A fellow who happens to be a dear friend to The Leader visited our office last week to share a story about a local high school. I changed the subject quickly because we needed him to tell us a different story.
As this now-retired gentleman and I talked, I asked if he knew about the veteran project we started a few months ago. He didn’t, and there’s a chance many of you don’t, either.
If you haven’t heard, The Leader will enter new ground as a publishing company this fall with the release of our first community-focused book called Our Veterans. We actually go to press with the book in a few weeks, and it’s scheduled to arrive back to our office shortly before Veterans Day in November.
For the past few months, we’ve scoured our area of Houston, in search of photos of the men and women who served in the military and were born, raised or lived in The Leader’s coverage area. In the process, we’ve been introduced to more than 100 people eager to tell their stories.
Some folks have walked in our office with a single Polaroid, hopeful we could make something decent of the grainy image. Others, as you might imagine, have walked in with albums and paraphernalia and dog tags, more than happy to spend an hour explaining their role in our nation’s security and freedom.
When my old friend came to visit The Leader office two weeks ago, I asked if he brought his photos to share with readers of our book. Something struck me about his answer – and it’s something that seems important to share.
In not so many words, he told me he had put all his military photos in an album, although he wasn’t quite sure where that album was anymore. Some years ago, he decided to chronicle his military service and pass the book along to his children and their children.
“I’ll probably give it to them, if I can find it, and then they’ll probably throw it away when I’m gone,” he said.
The man in my office was a gregarious fellow named Howard Moon. Many of you may know him, and there’s always a chance Howard’s self-deprecation was just that. But for some reason, I’m not so sure.
I believe there’s a sentiment that service to our country isn’t quite what it used to be. The rugged battles of World War I and World War II are mere cinematic storylines, because the real stories, told by the men and women who walked on enemy soil, have been lost with the last tombstones.
We’ve all seen the images of Vietnam – the soldiers who returned home, unsure of which political party lined the reception halls. Ever since then, and ever since our veterans have faced scrutiny over idolatry, I think our perception of veterans has changed. I think we look at them as mercenaries more than the heroes they are.
So as I talked to Howard Moon, and heard his half-hearted quips of what his military photos might mean to his children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren, I felt more convinced that the project we’ve embarked upon at The Leader is one that might serve our neighborhoods for years and generations to come.
As I explained to Howard: Bring us your photos so they’re more than just a part of a family album. Make them part of a community album. Books – the hardcover kind we’ll release in November – are more than just plastic sheets covering old halftone images.
For those who don’t know, the purpose of The Leader’s Our Veterans book is to preserve the images and the memories and the stories and, mostly, the service of the people who live among us. No matter what folks like Howard Moon believe, there will be a day when folks like me and you look back, awestruck, at the people who risked their lives to preserve our freedom to disagree. There will be generations of youngsters who don’t understand that the political conversations today – the reason we stand in front of cameras and devour our opponents – is because men and women before us fought to sustain our freedoms.
I know that sounds cliché, and I know there are many of my age group who hear those words and think I’m reciting lines from story books or political talking points. But I’m not. Not after what I’ve seen the past three months at our office.
I’ve seen wives walk in with photos of their husbands, intent on having their loved ones forever memorialized to the people who live here.
I’ve seen sons reveal mountains of documents – draft papers, dog tags, withering photos – of their fathers, who died too early because of a love for country.
I’ve seen veterans stand in our office, too meek to say otherwise, beam with pride as we scanned old photos of their time on foreign land to protect our soil.
If you can’t tell, I’m as excited about The Leader’s new venture as I’ve been about any project we’ve done in this community over the past seven years.
In another month or so, we’ll have these lasting books in hand, and it’s a project we hope our readers, and the children of our readers, appreciate holding as much as we’ve appreciated compiling.
Hardcover books, just like the one we’ll publish this fall, have a way of being passed from generation to generation. We view this as a service, and we hope the people who live and work in our community will see it the same way.
As for Howard, he never sent us the photos we requested. He’s too humble for that sort of thing. But his story, and the ones of friends who fought battles alongside him, will be forever etched in Our Veterans.
If you want more information about this book, send me an email. It’s a proud moment for me and our paper.