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Jen's World: Veterans' stories awe and inspire

I tell a lot of my own stories in this space.

Some might argue that I tell more than I should. Like my husband. Or, perhaps, the man sitting next to me at the last Americana Showcase, when a fellow attendee brought up my 2006 bra fitting column. (I'm telling you, when I die, people are going to say, "Wasn't that the woman who wrote about her bra fitting?" For better or worse, my friends, that's going to be my legacy.)

As much as I enjoy sharing my own stories, it can be even more rewarding to tell others' stories. Especially when those stories awe or inspire me. And, to be honest, I'm usually hard pressed to find a person who doesn't have a story that awes or inspires me.

This month, as it so happens, I sat down with six different people who shared their awe-inspiring stories with me: Six area U.S. veterans who, collectively, served in five different wars, and agreed to let me tell their stories in Rochester Magazine.

They ranged in age from 42 to 90. They saw action in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War. They ran the gamut of experience from serving in the front lines as a Marine in Saipan, to providing medical support in Texas as part of the Women's Army Corps.


During the course of the last month, these veterans sat with me in living rooms, at dining room tables, and in coffee shops and recounted stories with such detail you'd swear they happened last week.

Like this one from Merlyn Thisius, who served in World War II: "We headed to Iwo Jima, but we never did land there. We were on a reserve ship, and I was on gun watch. Suicide planes — kamikaze pilots — hit the ship ahead and the ship behind us. Guys were swimming and we were trying to pick them up out of the water. How we were missed, I don't know."

And this one from Merle Peterson, who served as a soldier in Korea: "When we were in Busan, our battalion became part of a task force that broke out of that Busan Perimeter. We went 123 miles in a 24-hour period into enemy territory ... until we ran into enemy tanks. They were Russian T-34 tanks, and they stopped our column and tried to surround it — front, back and side. By morning, we had eight of the tanks destroyed."

This one, from Barb Stiles, who was a medical corpsman in the Women's Army Corps during the Vietnam War: "One woman overdosed on her husband's anti-malarial drugs. She couldn't face her husband returning to the war zone. ... It's not just the people who are shot in combat who are affected by war."

Or this one, from Tracy Crouse, who served in the Air Force for 20 years, including during the Iraq War: "By the time I arrived in Iraq, I was married with two children — a son and a daughter. Being away from them was hard. I think it's especially hard as a mom. My husband is a good man and dad, so I knew they were being taken care of ... but it's difficult not to be there. My kids grew so much while I was gone — and I felt like I was missing a lot — their smiles and their hugs and all the moments in between."

These are, of course, just tidbits. Small tastes of the stories I heard and was honored to retell this month. If you'd like to hear more — like I did — from these veterans and others, I invite you to check out the "Faces from the Field" article in the March issue of Rochester Magazine.


Before I go, one long overdue note. When my grandmother passed away in January, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of messages and cards sent by readers. Please know that I have read and appreciated every kind word of condolence you sent my way, even if I have not responded to you personally. Over the last eight-plus years of writing this column, I've always felt that I'm writing to friends — but never so much as I did this January.


Thank you.

Jennifer Koski is assistant editor at Rochester Magazine. Her column appears Wednesdays. Send comments to news@postbulletin.com.

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