When I think back on my journalism career, the number of stories I’ve covered is overwhelming. Spanning the past 20 years or so, I’ve conducted thousands of interviews in and around Bureau County. Thousands.
Needless to say, it’s been very interesting, enlightening. I’ve learned so much from so many people. I wish I could remember every single person who has sat across the table from me and my reporter’s notebook, but when I reflect through the years, there are some moments that have etched themselves into my memory ...
• Interviewing Michael Jordan in the Chicago Bulls’ locker room.
• Countless representatives, senators, governors — even today’s president of the United States, long before he threw his hat in the presidential ring.
• Gallant people who have battled cancer and many other diseases, and sadly, just as many brave folks who have fought those same battles and ultimately lost.
• Superintendents, CEOs, mayors, board members, trustees ... and their good and difficult moments as they attempt to do what’s right ... in most cases.
• Winners and losers of every contest imaginable — both whose voices are important.
• People who are ecstatic about a particular event, and those who have been devastated by tragedy or loss.
• Storm damage, vehicle crashes, fires ...
I guess I could go on and on, and truly, I feel privileged to have been a part of these folks’ lives, trusting me to tell you about themselves.
But here’s the reason for this column: In my travels, many people will ask me what my favorite story has been throughout all these years. Which one has touched my soul and caused me to hold that particular interview close to my heart?
The answer is easy, and it’s the same response I give to anyone who asks. My favorite story? It’s any story that includes a U.S. veteran. Don’t misunderstand. Those interviews are often the most difficult ones of all, yet when I leave the veteran’s home ... when I sit in front of this computer to write their story ... when I see that story on the pages of this newspaper ... my heart always skips a beat or two, a knot ultimately forms in my throat, and more than once, I’ve wiped a few stray tears away that can’t stop rolling down my cheeks.
Veterans’ stories are all very different, yet all the same. Usually, the veteran has no desire to chat with me, which causes me to gently urge the conversation forward. At first we talk about anything but the elephant in the room — his/her military service, but ultimately once that veteran feels comfortable with me, he/she will begin to open up. I know it’s going to happen because almost without exception, I begin to see a faraway look in the veteran’s eyes, almost as if he/she is revisiting moments in their own memory. If I’m lucky and on top of my game, that military person takes me along on the journey.
The words are real — often never spoken before. They come slowly, methodically as the memories return. I’ve seen their eyes fill with tears, their chins begin to tremble. I’ve seen the proud men and women relive some horrific moments, in hopes I can capture their words to help you, the reader, understand. Often, there are no need for any words or questions from me; their story from their perspective shouldn’t be interrupted.
And then it’s finished. The tears are gone, and the faraway look has vanished. We are back to the present ... and again, I am forever changed by the words of a veteran.
Monday is Memorial Day — a day to honor our fallen military men and women, each who had their own story to tell. May we never forget.
BCR Editor Terri Simon can be reached at email@example.com.