My column last Sunday generated quite a few responses from readers, all with valuable suggestions about the stories we ought to be looking for.
They include the need for more investigative pieces (deep-dives), enterprise and most of all, human-interest stories, those that showcase ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Speaking of deep-dives, this is what I always say to young journalists: we must be bearers of light rather than talebearers.
I also received several suggestions on getting more historical stories in the paper. I value these interactions and these will help us to better reflect the communities we cover.
I consider myself a storyteller. There’s nothing better than delving into someone’s life and doing justice by writing a piece that illustrates a life well lived.
In my many travels, I’ve encountered interesting people I now call my dearest friends, not only because of their life stories but also because of their humility and their genuine love for their fellow men.
Mind you, some of my encounters weren’t intended to solicit stories, but rather develop a relationship — it just morphed into something else.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
Right before Christmas 2006, I spent a great deal of time with Joe Morrison, a Korean War veteran from Missouri.
Morrison was a member of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, which was part of the United Nations’ multination contingency under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The unit battled a 70,000-strong Chinese Army in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
Morrison’s “home” from 1950 to 1953 was the Pyok Tong prison camp in North Korea. One thousand days with life on hold, he told me during one of our conversations over coffee, was the sum of his captivity, a dark period where he learned the meaning of loneliness. He said he had seen his comrades wither away and die inside the prison camp. Those who were left encouraged each other with the thought they couldn’t die because “we will all go home.”
His experiences as a POW did not sting as much as when he came home: He thought everything would be better.
With tears in his eyes, Morrison, a Black man, told me: “I’m a Missouri farm boy raised on a farm. I’ve been shot on that battlefield, almost died, held prisoner, and yet the most devastating thing when I came home was I could not ride on the front of the bus.”
He carried that experience, that thought until the day he died at 78 in 2010.
Then there’s the story about a young Philippine Army sergeant I had one conversation with one summer day in 1991 when I was a young reporter embedded in the Philippine military during their many bloody encounters with communist insurgents in the mountains and Muslim extremists in the south.
During one mission, I sat next to Sarge in an Army chopper — he was the gunner. The young sergeant was alert, his finger on the trigger and his sights scanning for any signs of the enemy on the ground below us.
We casually talked during the flight. He told me about his family and his desire to serve his country. He told me about his childhood and how he sold fruits and vegetables from a street stand to supplement his family’s income.
We talked about faith and how he puts his trust in God’s will and guidance.
During intervals, the soldier shared his love story. This warrior’s face lit up as he began telling me about the woman he was about to marry and how excited he was to finish his tour.
Sadly, that much anticipated event in his life didn’t happen.
He went home days later inside a flag-draped coffin.
Sarge died during a firefight the evening we landed. He was shot before the helicopter was able to take off. His body rested on top of the very weapon he was manning while he sat next to me just a few hours earlier.
It was hard to write the story. But I focused on the young soldier’s life rather than his tragic death.
Stories like Joe’s and the sarge’s keep our feet on the ground and create an understanding we are not in this world alone — and we need to look out for our neighbors.
Stories like these make us realize there are more important things in life than wealth or fame.
Through stories about humanity, we can recognize the faults of our the past so we can look forward to a future of love, equality, peace and reignite the desire to enjoy the simplest things.
Indeed, we have a duty to report the bad as well, but often we neglect the beauty inside each community — the thread that binds us all as we journey through this thing we call life.
We have a good size area, and I’m sure there are stories out there waiting to be told.
John Mangalonzo is the editor of The Paducah Sun. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @jmangalonzo.