I hadn’t worked at the Mt. Vernon Register-News long when I received a call for a potential feature story. The Clint Eastwood movie “Flags of Our Fathers” was about to hit theaters, and a home nurse called the paper to recommend a personality profile on a local man who fought during the World War II battle.
To date, Hal was one of my favorite interviews ever. He was funny. He was charming, and he told harrowing stories of battle. He recalled how he knew he was under attack was when watched a bullet from enemy fire slice a blade of grass in half. He almost died twice that day, he said.
I did not think about Hal again until six months later when his obituary ran in our pages. He had made such an impact on my life that I decided I wanted to attend his wake.
I arrived about an hour after start time. Immediately, a family member asked me who I was. I told him and then I was asked another question.
“That was you?”
As it turned out, Hal’s life changed after the article was published. Family members said he was able to relive his war days. He was invited to talk to a couple elementary classrooms. He even reconnected with his estranged daughter who lived in Florida.
You helped make those last months the best time of his life, his family said. A copy of my article was even posted next to the casket.
I think this is what community journalism is all about. As journalists, it is easy to get caught up in the daily operations, but what we do really can have an impact on individual lives. I will always remember Hal and his story because it taught me firsthand how simple assignments can mean so much.