Thank you, Veterans ...

for the battles we haven't heard stories about yet


11/9/20233 min read

a group of men sitting on top of a giant telescope
a group of men sitting on top of a giant telescope

Disclaimer: this story is only loosely related to the lake :)

It was November in the late 90s, and I was a young features writer at The Buckeye Lake Beacon. I was tapping away at a computer keyboard on a sleepy afternoon when a man came into the newsroom who said he had fought in World War II. He explained he and his four friends from the Navy were now spread all over the U.S., but they still got together every year at one of their houses to catch up.

It was his turn to host his buddies there at the lake, and he wondered if I might want to join them for lunch the following week. With Veteran’s Day that same week, my boss heard “cover story.” For my own part, I was happy to get to hang out in a cozy living room looking through old photo albums with these men and their four wives. They told boyish stories of pranks, adventurous stories at foreign ports, and scary stories of life on an active battleship. I scribbled down words here and there, not really as concerned about how the feature would come together as I was mesmerized by the way four perspectives layer into great stories.

Then one of them mentioned Dec. 7, and the energy in the room changed. There was a beat of silence, and I looked up from a photo album.

“Wait. Were you all … at Pearl Harbor in 1941?” I asked.

It proved to be the last question I would really ask that afternoon because, yes, they had been on a battleship at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. And when one of the men shared a story of that morning, softly and hesitantly, I ceased to exist for them except to serve as the place they could lay these stories down as they unpacked them.

That story led to another. By the third memory, they were making connections between one explosion and another explosion, between one sailor and another, and they were wiping away tears. One of them would put his hand on his friend’s shoulder while he talked. They’d alternately pinch at the tension at the bridge of their noses, sniffle, stare out the window as though watching films they’d seen again and again in their minds - alone - for decades.

I had put my notebook away.

In the adjoining kitchen, I saw their four wives gathered into a knot together, arms linked, weeping softly. I slipped out to them, and one of them told me, “They’ve never talked about it. Not one time. More than half a century, and this is the first time they’ve talked about it.”

I always feel honored by peoples’ stories: honored that they trust me with them, honored by the people they’ve become because of those stories. But it’s difficult to capture the way that little get-together at the lake impacted me. For the first time, it wasn’t a documentary production at school, no book or article from some online database.

It was natural to thank those veterans. I thanked them for their service to our country, of course, for setting aside their entire lives for years to fight for freedom. I also thanked them for the lives they went on to lead in spite of, or even because of, the trauma they’d endured … and, make no mistake, it was trauma. I heard it. And then they’d gone on to be husbands, fathers, business owners, and leaders of their communities. I thanked them for recognizing that what they’d shared was important enough that it was worth gathering over every single year. I thanked them for teaching me about why silence is sometimes necessary and also why there’s a time to end that silence.

Of course, these reunions are getting smaller and harder to find because of time passing. Even the reunions of Vietnam veterans - like my step-father’s annual Navy get-together with the guys from the USS Great Sitkin and their wives - have fewer attendees each year. If your community has an event to honor veterans this week, I hope you have the opportunity to be there and be thankful in person. If you get any of their stories in the process, you’re blessed indeed. But I’m always humbled when I think about the stories they’ve yet to be able to tell. Even to one another.

To God, I’m thankful that no one else at The Beacon especially enjoyed doing feature/human interest stories so that I got to have lunch with that group of old friends on a late fall day and get a glimpse of a battle that goes on and on.


Kim Garee is a reporter-turned-educator who has a novel coming out in 2024 set in 1946 Buckeye Lake featuring a main character just returning from WW2.