Nearly five decades have passed since Jon Sebba saw his friend Yossi Levi killed in the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War.
But he still remembers it like it was yesterday. It still brings tears to his eyes. It still causes him a degree of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the passing years, Sebba has found a way to cope with it; a way to liberate himself from the haunting thoughts of war.
He writes poetry. And he shares it with other veterans.
Born in South Africa, Sebba enlisted in the Israeli Army as a teenager, and later, as a reservist, was called to fight in Jerusalem during the war. After his demobilization, Sebba came to a realization: War is ugly, peace is beautiful, and the former is not necessarily the answer to the latter. That is one of the many themes that can be found in the 46 poems that make up Sebba’s recently published book of poetry, called “Yossi, Yasser, & Other Soldiers.”
The book details Sebba’s own wartime experiences as well as those of others who shared recollections from numerous conflicts such as the Vietnam War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
It was after winning a poetry contest and being named the Utah State Poetry Society’s Poet of the Year that Sebba was rewarded by having 500 copies of his book published.
While gratifying, the retired engineer and professor wants his message to reach a larger audience – not because he is looking to get rich off book sales, but because he wants to make a difference in the lives of those who have ever felt the effects of war or military service.
“Communication is the way to share the burden,” said Sebba, who has been writing poetry since the 1970s. “I want to reach out to veterans of any degree of suffering, or no suffering, and to show them an example of how one veteran worked through his trauma.”
Sebba’s work holds no punches, offering vivid recollections of his wartime memories, including one poem, “45 and Counting,” which details the death of his friend Yossi, and the lessons learned from him in life.
“Yossi taught that a man you knew for a few weeks
who died in a war of only six days
can be mourned for 45 years and counting,” one verse reads.
The therapy that comes from writing of his experiences has in his turn also proven beneficial for other veterans to listen to, said Sebba, who openly offers to read his work to anyone who may benefit from it. A northwest Tucson resident, Sebba is currently looking to find veterans or organizations to lend a hand to through his writings and life lessons. He encourages other veterans to creatively express their experiences as well.
“If I can help one or two people, I’ll be satisfied,” said Sebba. “If I can help a lot of people, or better yet, show people how they can help others, then I’ll be very, very fulfilled.”