As a journalist there are some stories or interviews that immediately go on your bucket list. For me, it was interviewing a World War II veteran.
The summer of 2011 I was interning at the Waterloo Courier. One day in late July, my editor told me to run into Cedar Falls, there was a Korean War Veteran who was going to be receiving medals for his past service.
Bob Welter lived in an assisted living facility near my campus apartment. It worked out perfectly since I was going to have to do the interview on my day off. The photographer was already there by the time I found Welter?s room. Welter sat in his recliner, holding up a matted board that featured seven service medals toward the camera. I sat down in an arm chair across from Welter and once the photographer was done, I began asking him about his time in the military and the medals he received.
Welter served as a drill sergeant in the Marine Corp. during the Korean War, but his military service began long before. He joined the Marines when he was 17 and spent time in China during World War II.
I?ll never forget how quickly Welter told me that he never asked for the medals. ?They just showed up here,? he said referring to the plain, brown envelope that was addressed to him.
Welter?s application to receive his Korean War medals had been submitted on his behalf, but that wasn?t his point. He didn?t join the military for accolades, he did it to serve his country. This sentiment is something I?ve heard from most every veteran and active service member I?ve been fortunate enough to interview over the course of my career.
When I first sat down with Welter, he told me he didn?t really want to talk about his service. Again, it?s something I?ve heard from many veterans. But the longer I sat with Welter, the more he opened up.
We talked for over an hour. We laughed. We cried. And at the end of our conversation, I think I went away a little bit different from when I entered his home.
Welter has not been the only World War II veteran I?ve been able to interview. I think I?ve written a story about a World War II veteran for every paper I?ve worked for. Each has told me a different story, each has changed me in a different way. Yesterday I even talked to a Rosie the Riveter ? Louise Unkrich.
In April, I was able to interview two of the Harrison brothers ? Russell and Roger. Russell and Roger had just returned from Washington, D.C. as part of the Honor Flight with their three older brothers ? Richard, Robert and Ronald.
Russell and Roger both served during the Vietnam War. It was a generation I hadn?t covered much. It was a war, that socially, we don?t talk about much; definitely not with the enthausiam that we hold for World War II. But I think I learned the most from the Harrison brothers.
My heart broke for Russell when he told me the standing ovation he and the other Honor Flight attendees received in the airport was the only kind of homecoming he ever had. I know leaving that interview I had a greater appreciation and respect for Vietnam Veterans than I did before our interaction.
I know I?m writing this column in honor of Veterans Day, but I truly do feel blessed that I live in this country where so many men and women are brave enough to stand up and protect us. Pouring over these words, I know that I need to make a greater effort to show my support and appreciation for our veterans and service members all-year round and not just when the calendar reminds me to. But honestly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your service.