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February 11, 2012

Don McAllister: Dovetailing on a great column with a word on encouragement

ANDERSON, Ind. — Every day starts a new story, and this one tips its hat to a great column that recently appeared in The Herald Bulletin by Jesse Wilkerson where he emphasized the value of choosing one’s words. His premise was that a person who chooses positive words in their general conversation will have a better day than one who spouts about their bad luck. There’s an element of that in how one uses encouragement and handles discouragement.

One of our more colorful interviews was with Marine Sgt. Russell Fuller. Russell and his friend Red were stationed on an almost invisible Pacific outpost called Green Island. They had a landing strip that could handle B-17s, but there wasn’t much more to the place. One day, while Russell and Red were walking the beach, a PBY crashed on the shore. The plane erupted into flames and the ammunition started to explode with men inside. Russell and Red rushed to pull the injured men from the burning wreckage. Their lieutenant heard the explosion and ran to a nearby hillside to direct his men. He was shouting and pointing to no avail as Russell and Red were focused on the plane and couldn’t hear him over the explosions. A few days later, their captain decided there should be a medal ceremony to recognize the rescuers’ bravery. In Russell’s words, “Guess who got the medal — the lieutenant.”

 Russell didn’t let this lack of recognition ruin his life. He had seen true discouragement first-hand when it broke his father’s spirit as he lost the farm in the Great Depression.

I admire those who suffer blow after blow and continue to rise and press on. These are acts of courage that rarely receive a medal. They know the value of true encouragement but are not dependent upon it. Look at celebrities whose lives are ruined by false sycophantic adulation.

Encouragement by itself ranks low as a “need” against air, water, shelter, etc., but it can be a light in the darkness when given and received properly. When I wrote my novels I liked them, but they had no real value till I received the heartfelt encouragement of my readers.

Almost every week someone will say how much they like this column. My first inclination is to remember the words of coach Phil Buck, “Don’t get the big head.” The true worth of this column is in how it connects our community to values that really matter. When I was leaving the Author’s Fair at the Anderson Library I met a gentleman who thanked me for the column. It had become a connection to his father who had served our country. That meant a lot to me.

What if we gave more encouragement to our teens, our poor, our infirmed? How about those 1 percenters who risk their wealth to create jobs only to be vilified, or people who step forward for public service and face constant ridicule? Perhaps if we exercised more encouragement we might open our newspapers to better stories.

Don McAllister directs the National Veteran’s Historical Archive. His column appears the second Sunday of each month. He can be reached at nvha01@hotmail.com. Website: www.nvharchive.org

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