Sailor Jerri touches veterans’ hearts through song

PEASE – A Milaca Navy vet whose version of the song “Hallelujah” has gone viral to over 6 million people on YouTube touched the hearts of a couple hundred new listeners at the Tuesday, July 4, program in Pease.
Terra Weston wrote new lyrics to “Hallelujah” and became an overnight sensation after she posted “Hallelujah Veterans Version” on YouTube earlier this spring.
Weston’s story began 15 years ago when the Milaca native finished high school and enrolled in the Navy. She was stationed at Virginia Beach, Virginia, where she served from 2002 to 2006 as an aviation mechanic working on F/A 18 Super Hornet fighter-attack jets and helicopters.
She returned to Milaca after serving in the Navy. She attended St. Cloud State to study graphic design and worked as a paraprofessional at Milaca Public Schools. She had two boys along the way and got involved providing support to veterans through a group called the G4G Covert Ops.
Weston also continued a lifelong love of music when she returned home from the Navy in 2006. It’s that love of music she touched upon in reaching out to veterans through song.
“I have been singing my whole life since I was a teenager,” Weston said.
She is no stranger to singing karaoke at Bailey Rays in Santiago and has worked off and on as a DJ, she said.
In 2016 she took her music to a different level when she began learning to play the guitar.
“Veterans are notorious for being bullheaded,” Weston said. “Many won’t talk about their experiences or feelings unless it’s to another vet.”
Weston found that her music was another avenue for reaching some veterans. Weston was volunteering in the long-term care ward at the St. Cloud Veteran’s Hospital and became involved in a music program at the VA called Guitars for Vets, which provides guitars and guitar instruction at no cost to veterans struggling with physical injuries, PTSD and other emotional distress.
“We have weekly workshops and jam sessions every four to six weeks,” Weston said.
Weston will tell you she’s not very good at playing the guitar. She posted short videos on YouTube under the stage name Sailor Jerri for the veterans of the G4G Covert Ops support group to view. She also created a Facebook page that chronicled her growth as a guitar player. The support Weston provided the veterans through G4G Covert Ops and her group at the St. Cloud VA was reciprocated as Weston grew as a guitar player.
It wasn’t long before the singing and guitar picking became a form of support for the veterans.
Veterans began suggesting songs that Weston should sing. “Hallelujah” kept coming up.
There have been a handful of takes on the emotional song, including versions by its writer Leonard Cohen, the a cappella group Pentatonix, and most recently, Tori Kelly. But it’s the 1994 version by Jeff Buckley that Weston opted to cover. Weston eventually rewrote the song’s lyrics using the experiences of the veterans she encountered through the G4G Covert Ops support group.
“I took their words and put them to music,” she said.
The same day she wrote the new lyrics, she created a video of the song in her living room and posted it on Facebook before going to bed that night.
What she found the next morning shocked her.
“It had been viewed over a million times,” Weston said. “After six days, it had been viewed 6 million times.”
She then put out a call to veterans and asked them to contribute photos from their days in the service. She received hundreds of photos and paired them with a cleaner recording of the song for a new YouTube video, which can be viewed at https://youtu.be/msYPbjFC50w. To date, the video has been viewed 18,000 times on YouTube and a link to the video on Facebook has been viewed 353,000 times.
On June 16, Weston released an original song called “Strong.” She wrote the lyrics and musician friend Greg Huberty put the lyrics to music.
“In one month I wrote, recorded and released the song,” Weston said. “Strong” is available for download on iTunes at https://itun.es/us/IwBEkb. The song is also available for download on Amazon Music and Google Play.
Weston says the response to Sailor Jerri and her music has been phenomenal.
“I’ve received so many messages – thousands in a number of days,” she said.
“I reply to every one,” Weston said.
But in keeping with her commitment to the veterans who reach out through G4G Covert Ops, Weston has some fears.
“I’m afraid I’ll miss someone who needs someone to talk to,” Weston said.
Weston has touched millions of people through her Sailor Jerri persona in venues across the country. She’s had a busy 10 days.
On June 24, she performed in Chicago for the Folds of Honor organization’s benefit that was raising money for Gold Star families. June 28-30, she was in New York at Saratoga Warhorse, a nonprofit organization assisting veterans who are suffering from psychological wounds through equine-assisted experience. On Saturday, June 30, she was in Fayetteville, North Carolina, performing to aid patients with traumatic brain injuries.
Sunday she performed at Captain’s Lakeside in Isanti, and on Tuesday, she was scheduled to be the keynote speaker and performer at Pease’s Fourth of July program.
Weston was expected to talk about things civilians don’t know about veterans, and one of her passions, RED Friday. RED Friday is a means to let veterans and current servicemen and servicewomen know that civilians support them by wearing red every Friday, Weston said. The RED in RED Friday stands for “Remember Everyone Deployed,” she said.