Their stories need to be told

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

The first time I came to Williston was Veterans Day 2005.

I was living and working in Chiefland and I volunteered to cover an event in Heritage Park.

I didn't know what to expect. I'd been in Florida about three months and had never even ventured to Williston.

I was not disappointed.

That night, as he has done for many years, Mayor Gerald Hethcoat emceed a moving tribute to all branches of the military. When the high school band began playing the anthems for each branch, I couldn't hold the tears back as I watched men and women, some crippled with age and infirmities, stand as their song was played.

I thought of my own father, wounded Nov. 30, 1950 on the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Shot twice and stabbed with a bayonet 16 to 18 times, he was left for dead on the frozen tundra. He survived but carried the anguish of war until the day he died.

For the last several weeks, the newspaper issued the call to honor military men and women in this week's edition.

While Veterans Day is set aside to honor the living, I didn't split hairs and accepted any photograph of people who served our country.

While most arrived via email, it is the ones that came into my office that left lasting impressions.

"I'm proud of my daddy," said the son of Capt. Robert C. Whitener, who graces our front page – decked out in uniform and medals.

Capt. Whitener didn't talk a lot about his service, I learned, but what his son knows is enough.

I shared with him that it's been my experience that those who serve usually take one of two paths: they never stop talking or they say little. Each deals with wartime the best way he knows.

My own brother, Eugene, served in Vietnam. I was a little girl and barely remember anything but my parents' worry and baking cookies to send overseas.

Eugene said very little about his time in country. When the movie Platoon came out, he went, although he seldom went to the theater.

"It's pretty close," was all he offered afterward.

Lee Thomas Sr.'s daughter said her father was another that didn't talk much. He was in the Aleutian Islands, she said, and there wasn't much good to say.

The movie Hacksaw Ridge is out now and tells the story of a conscientious objector from Virginia who never carried a gun, and yet saved 75 men during the fierce fighting in the Pacific.

Mr. Thomas was in the same Pacific area as PFC Desmond Doss. Perhaps they knew one another, we mused.

E-5 Jesse Reddish brought a picture into my office last week. I scanned it and started taking information and then realized this was him. I would have never guessed. Today's Jesse Reddish is significantly thinner than the one pictured. And oddly, he has a lot more hair NOW than he did back then.

"But 50 years have passed," he and I laughed.

Mr. Reddish served 11 years in Korea, Europe and Vietnam.

"I'm thankful for the experience," he said, "but I wouldn't want to do it again."

The last picture to come into the office was late Monday afternoon.

Ezra Henson had called over the weekend asking if it was too late to pay tribute to his father who died in World War II.

Never, I told him.

The younger Mr. Henson is about 72 years old.

"So you say your father was killed in World War II?" I asked as I took his photo to scan.

Mr. Henson Sr. was wounded in Papua, New Guinea and died from gangrene, I learned.

"I never knew my father," the man across from me said. In fact, the senior Mr. Henson died when his son was only a month old.

The Red Cross wrote letters for his father to send back home, and through them and the stories he gleaned, he did know his father – and he's proud. Very proud.

This is the part of my job I love. The learning of people, the sharing of stories and the joys and sorrows that accompany them.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year's Veterans Day tribute. Thank you to our advertisers who sponsored the pages.

And more importantly, thank you to the men and women who put their lives on the line in the name of freedom.

You are the heroes and I am grateful.