By now, you’ve hopefully seen our veterans’ tribute in the Messenger this month.
The Purple Heart Honor Flight package is an editorial feat that has taken months to put together. It was the brainchild of our publisher, Mike Wood, and now that all is said and done, I feel quite honored that he pulled me in to be the voice for this project. Here’s why.
We set out to interview 12 veterans who would be on the manifest for this year’s Nebraska Flight of Honor, which escorts veterans to Washington, D.C. for a day of reflection and reverence at the military monuments and memorials. The Nebraska Purple Heart Flight on May 24 did just that, plus some pre- and post-flight activities to really give the veterans and their families a healthy dose of appreciation and celebration.
When I got the first four names for these veterans in February, knowing that the stories needed to be polished by early May, I was chill. When I didn’t get the rest until April, when the flight manifest was available and full of names, I was pretty much on red alert.
Though these were “supposed” to be brief biographies on each of the 12 veterans we chose, a feature story that’s 300-400 words can take almost as long as one that’s 800 words, after you interview, follow-up, figure out how to write it, then figure out how to condense it, and finally just let your fingers start typing. It’s still a time-consuming process, as any journalist can attest. Probably.
Or maybe that’s just me, because I also have this problem of not being able to write anything short after a subject has captured my attention. I went well over my word limit on almost all of the stories. (No regrets.)
So my April and May this year were fairly consumed by this project. Tracking down these veterans, scheduling interviews, rescheduling interviews, chatting for way too long with them, generally not doing anything briefly that I intended to do briefly.
And then I just started hoarding the interview notes. It took me so long to finally begin writing that first story, I had serious feet-dragging syndrome. But I knew why. I’ve never written a package of “short” bios like this before, and this Flight of Honor is a big deal for these guys — I wanted the stories to be a real tribute to these people, who have truly sacrificed for complete strangers. But tributes aren’t meant to be short, and these needed to be short, so I had a bonafide mental block on how to execute it well.
As always, once I finally just forced myself to pick a lane, the stories shot out of me like lightning.
The result was that I poured myself into these “featurettes”, as I called them, and I truly hope that the veterans I got the chance to interview, and everyone who has read them, has enjoyed the finished product. If you thought the stories were good, then I’ll tell you why — the subject matter.
I’ve always told people that my writing parallels the source material, without fail — the more interesting the interview, the more interesting the story. I get inspired by people, and my writing is merely a reflection.
The 12 men whom I interviewed for this project were nothing short of inspirational. Not the “Oh, I feel so deep about this black-and-white photo of an overturned trashcan on Instagram” inspired. I’m talking the jaw-dropping-astonished, heartrending-awe, marrow-deep-respect kind of inspiration.
For one, I know plenty of veterans, between my relatives, friends, and casual acquaintances. I know how tremendously difficult it can be for a veteran to share their story, especially with someone who has never served in the military. The fact that these men opened up and let me dig into the gritty parts of their lives — even at just a surface scratch — is an honor, as well as a testament to their enduring spirit and fortitude.
Secondly, the stories they weaved for me as we spoke were — in a word — powerful. They’ve all seen things I can’t imagine. They’ve experienced things I can’t begin to understand on an emotional level. There were topics they couldn’t speak about, to anyone — even their closest loved ones. And then there were times when I could feel such passion as they spoke, I was nearly swept away by the patriotism, dedication, and perseverance.
They also surprised me. They made me laugh, and then feel such shock and sorrow, and then laugh again. There were a few interviews in particular wherein I enjoyed chatting way too much for the gravity of the subject matter. Some people are just naturally entertaining, and I snagged a few of those great storytellers.
But they all had a powerful story to tell, and though they ran along the same vein, each was unique to the man telling it.
I could’ve written so much more on these veterans, and wanted to. I could’ve talked to them even longer. To hear more about their lives, to learn what it’s like to be a soldier, to know what protecting our country really cost them in life.
“Thank you for your service” never feels like enough. How do you tell someone that you can never repay them for their tremendous and courageous actions — actions that kept you safe at home to lead a normal life of freedom?
I’m not sure I’ve ever fully expressed the knowledge of that debt before. But I hope sharing their stories is a start.
To the 12 veterans I interviewed: Thank you for allowing me a glimpse into your world. I hope you are able to heal what may need healed, and enjoy life and love with the people by your side. Know that you will always be appreciated.
Katy Moore is a Kansas native and the daughter of a farmer and a cowgirl. A journalist since 2008, she is the field editor of Midwest Messenger and Midwest Messenger: Kansas, Lee Agri-Media publications. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.