Sharing veterans' stories a treasured part of job

It’s a privilege to be entrusted with sharing the stories of people’s lives.

I feel that often as I sit typing on my laptop at The Hinsdalean office, looking out on First Street. I’ve completed an interview and face the task of transforming my notes into a story that will capture the individual I’m writing about, make sense to the reader — and fit the assigned space. Some days the job is easier than others, but it’s one I always enjoy doing.

As we approach Veterans Day, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet many veterans and share their stories with you. Last week I sat down with Vietnam vet and former Navy officer John Zick (whom I had known previously only as husband of talented quilter Anne Zick).

John was incredibly generous with his time and shared so many stories with me that I could have written a full page or more about him. (Instead I had to write an article that fit into the space on Page 9 of today’s paper.)

Talking to John reminded me of the column I ran last Veterans Day about my birth dad, Bob Short, who served in Vietnam as a Marine. I never interviewed my dad about his time in the Army before he died in 2002, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake with my birth father.

Two years ago I talked with Hinsdale’s James Haunty before Sept. 11 about the time he spent in Iraq. He had already completed his service in the Marines before volunteering to go to Iraq with his hometown’s reserve unit after the second Battle of Fallujah in late summer 2004.

I’ve attended the Veterans Day assembly at Madison School, hearing veterans like Jim Nalepa and Joe Craig talk about their time in the service.

With young kids as their audience, they shy away from recounting the horrors of war, focusing instead on seeing the world and making lifelong friends.

Before he died, George Hogrewe was an institution at that assembly and the Memorial Day service, where he always read “In Flanders Fields.” I had the chance to interview him in 2007 for a 60 Seconds feature. I’ll never forget him crying in our conference room as he shared the pain of watching friends die.

I saw the pain of loss firsthand attending the funeral of Gunnar Hotchkin, a Hinsdale native who was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 26, 2010.

I’ve come away with a deep respect for these individuals. I can’t imagine spending an entire year thinking I would never make it home again, as my birth dad did in Vietnam, or watching people I was supposed to bring home safely die.

Even coming home isn’t easy.

“It’s really difficult for someone who has been deployed in combat to come back and see that people are living their life normally,” Haunty told me during our interview. “It took a long time to adjust back into living a normal life.”

We owe such a debt of gratitude to veterans and their families for the sacrifices they and their families made. And I think they have a lesson to teach us about facing adversity and the importance of freedom.

I love this observation from comedian Bob Hope, who entertained the troops in every U.S. conflict from World War II to the Persian Gulf War. It’s from his book, “I Never Left Home.”

“I saw your sons and your husbands, your brothers and your sweethearts. I saw how they worked, played, fought and lived. I saw some of them die. I saw more courage, more good humor in the face of discomfort, more love in an era of hate and more devotion to duty than could exist under tyranny.”

— Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers can email her at [email protected].

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean