WOSTER: Don’t let the light of good memories be extinguishedAs both the old year and the long war in Iraq come to an end, I find myself thinking of several South Dakota soldiers whose lives touched me even though I never knew them before being given the assignment as a newspaper reporter to learn more about then as casualties of the distant fighting.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
As both the old year and the long war in Iraq come to an end, I find myself thinking of several South Dakota soldiers whose lives touched me even though I never knew them before being given the assignment as a newspaper reporter to learn more about then as casualties of the distant fighting.
News reporters are asked to cover a wide range of different events and activities, some joyful, some tragic. If they work for any length of time in a small state like South Dakota during a period of war, it is inevitable that at some point they will be assigned to cover the funeral of a soldier. I received that assignment too many times during the fighting in Iraq.
I dreaded each assignment, because the sadness in a prairie community over the loss of a son or daughter can take your breath away, even if you are a stranger only there to record the event for others to read far away from the site.
I cherished each assignment, too, at least as much as I dreaded it, because every casualty among the young men and women a country sends to do its fighting should be treated with respect and dignity, and every life taken before its time should be given a chance to have its story told.
I tried to make each assignment to a soldier’s funeral the best piece of writing in my power, but each time, after I had filed the last piece of the day and was driving home through the gathering darkness, I felt as if my best effort had been inadequate, unworthy of the soldier being honored.
I remember some details of each of my assignments: The shadows cast by the lights in a small-town gymnasium (the only place big enough to hold all the mourners), the creaking of metal folding chairs spread across the floor of a community center, the smell of burning sage and the pattern of a star quilt spread across an easel at the entrance of a gym, the way the cold pinched the toes of mourners walking a December street alongside a flag-draped coffin in a horse-drawn buckboard, and the combination of grief and pride in the voices of townspeople as they shared personal moments from their relationship with the young soldier.
Folks in small towns come together for one another in times of trouble in a way that is inspiring to witness. During moments such as the funeral of a soldier, it seemed to me that all of us in South Dakota were small-town folks.
During those assignments when I covered the funeral of a soldier and learned from family and friends some stories of his or her life, I found a certain comfort in the notion that we all are from a shared background in this state.
My little brother has a friend who, when the brother was having some personal struggles, offered to come see him when he was ‘’in the neighborhood.’’ The friend lived at the opposite end of the state.
My brother said it would be a huge effort for the friend to actually be in the neighborhood. The friend replied, “South Dakota is my neighborhood.’’
It’s something to remember when our soldiers return from this strange, long war. We are neighbors, and we’ve missed the young men and women who represented us and their country. When we get the opportunity, it would be nice to tell them as much.
This time of year, I find myself listening to a Peter, Paul and Mary version of a song called “Light One Candle.’’ The closing lyrics are:
“What is the memory that’s valued so highly that we keep it alive in that flame? What’s the commitment to those who have died? We cry out, ‘They’ve not died in vain.’
“We have come this far, always believing that justice will somehow prevail. This is our burden and this is our promise, and this is why we shall not fail.
“Don’t let the light go out, it’s lasted for so many years. Don’t let the light go out, let it shine through our love and our tears.”