Every day starts a new story. This one is about making friends in the valley of death.

Scheduling these interviews is often a mater of divine intervention. Sometimes we get a cancellation or a gap in the schedule when someone comes forth with a situation that fills that gap as if it were custom tailored. It becomes quickly apparent that God wants us to do this interview NOW! I can think of three such perfect fits.

The first was with Pendleton’s Joe Burch. It our first schedule break in two months when our good friend Nicky Thompson wrote that Joe had leukemia and wanted to do an interview. To look at Joe you would have thought he was in his prime. Joe was one of those everyday quiet guys who doesn’t draw much attention but who makes the fabric of America strong.

I liked best his early family history. Both parents suffered from chronic health problems and were often unable to work, so they lived in the poorest of conditions. When things seemed to be their worst there was an Amish family who would somehow know. They would drive their buggy up to the Burch’s porch, quietly drop off some jars of canned food and drive away before the Burch family could open the door. Imagine a country where people care for each other without expecting anything in return.

A few weeks later I delivered several copies of the interview for his family. In that short time Joe had diminished significantly. It breaks your heart to see the look on a man being slowly eaten by a shark and powerless to do anything about it. Was it coincidence that we held that interview when we did?

I was at another gap in the schedule when our good friends Rene and Ginny Defourneaux wrote that Indianapolis’ Bill Whalen had terminal cancer and wanted an interview. I was afraid that Bill would be too medicated or tired to complete a full interview, but he surprised us with a lengthy story about his service on LSM’s. It seems that he was so involved in the interview that he simply had no mind for the pain. The LSM was the smallest vessel in the Navy allowed to travel long distances on its own. It was a key part of every Pacific invasion. An interesting design, it had the stability of a bathtub and an odd conning tower that looked like a smokestack.

Bill had a sharp mind and a great story. A few weeks later Bill dropped his treatment and went into hospice. Was it a coincidence that we were able to do that interview when we did?

May 5: We had a fellow scheduled for an interview, but he had to cancel at the last minute. I didn’t think we had time to reschedule, so I planned for a night off with the family. That’s the day Cicero’s Janet Harmon called to request an interview with Strawtown’s Harry Clements. Harry had bone cancer. Again I wondered if he would be up to the task, but again I was surprised with one of our longer interviews. Harry was in bed the whole time, but his countenance and voice was strong. Harry served aboard the cruiser USS Honolulu during the Pearl Harbor attack. The Honolulu was bombed at Pearl Harbor and later torpedoed near and sailed to Tulagi for repairs. John Kennedy served in Tulagi on the PT 109. After the war Harry operated a business in California. One day he was called to Audie Murphy’s home to install a hitch on Audie’s new car. Movie star, Medal of Honor recipient and all, Audie crawled under the car to help Harry.

Harry died 30 days after the interview. I was stunned. Was it just a coincidence that we got to Harry when we did?

As we left his home, I turned one last time. What I saw was a fellow surrounded by a family channeling their love to this remarkable man. That picture will always be a part of my story.

Don McAllister is the director of the National Veteran’s Historic Archive. He can be reached at nvha01@hotmail.com and Web site www.nvharchive.org.

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