A Musical Gift

Bob Huff uses his daughter's death in Iraq as motivation to help other grieving families with a CD

When Bob Huff retired from the Tucson Police Department after 25 years, he was already working on an album.

When his 18-year-old daughter, Sam, died in Iraq, that album became part of a mission: He's attempting to give a copy of the album to every family of a soldier who has died or will die in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"However many years I have left to live, I'm going to get this done if I can," says Huff.

Each CD that Huff sends out includes a small card, explaining that his daughter died in Iraq in 2005. That the producer of the CD suggested that Huff raise money and distribute the CD to every family who lost someone in the war. That Sam played the flute on the title track.

"I've gotten incredible mail and e-mail back from these people. One of them really hit the nail on the head the other day," says Huff, paraphrasing: "'I got a lot from the Army, a lot of medals and accolades, all these things, but it's nice to get something from someone who's living through this, because you understand how I feel, you're there.'

"And we chatted on the phone a little bit, and I said, 'You're absolutely right.' It always means more to get it from somebody that's in the same boat as you. It's not easy. It's been three years for us, and I'm as soft about it as I was for the first six months."

Huff began working on his album, eventually titled Sun and Moon, in 2003, shortly before retiring. He had already finished writing most of the songs when Sam died in Iraq, after her armored Humvee was struck by an improvised explosive device on April 17, 2005, in Baghdad.

"(Her sergeant) said, 'There was a message that Sam had for you: ... Tell Mom I love her, and tell Dad good luck with his album,'" Huff says. "And that was the last thing she said to anybody."

Sam decided when she was 16 to join the military. She planned to study psychology in college and eventually join the FBI.

"Of course, Sept. 11 was the catalyst, I think, that fired everybody up about being in the military. And I think she wanted to be a grown-up; she wanted to do her own thing, to pay her own way. She didn't want us to pay for college; she wanted to do it herself, and she thought, "I'm not ready to go to school just yet. I want to do something in the meantime.'"

Sam played flute in high school, and Huff had a recording of his daughter playing early during the album's writing process. As a tribute to his daughter, Huff reworked one of his songs to include the recording.

"Originally, the title of that song was 'Italian Sunset,' and we changed it to 'Sun and Moon' when a friend of mine who I was in Up With People with came up with the design and everything for the CD. ... He woke up at 3 in the morning and said, '"Sun and Moon": That's what you need to call it.' He says, 'You get it?' 'No.' 'Sun and Moon. S-A-M.'"

Before joining the police department, Huff was involved in Up With People, a musical touring group of young people. For four years, he was also the guitarist for a group named Arizona, which grew out of Up With People. These experiences gave him most of the contacts he used to finish the album. Dave Mackay, a producer who worked with Huff during his time in Up With People, offered to produce the recordings in the studio he used in Great Britain.

"We were getting ready to do the final mix of it, and I was flying over, and (Mackay) had been talking to some buddies of mine and said, 'You know, all the families that have lost somebody should have one of these.' And when I got there, these guys were off and running," says Huff. "They started collecting money right away, and wanted to do this thing, and of course, I'm jetlagged out, and I'm going, 'What?' and I'm going, 'What if we can't get the addresses?'"

He says he and his wife, Maggie, got cards and other sympathy items from people around the country after Sam's death--but he didn't know how the well-wishers had gotten their address.

"I assume they got it from the Army," he explains. "So, anyway, I got home, and I contacted the (Army) Causality Office in Washington, D.C., and they said, 'Send us what you want to send out to the families, and let us and our lawyers look at it and make sure there's nothing in there that's offensive or racist or whatever.' I sent it out there; they looked at it, listened to it and said (it was) fine, and e-mailed me the list."

Each branch of the military has a separate list of causalities, Huff says, and each one presents different difficulties. While the Army provided the list, and the Navy offered to send the disc out once he got in contact with the proper Navy organization, the Marines have been reluctant to provide any information, out of respect for the families' privacy. So far, he estimates he's mailed around 3,500 CDs. The Department of Defense currently says more than 4,600 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although getting the contact information for families has been difficult, getting the funding to send the CDs turned out to be easier.

"A buddy of mine took care of all the financial stuff, and we ended up collecting about $10,000," says Huff. "A few people who were business people who had deep pockets were very, very generous about it. I mean, everybody wanted to do something for the troops. We never advertised or anything; it was all just word of mouth."

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