. That was the case with Guitar Marine. I was driving through a residential neighborhood with my windows down, and there was a young man on a porch practicing with an acoustic guitar.”