The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
By Elaine Slater Reese
Elaine Slater Reese is a freelance writer in Spring Green, Wi. who grew up in Hancock County - near Bowen, Illinois
The high school junior was elated. Only this school year had he joined those working on the school newspaper. He discovered he enjoyed all aspects of that venture.
Now, he had his first real assignment. "I need an article on Memorial Day," the editor had told him. That should be easy. Memorial Day was just a holiday - one where his family and many others he knew drove to cabins, summer homes on lakes and opened them up for the long awaited season.
But the subject of the article was to be -THE COST OF WAR. How difficult could it be to write about that? He would just go on line and get the info the needed.
The media was constantly reporting what the war cost per day. He had no idea what the budget for tanks, weapons, etc. was. And the forces had to be fed and clothed and transported. The figures he found were staggering. But then he saw reports on the pages telling of the casualties of the war.
The young reporter found himself going over and over this info. Somehow the lists of name after name drew him into a world he had no idea of.
Before he realized it, the clock struck three in the morning. He continued to sit glued to his computer. He went from lists of casualties in current conflicts back and back to those in the years past.
He found himself overwhelmed. Suddenly the staggering dollar amounts of the cost of war were not his focus. He realized the cost of war was more than dollars.
Early the next day, he started pouring over lists of casualties in his vicinity.
He spent the morning on the phone randomly trying to contact family members of deceased veterans. He was able to set up appointments to meet with some that afternoon and evening.
When he returned home late and started to work on his notes, he could not think where to start. He had asked each one he talked with his question - WHAT IS THE COST OF WAR?
He stared at his notes. He had listed the ones interviewed and their replies. There was the twenty three year old widow whose toddler clung closely to her.
The answer she gave - "The cost of war? Being in the delivery room with no one beside me - no husband to hold my hand. The cost is this son who will grow up having never seen or known his father."
There was the mother of four - one hungry, two fighting, and one crying. She looked exhausted. I saw the stack of bills on the corner of the table.
She could barely speak as she explained they had to move soon - that she could no longer afford to keep the house she and her husband had dreamed of and built.
Another note was about the teenage brother and sister who were now more mature than their peers. Never would their older brother tease them again.
Never would they go to movies together - open Christmas presents together. Never would they work together to help their parents when they could no longer care for themselves.
A father sat in his worn chair - holding on fervently to its arms. He seemed to need that support to even try to answer my question.
"The cost of war? The cost was our daughter. She was the only one in our family to ever graduate from college. Then they sent her to that foreign land. She was proud to serve this country. What do I remember? The knock at our door late one evening. Nothing in our lives will ever be the same again."
Those answers had all been from the hearts of Americans. The journalist went over more and more notes. He purposely had shoved one aside.
He gently picked it up. By the streetlight he could see the peeling paint on the very small OLD house. The two wooden steps creaked and swayed as he went up to the porch.
There was no doorbell. It seemed to take forever for her to get to the door.
Her walker was her support but he could see immediately how very fragile her worn body was. He had the feeling that nothing in this old "parlor" had changed in years.
As he adjusted to the light of the one very small lamp on an end table, he tried to focus on what he saw across the room. The aged piano was covered with dust.
But sitting on top were two old 8x10 framed photos. Both were of soldiers. They looked a lot alike - perhaps brothers. But that was not so. One was her husband who went to war at the age of 22. The other was her son who went at age 19.
NEITHER EVER CAME HOME AGAIN.
The tears streamed down the frail old woman's face as she told their stories. And how for years she had been alone. But there was no bitterness in her words or her voice - just sadness. "All this was our payment for the privilege of living in America - the greatest land of all," she said. As the reporter stared at this last note, he saw where his own teardrops had smeared the ink. It didn't matter that his editor wanted facts and figures about the cost of war. He started typing his article on THE COST OF FREEDOM.