Stories from the Heart
The Importance of Interviewing Veterans
Sometimes the best stories are the ones hidden deep in a heart.
I recently opened a bubble envelope from my friend John. John is 86-years-old. I first meet him in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Or, wait, maybe it was Buffalo, New York.
You see, I traveled to those places to interview Veterans from the 11th Armored Division. I first heard about these World War II vets when I was touring Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria.
Today is a very special day as it is the 70th reunion of the liberation of Mauthausen camp in Europe, and I’m remembering the very special stories of veterans have shared with me. Those stories soon inspired a novel, From Dust and Ashes, and many more novels after that.
What I didn’t realize that while the novels were nice, an even greater gift has been the relationships with the dozens of men like John. The best stories are the ones I found deep in a veteran’s heart.
Opening the bubble envelope from John I found a few things. First was a booklet published by the Shippensburg Historical Society. The Battle of the Bulge: One Small Corner by Dr. John Fague. There are some newspaper clippings from John’s column, “Do You Remember?” And …
Gasp. There are photocopies of letters that 19-year-old John wrote to his mother.
Dec 26 Tue 1944
Today we are having wonderful weather. The sun is warm and everything beautiful. On days like this, it is really enjoyable living in the outdoors. The ground is frozen except in a few places where the sun has thawed an inch on top. At nights the temp goes below freezing, and it is very cold. I would much rather have freezing weather like this than mud and rain which we will have soon. So far, I haven’t been cold at night yet. I have one bed roll inside the other and two arm blankets for insulation against the frozen ground …
April 27, 1945
The other day I saw something which left a vivid impression on my mind. In our advance we came on thousands of slaves whom the Germans were attempting to evacuate … the prisoners had been starved and beaten. Their cheeks were hollow, and some were too weak to walk. The clothes they wore were pitiful and some had convict suits which looked like pajamas.
I found myself reading through the letters in awe. Even though I’ve interviewed over 100 veterans, I’m always moved by each personal story. I learn something through ever letter and story.
Out of all the veterans who fought, each veteran’s experiences, hopes, fears, and pain are unique.
When I first started writing fiction I was excited about seeing my name in print. I thought making up characters was fun. I loved being around writers, and I hoped that I could write something that could entertain and inspire readers.
What I didn’t expect was how I would be inspired. I didn’t expect to meet men like John. I didn’t expect to receive gifts like these letters.
A few years ago I was attending a writer’s conference and the speaker asked, “If you could only write one more novel which story would you choose?” An idea popped into my mind. It was a story of a young woman who was busy with life until she was asked to travel to Europe with her grandfather to visit all his old World War II battle sites.
I knew I wanted to write this story so I could—in a small way—share the relationships with WWII veterans that have meant so much to me.
Remembering You is more than just a title. It’s my pledge as a writer. I will remember those who cared enough to share their stories. I will remember them with words on the page. I will remember them deep in my heart.
But even more than that I’d like you to consider the veterans in your life.
Is there a family member, neighbor or fellow church member who served? Make it your goal this month to call him or her.
Many veterans appreciate when someone is willing to listen. Maybe some of you writers might—like me—find a story in their words, but even if you don’t I bet you’ll find a friend.
More than that you’ll remind a veteran that what he or she did matters. Sometimes the best thing we can do for someone else is ordering a coffee and sitting back with an listening ear.
Make sure to stop by my Facebook this week for the chance to win a copy of Remembering You! Click here and here for more info.
Check out the original post at Seekerville.com.
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Andrea Cox says
Tricia, this article is so breathtaking. I can see why you write so much WWII fiction. Such amazing stories there. And Remembering You sounds like a wonderful story. Can’t wait to read it.