Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Veteran's Day has come and gone, but I feel I've been living it for the past few weeks during interviews for our Salute to Heroes publication inserted in last Friday's paper.
About 30 hours of interview time went into the veteran stories. I interviewed many veterans in the past when I was at the Cle Elum newspaper, but this was by far the biggest veteran-related project I had worked on.
Every one of them said they were just doing their job. Some agreed to talk, but indicated they would have little to say or that their experience wasn't all that interesting.
Turned out they had much to say about their wartime experience and, yes, it proved interesting.
Sometimes an already riveting story became even more so with a matter-of-fact accounting of a near miss or, in one case, a religious conversion experience just before going to war.
Some shared experiences in more depth than they had even with their own families.
One Vietnam veteran I interviewed had his bronze medals stolen while out of town for a family funeral. He called a couple days ago to tell me that, with help from Congressman Doc Hastings, he has those medals back.
I'll never know what it was like to face enemy gunfire or fall out of the sky, but their stories give us an appreciation for those who have-and still do-in order to maintain our freedoms.
All the veterans interviewed had a spirit of perseverance and grit typified by Jack Brown, a pilot in three wars.
Well into his 80s, Jack with encouragement from his wife scampered up on a rocking chair to reach a table so he could reach his medals for a closer look for the camera's eye.
When stepping off the table with the medals he climbed back down the rocking chair. This time the chair tried to buck him off. As Jack momentarily lost his balance I steadied him with one arm while my camera slung over my other shoulder.
Jack smiled when he landed-remember he's a fighter pilot used to rough landings-and laughed, "Don't worry, I don't fall, I bounce!"
Now that's the kind of spunk I want when I'm 80-something. For that matter, that's the kind of spunk I could use now!
Thanks to Jack and the nine other veterans interviewed, I've gained a whole new perspective of a bad day. My worst day is probably a cakewalk compared to the best day they faced in the field of battle.
They've given me a whole new perspective in saluting our heroes. It's deserved not just one day a year-or two if you work for the government-but throughout the year.
And here's to "bouncing," not falling!