What does an octogenarian four-star general do to celebrate and reflect on his extraordinary life, his family, and his surroundings? General John Wickham, now 91, started writing poetry for the first time a few years ago. He’s published 70 of his poems in a book titled On Life, Love & Living.
General Wickham and his wife Ann have lived at Splendido, an all-inclusive community for those 55 and better in Oro Valley, since it opened in 2006. He enjoys riding his recumbent bicycle around the grounds, and the beauty of the area sparked the poetry: “I was just riding my bike around, admiring the scenery and the spiritual effect,” he says. “The inspiration just came to write these poems. I believe the words came from the good lord.”
General Wickham is a highly decorated four-star general who dedicated 37 years to the US Army, holding many leadership roles in Vietnam and Korea. He was responsible for negotiating the release of all prisoners of war at the end of the Vietnam War, and in 1979, played a leading role in calming political tensions after the assassination of the South Korean president. He served as US Army Chief of Staff from 1983 to 1987.
He and Ann have been married almost 64 years, and the book includes several poems dedicated to her. “We wanted to get the book published for our children,” General Wickham explains.
He says that writing the poems made him feel “upbeat,” adding that “I believe that as you grow older, it’s important to maintain a positive outlook.” General Wickham’s own outlook seems unfailingly optimistic, and with good reason. He explains, “On my first tour of duty in Vietnam, I was almost killed. My wounds were so severe that they gave me last rites. So I’ve been grateful every day of my life since then. I feel I’ve been gifted, and I have an obligation to pass on the message to other people—and the poems are part of that obligation.”
From Poet to Published Author
A friend of the Wickhams’, Mary Minor Davis, suggested he publish a book of the poems and connected him with Danielle Mulleneaux, an art teacher at Ironwood Ridge High School in Oro Valley, about getting the poems illustrated. Danielle’s students created original drawings, paintings, or photographs to accompany the poems, and two of the Wickhams’ grandchildren also contributed artwork.
Emma Kagayama, now a senior at Ironwood Ridge, was one of about 35 students who took part in the project. “Our teacher basically laid the poems out and let students pick one that resonated with us, or that we thought we could illustrate,” says Emma. “We were allowed to use any medium. It was really interesting to see how everyone took a different approach to illustrating their poem.”
“When we got to choose our poems for the project, I thought that ‘Where Do Dreams Go’ was the best one for me,” says student Juliet Leehman. “At first I didn’t really know how I was going to fit the meaning of the poem into a drawing. But I remembered a picture my best friend had taken looking out of the Freedom Tower in New York, and I thought that it fit the poem well; the image really captured possibility and hope.”
Juliet adds, “I thought the general seemed like a really nice man and I thought it was very cool that he wanted us to illustrate his poems. It seemed like he had a remarkable life and career and it was an honor to be able to bring one of his poems to life.”
From inspiring landscapes to a published, intergenerational book, the process of producing On Life, Love & Living was a remarkable act of Aging Well, both for General Wickham and for the art students who provided illustrations.