By Mr. Stephen Standifird (Leonard Wood)January 7, 2016
As a journalist for the better part of 20 years, I have had the opportunity to see some amazing things, do things others only dream about and talk to some very interesting people.
So when I got the email suggesting I accompany a World War II veteran and his Family during their tour of the Fort Leonard Wood John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex, I thought it would be just another "run-of-the-mill" story to occupy my time during Holiday Block Leave.
I anticipated the story would focus on the veteran and his thoughts about the museum and how accurate it is, based on what he remembered during his time in Europe in the 1940s.
My perspective toward this story changed after we made our way through the Engineer Museum.
When I met Robert White, his daughter and son-in-law, I felt as though I was going to be more of a distraction for them. I wanted to stay in the background as they walked through the museum. They surely didn't need a reporter and his camera distracting them with photos and questions at every turn. So I just observed.
It was when we came to the World War II section that the demeanor of the group changed.
White served in the Army from December 1944 until the end of WWII. He was a bridge-builder, and to an extent Explosive Ordinance Disposal, since he recalls having to clear mines. He also served during the Korean War, as a supply clerk. Those were the areas of the museum that opened him up a little to remember what being there was like for him.
"I had wanted to forget about some of it," he said. "It wasn't very pleasant when you lost people. This brought back some of the things that were close to me that I didn't want to really talk about."
While opening up a little more than he had previously was difficult, it was something that meant a lot to his daughter.
"(It) makes me sad sometimes thinking about my dad," Mary Sheffield Wray said. "He's 91 now, and he never talked about the war. Now I have an opportunity to learn something about his life that he kept very private."
This was the story. This is the most important part of why a reporter was asked to tag along with this veteran and his Family. I was there to help his daughter learn about a private part of her father's life. At least, that's what it became for me.
It hit me hard, because I missed out on asking my great-grandfather about his time serving in the Navy as a Seabee in WWII. I didn't understand at the time what it meant when he said he was on Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. I missed out on sitting with my grandfather who was in the Army as a bridge-builder in Germany during the Korean War. I didn't ask the questions and therefore missed out on hearing their story.
"If we don't ask those questions -- I know it's hard sometimes -- but if we don't ask them, something valuable passes," Wray said.
In addition to getting to see how great the Fort Leonard Wood John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex is, this Family had the opportunity to get answers to questions that otherwise might have been left unasked.
They were not like the glamorous subjects I had interviewed before, but they will always be one of the more personal interviews I have conducted.
Thank you, Robert White and Family, for giving me the opportunity to experience a part of your story.