When you meet a war veteran, it’s as if you’re shaking hands with history. No matter if it’s World War II or Vietnam, the person you’re getting to know has had a role on the world stage. He or she is a bridge to America’s past.
That’s always been a reason I’ve enjoyed spending time with vets and writing about them. But as I realized yet again last week, there’s a valuable connection that goes well beyond mere hobnobbing.
I spoke last Tuesday to the Lehigh Valley chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. The group has about 150 members, 60 of whom are actual Bulge vets, and has been meeting monthly since 1998. I’ve attended almost all of the meetings for the last several years and written stories on more than a dozen VBOB members for my Morning Call series, War Stories: In Their Own Words, http://www.mcall.com/news/local/warstories/.
My talk was about interviewing veterans. In preparing for it, I thought about what that work has meant to me. The answer is simple. One of the rewards, other than getting the vets’ stories into the paper and online for thousands of readers to appreciate, is personal. It’s my getting to be friends with these men and women who have served the country in wartime.
I told the Bulge group a story to illustrate the point.
Early in 2002, I was interviewing Bataan Death March survivor Joe Poster. One day I came to his home for another session, and he had a gift for me – the newly published book by Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers, about the Army Ranger raid to rescue imprisoned survivors of the Bataan march. http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Soldiers-Account-Greatest-Mission/dp/038549565X/ref=sr_1_1?s=gateway&ie=UTF8&qid=1285536426&sr=8-1
I thanked Joe but told him I couldn’t accept it on ethical grounds. I was doing a story on him and it might appear that he was influencing me.
Joe took offense at that and barked at me:
“I’m not giving you this book because you’re doing a story on me! I’m giving it to you because you’re my friend!”
I took the book.