Whether they know it or not, there are quite a few men in Barren County, Ky., whom I call “my” veterans. (I hope they don’t mind.) With the celebrations of Veterans Day in the U.S. and Armistice Day in the UK earlier this week, I have been missing those men and the town of Glasgow quite a lot.
Veterans Day is my favorite day in Glasgow. While I have been immensely impressed with the amount of poppies plastering the UK for the last few weeks, there’s nothing like a patriotic holiday in a small town in the American South. American flags in every window, prayers for the troops uttered in every public meeting, community events galore.
While Glasgow’s Veterans Day parade is nice, my favorite part of the holiday in Glasgow is North Jackson Elementary School’s Veterans Day program. It made me cry every time I attended. W.S. Everett, Korean War veteran and one of the most wonderful men in Barren County, always made sure I came to the program early and ate lunch with the veterans and the students. One year a Korean War vet asked a fourth grader if he knew where Korea was, and the kid said, “Europe?” The vet was tickled to death, considering he had no idea where Korea was before he was called up to fight there.
In 2012, a horrid idea to make all the Glasgow Daily Times reporters pick story ideas out of a jar each week (Seriously, James, the jar was awful) led to the best series of stories I have ever written, and may ever write. I was tasked with tracking down local World War II veterans, and telling their war stories. Those interviews will be seared onto my heart for the rest of my life.
Unless he is your grandfather, not many people have the opportunity to walk into a World War II soldier’s living room and ask him to tell his story. The fact that I was able to do that, and then share all those stories with others, proves once again that being a journalist is the best job in the world.
Each of “my” WWII veterans made their own impact on me. I will never forget the way Bill Peil‘s eyes lit up as he talked about how his wife’s legs looked in her yellow dress. John Brock gave me one of his sketchbooks, and told me no one had ever wanted to keep one before. I will never, ever throw that away. Earl Kinslow let me hold onto his diary for a week to read what he documented during the early 40s. He and Margie may say they weren’t dating before the war, but it sure looked that way in that journal. Ferrell Arterburn didn’t hesitate to answer my questions about liberating the Buchenwald concentration camp, but he worried graphic descriptions would upset readers. He didn’t know his story was going to make people all over Barren County cry.
I could go on and on. These men, even if I never see them again, will always be a part of my life. Two of them, Bill Peil and Evans Bowman, have died since I wrote their stories, and I still cry over their deaths. I am so glad I got to meet them.
We sometimes get so busy creating our own stories that we forget to stop and learn someone else’s. Every day, I miss being a journalist. I miss those incredible moments when someone sat down and allowed me into their story. So many times, a person is just waiting for someone else to listen.
My very last story published in the Glasgow Daily Times was about Korean War POW and Army veteran Charles Ross. I sat in Charles’ living room with him and his wife for five hours and 45 minutes. Charles had told his story to quite a few journalists over the years, but he told me they always had a set of questions, and they just wanted those answers.
“No one has ever just listened before,” Charles told me. They missed out.
Last year, at North Jackson’s Veterans Day program, W.S. introduced me to another veteran, and the other vet asked W.S. if I was his granddaughter.
“No, this is Amanda from the Glasgow Daily Times, but I sure would be proud if she were my granddaughter,” he told him.
I would be proud to be the granddaughter or daughter of any of “my” veterans. In fact, I’ve basically adopted them. And when my niece is older, and maybe I have my own kids, I will tell them these men’s stories, show them photos and carry on the legacies. It is the very least we can all do for the men and women who risked everything for us.