It’s not too late

by

At first the Your Stories project was a great idea that needed to get up and running.  Station-wide, it was a big job with a lot of logistics to consider: namely, how do we best share this potential archive of stories with the community?

We developed on-air and web formats.  The plan was for director and producer Anne-Marie Berger to conduct interviews in our studio and produce them for on-air use whereas I would go out into the field for the web content.  My idea was to go anywhere there were veterans and hope they would talk to me.

I admit that I had to cram for the assignment and I’m glad I had two weeks to do it.  The scant facts I did possess stemmed more from great movies than anything else.  My knowledge of WWII history was a shameful no-show and I reached for some books.

I started with the bad guys, Hitler and Mussolini.  Going over their plans, policies and demented practices made me want to get up and double check that all my doors were locked. It’s hard to believe that mere boys were sent so far to clean up the messes of such monsters. I then stumbled into the Battle of the Bulge.  Even told in the driest of academic narratives, my heart pounded to read about it.  I delved into all of the theaters, all of the invasions.  Far from grade school social studies, the history of WWII turned out to be a damned page turner, both grisly and heroic.

I pondered my vast ignorance and past lack of curiosity.  I decided I could blame the veterans themselves for it.  They have always been protective of us. Both my granddads were in the Navy, had fought in the Pacific and neither one of them ever talked much about it.  They wanted things to be nice for us, went to great and unbelievable lengths for it, and conversation was made accordingly.  Yet another sacrifice on their part as it might’ve done them good to talk about it.

This life-long policy of, well, if not silence, then abbreviation and censorship, was another barrier I would have to get through.  As the veterans themselves frequently say, “I don’t want to talk about the bad stuff. I spend too much time forgetting it.”  Just someone referring to “the bad stuff” in such a context probably says more than we are truly capable of hearing.

I made it through my first outing, a veterans’ appreciation event over Memorial Day weekend in historic Kimmswick, MO.  The crowds weren’t as big as the previous year’s but I was still impressed by the number of people who traveled all the way there in the heat, just to shake a veteran’s hand.  It had never occurred to me to do something like that. 

I have since met with dozens of veterans and will continue to do so for the rest of the summer.  I still feel like an idiot around them—these guys might be in their 80s but they are plenty intimidating.  But because of them, the Your Stories project has taken on an entirely different meaning for me.  No longer is it just work and deadlines.  It is stories and old pictures and tears–my own and theirs.  It is also a time for me to finally catch up on an active level of appreciation for these people.  As many know, we lose over a thousand WWII veterans everyday.  Please give them a hug if you get a chance.  These brave and modest people don’t like to make a big deal of it but they will hug you right back. And when they thank you for such a simple act, believe me, you’ll feel about an inch high.  But it’s a good feeling just the same.

 

Kate Shaw

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