For the third year, The Advertiser-Tribune plans to publish a special section prior to the July 4th holiday. Titled "Heroes of War," it is designed to recognize those individuals who have served their country in the armed forces. Most of it consists of individual stories of local men and women, who have ranged from veterans of World War II to those who were or are serving in Iraq.
It's a cooperative effort between The A-T's advertising and editorial departments - an advertisement has been appearing which asks area residents to suggest someone whose story should be featured. I then call them, set up times to visit, listen to their stories and write articles to be accompanied by pictures they submit. Each year, there have been between 15 and 20 stories in the section.
Although much of my writing is done in May and June, I begin interviewing individuals during the month of April. This year has been unusual in that I have received few responses to the "Heroes of War" notice.
Many of the stories in the past two years have featured members of the "Greatest Generation," our veterans of World War II. All are in their 80s, and their families and the veterans themselves seem eager to tell their stories. And they have been interesting, indeed. I've met a man who flew in a bomber with Jimmy Stewart, another who had photos taken of Adolf Hitler and other top-ranking Nazi officers due to his meeting an official photographer for one of them, and several who were among troops who liberated concentration camps. I've learned of the extreme hardships the soldiers, sailors and pilots endured overseas, from terrible cold, cramped quarters and, of course, harrowing circumstances. It makes me realize the endurance people exhibit when put in what would seem to be situations impossible to live through.
One of the many things I learned is, even though they had been cheered as heroes and supported at the homefront, and their stories had been told before in movies, novels, etc., many had not told details of those days before speaking to me. Often, their spouses had not heard of particulars of their service days. I was, and am, deeply grateful and awestruck that they chose to share the details of their stories with me, and in turn, all of you, the readers.
So here's my current dilemma. As our heroes of World War II pass away, so will their stories, if they are not told. And those who have fought in other wars, including Korea and Vietnam, are not as ready to talk about their experiences.
I have received calls suggesting the names of several area Vietnam War vets, calls from family, colleagues and friends. Some have backed off automatically, stating that was not something they wanted to talk about or that they just did what they felt they should. And that they did not consider themselves heroes.
All war is horrific, and not to be glorified. I have heard stories of individuals who served who were not directly in a combat situation, yet most were. Even though the battles of World War II have been glorified, there was clearly nothing about any of the experiences that have been related to me that did not consist of extreme hardship, personal injury and watching their buddies killed alongside them.
One of the World War II veterans who was featured last year says it best, and I've quoted him before.
"One thing about war, they say soldiers gave their lives; they didn't give their lives, their lives were taken," said Paul Kimmet, who served in the Pacific theater. "When you come face to face with the enemy, you realize that they are a person just like you and I. And they were put there for the glory of the enemy's higher ups, those guys who were shooting at us."
"I didn't ever understand war ... that's why they call them warlords," Kimmet added.
So I'm asking those of you who are veterans, wherever and in whatever capacity you have served, to consider giving me a call at (419) 448-3254 or e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd like to have a chance to talk to you, and to share your story with others.
A story, I believe, that needs to be told.