RIP Staff Sergeant John A. Thorburn
Once in a great while you have the fortune to meet someone who, for the rest of your life, will make you smile with the mere mention of their name. Staff Sergeant John A. Thorburn, along with being an American hero, loving father, and all around great guy, was one of those people. Known to most as the Father of legendary rapper RA the Rugged Man and immortalized in his masterpiece “Uncommon Valor,” Thorburn may be the kindest soul who’s ever used a grenade launcher in combat. A great Father, beloved husband, and celebrated patriot, I’ll always remember him as one of the most charismatically humble and genuine human beings I’ve ever encountered.
RA went to great lengths to describe his Father’s service to this country in the aforementioned song “Uncommon Valor,” (which I’ll embed at the bottom) so I’ll instead embellish you with my first-hand experiences with the man. I first met him in October 2006 at a venue called S.O.B.’s in Manhattan where RA was performing. If RA does a show in New York, his family is sure to follow. After his performance, I talked with RA which wound up resulting in being brought on board to be a part of his horror film Bad Biology and, at the conclusion of our conversation, he introduced me to his Dad who had one of those ‘Proud Papa’ smiles that he always had whenever discussing or watching his kids.
My first real quality time spent with the man was that December in a van on the way to a Brooklyn junkyard to shoot one of his scenes for Bad Biology. At that point, I hadn’t cut my hair for about two years so my golden locks were hanging past my shoulders. Sitting next to me in the van and mistaking me for a girl with my head turned, he offered me half of his sandwich. I declined and, of course, there’s no better conversation starter than “sorry, I thought you were a woman.” He went on to tell me about each of his children, beaming with each mention of their names from his eldest daughter Lisa to his youngest Niki. While most “my kids are the greatest” conversations I’ve been a part of have generally been along the lines of “oh your child picked up a shoe? Good for you,” I found myself hanging on Thorburn’s every word. With the voice of a ringmaster and the demeanor of sensei, I walked away from just about every conversation I had with the man incredibly entertained and with the feeling I had just learned something.
I had the fortune to work with him again on RA’s current project God Take, God Give. This time, Sergeant Thorburn’s tremendous life was going to be the focus, with both a documentary aspect as well as dramatic (and in some cases, bloody dramatic) recreations of some of his most pivotal moments. RA asked me to write both the press release and the script for one of the scenes, as well as handle some of the interviews, so I got to know Thorburn’s past quite well. Vietnam was only a fraction of the hardships he had to endure, and the fact that he managed to pilot such a self-professed functioning dysfunctional family through so many storms while wearing a genuine grin until his dying day is a testament to the type of person we should all strive to be. I remember the night after I emailed the final draft of the release to RA, I got a text from him that read “Just showed your press release to my Dad. He smiled and said ‘I always liked that Chaz.'” To this day, it’s one of my proudest moments.
In the twilight of his life, Sgt. John A. Thorburn brought joy to every person he met. Recognized by his son’s fans at shows, honored by his military peers and appreciated by anyone he happened to begin chatting with, the Proud Vet and local publisher made his mark on the world around him. While his body battled numerous illnesses up until his final moments, they never claimed his zen-like contentment and inimitable smile. I’ll probably never meet a family more loving than the one he leaves behind, but at least there’s a comfort in knowing the gifts he’s given this world will live on.
I always liked that Staff Sergeant Thorburn too.
(RA’s verse is second)