Around the first part of September, I began to receive a few phone calls, emails and letters. Just a trickle of sorts. People wanting to submit their loved one’s name for the Bureau County Republican’s annual Salute to Veterans special section in honor of Veterans Day.
It started off quietly enough. A phone call here, an email there, a couple of letters in the mail for the week. And then it started to grow. I would arrive at work Monday morning to a couple of voice mails from people calling during the weekend. The emails would start to come at a faster pace. I would return from lunch with a stack of envelopes filled with names.
And then it really took off. Each day I would receive a stack of letters, countless phone calls and voice mails and so many emails. I began to worry one would fall through the cracks.
Each week, I would do a check to make sure for every name we had received the photo was there as well. I was amazed to see how rapidly our list was growing. What was a few dozen names in one week exploded into a hundred names, then a few hundred names.
And then the list from DePue arrived. All 189 hand-written names, hometowns, branches of the armed forces, years served, date of deaths or killed in action. Each one meticulously written and in a handwriting that would make the author’s school teachers proud. With that, the list jumped again, and we had nearly 500 names.
But we weren’t quite finished; our deadline was still a couple of weeks out. There was still time to add names.
They continued to pour in from every city, town and village in our area. But they didn’t stop at the Illinois Valley borders. We have submissions for veterans from around the country, but who have ties to the Illinois Valley.
Sometimes I would receive a call from a veteran who would tell me a story from his time served. Each time I would hear their stories I could only wonder, did they ever tell their family that? My grandfather served in the Navy from 1950-54. He died when I was 11 years old. I can’t remember him talking about his time overseas but maybe he told my older cousins.
Slowly, our deadline for submissions began to loom. I thought surely we would receive a final push before Oct. 11. And was I ever right. I received a list of 208 names with photos and a list of 46 names without photos. The list of names without photos was comprised mostly of veterans who served during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. I don’t know if the person who sent the list is related to all of them or not, but I was touched regardless.
At last, the deadline passed, and the true work began. Meticulously we separated the names to fit the pages, made sure the veterans’ photos matched up, and placed all 35 pages. The effort was not without some setbacks, but finally the section was completed.
We have more than 900 names listed in this year’s issue. I was truly honored by the opportunity to put together this section paying tribute to those who protect our rights and freedoms, and I was humbled by the number of veterans who were submitted. At this moment, I wish to say thank you to all those who currently serve and those who have served. Your sacrifices make our lives possible. So please make sure you look through the section on Saturday ... and on Monday, if you see a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, make sure you thank them for their service.
BCR Copy Editor Sarah Maxwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.