I’ve got a picture somewhere of him and I. He’s wearing a VFW hat. I’m trying to look like I lived in the 40s — shortish skirt, funny hat, crisp blouse tucked in.
We were at a Pearl Harbor Day remembrance event. I had written his story, part of a county-wide project matching high school students with World War II veterans.
And I had fallen in love with telling stories.
I don’t know when Earl died. I don’t remember his last name, so I can’t look it up. I know he was aging when I met him, sitting in the booth at Dairy Palace while my mother ran the video camera and I tried to take notes. He was aging, but he was ready to tell his story and the things he said, I remember them. Hints and shadows of the darkness, the horror, of trench warfare slid in and out of his words. So did the strangeness of war — how they had an unofficial ceasefire on Christmas Day, then went about trying to kill each other again the day after.
We talked a long, long time. I didn’t know how to ask the questions that would have drawn out the story, but I didn’t need too.
I remember struggling to turn my notes into something clear. I hadn’t read many newspapers, did not know how a news story flows, so I wrote the only way I knew how: starting at the beginning, when the bombs fell and a teenage Earl signed up to serve, to the end, his marriage and his life back home in Texas.
The woman running the project, she loved it. She offered me a freelance job (unpaid – but what an opportunity for a high school student!). She said it was one of the best pieces she received.
Earl liked it, too.
And I? I was intoxicated.
I wrote a letter-to-the-editor the next year, a thank you to Earl for his service. The newspaper ran it. His family said he was touched, surprised to see his name again.
And then life moved in. I don’t know how much longer Earl lived. I was published two, three more times, but oddly decided nursing was a better career (it probably would have been).
I changed my mind two weeks in, and then we moved.
But ever Pearl Harbor Day I remember Earl, and how he woke in me the love of telling stories.
So thank you, Earl, for serving so many decades ago. And thank you for your more recent service – the one you maybe didn’t realize you did – of starting a teenager on the road to journalism.