Monday, August 27, 2012

The Question is Why?

So, this being the modern age where fame is no longer judged in 15 minutes but 140 characters or less, some people have posed the question as to why I would take this incredible artifact and make it something the public could consume.

Contrary to popular belief, journalists are taught at some point to engage critical thinking on issues and to be as objective as possible. Whether we do it 100% percent of the time, however, is an entirely different matter (A lot of us don't really do so half the time, sad to say).

In this case, however, it's a fair point to weigh both sides of the argument, so here's the main criticisms which I've seen so far.

1.) I'm doing it for the money.
2.) I'd like to be famous.
3.) I'm a mooch who's taking advantage of my grandparents now that they're dead.

Let's start at the top:
1.) I have a good paying, full-time job in my chosen career field. In this economy, not a whole lot of people can say that, let alone that they even have a job period. I consider myself truly among the fortunate to be so lucky and for the record, I LOVE what I do. Being a journalist is what I've always wanted to be, and I'd even like to think I'm pretty good at it.

But I can get most of my bills paid every month (minus the dreaded student loans, which I'm still trudging through), pay my child support to my son, and even get to have the occasional good time at a restaurant or movie with my friends. All in all, could be a lot worse. That I know. I've been there. More times than I should've been.

That said, there isn't a person alive who doesn't undertake ANY creative endeavor not thinking even a little bit, "It would be nice to make a little money off this." Doesn't mean we're greedy. Means we're human beings who want to take in the fruits of our labor. I'm no different and nor do I hold myself as such.

2.) Even before I became a part of the media, I happened to meet and interact with some famous people, by virtue of working at a video store in a suburban Portland mall out of high school. I met Everclear frontman Art Alexakis at the height of his career, boxer Roy Jones Jr. also at the height of his career, as well as most of the Portland Trail Blazers (unfortunately, they were also the "Jail" Blazers of the time too.)

Name dropping aside, it's not like I have them on speed dial, but I saw how famous people had to interact with the "normal" crowds and how invasive that lifestyle can be. I don't claim to be an expert on fame, and in fact, I'm not entirely sure I'm programmed to handle it well. But I'm of the opinion of if it happens, it happens and I'll just roll with it as it comes.

Life's too short to spend it worrying about what may or may not even happen.

3.) This one irritates me a little. I loved my grandparents unconditionally. Even at a young age, they laid down the foundation for me of the sort of person I wanted to become when I got older. They taught me to treat people with respect, to be courteous, forthright, and honest. They taught me not to complain when something went wrong, to value education and to never stop the pursuit of learning. And they taught me that love is in fact a real, tangible thing which must be cherished for it to last a lifetime.

My grandmother has been gone for 25 years. My grandfather for 10. I miss them every day and I always will. This project is a way to honor the bond that they shared, while also giving us a glimpse into a pivotal point in our history. My hope is this book can become a tool which people use to educate themselves a little bit about our history, while also giving some life not just to my ancestors, but to other names, places, and events which may have been forgotten entirely had this extraordinary document never existed, or had that chance occasion 20 years ago in my grandfather's house never happened.

That's why.

Gone Viral...and not in a bad way was your weekend?

Mine started off at its usual clip, breakfast, shower, little TV. Then I remembered that I needed to check OregonLive to see how the story Katy Muldoon had wrote turned out, as well as the video Motoya Nakamura put together.

Needless to say, I was pretty stunned by it, as well as the reaction it got locally in the Portland/Metro area. In a slight bit of self-chastization, I must admit I think I watched the video on repeat for about an hour, realizing that yes, that's indeed me sitting there talking about the Scroll and my grandparents and doing my best to sound intelligent.

Never too old to become a narcissist I suppose.

By Sunday, I really thought that would be the end of it. The story was out online, as well as in the paper, and I assumed life would again continue as it has. Only it didn't quite work out that way.

Being a journalist, I peruse news compilation sites constantly looking for good stories. My favorite (for no reason other than it was the easiest name to remember) is And as I was scrolling down the news page...there it was. Our story....with a "COOL" tag next to it.

Once the shock wore off I posted the good news on my Facebook page, as is Standard Operating Proceedure, when a fellow journalist and friend from college says, "By the way, it's on Reddit too." That I wasn't expecting either and after about five solid minutes of sifting Reddit's convoluted listings for the link, I found it...

...and realized he had been the one to put it there. The shifty bugger.

Once that batch of shock wore off, my weekend was about over and it was time to return to the day job. Then I got a blip on my Facebook page this afternoon from my cousin back home telling me, "Do you know you're on Yahoo?!"

Uh...not really.

Turned out a reporter, Melissa Knowles caught wind of this little project of mine and decided to report on it. Unbeknownst to me, apparently my grandfather and Steven Segal are one and the same person. Except Mr. Segal broke boards with his hands. Gramps split them with a table-saw.

You can see the story here - World War II Letter Soldier Serves as Keepsake to Grandson

In all the stories I've written as a reporter, I know there's always that bit of hesitation on the part of the subject before they decide to put themselves out there. After all, we're not used to being public figures. We're just regular people who have fairly regular lives, or so we like to think.

For myself, it's been weird having the tables turned and being on this side of the magnifying glass. That said, I'm also so ecstatic at many of the responses I've gotten from people interested in seeing this project completed, it provides more and more motivation to get cracking on it and see it through to the end.

I hope when it's done, it's too your liking. Until then, there's a lot of work to do and we're blowing up the internets, as the kids like to say. Tally ho!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

This Just In...

So I woke up this morning and found this waiting for me on's webpage. The print version will be in the Sunday Oregonian tomorrow, August 26, but there is also a video attachment on this link, which I am still working on posting here.

Navy wife's incredibly long letter a detailed glimpse into home-front life of World War II

I'd like to thank both Oregonian reporter Katy Muldoon and photographer/videographer Motoya Nakamura for taking three hours out of their busy schedules (and being a fellow journalist I know better than most) to sit down and listen to me ramble and wax poetic about this project and what I ultimately hope to achieve.

I have no idea if this will make things easier going forward in the process, but right now, I'm just happy the story is out there for people to know about.

Holy crap...I'm actually a news story. Now I know how the people I cover every week feel.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Stop the Presses!

In trying to get some information out about the project, and being a journalist myself, the natural thing for me to do is compose an article I can give to the papers or TV to explain what I have, what I'm working on, and what I want to do with it.
The problem, though, is in the matter of professional ethics, which my Journalism professor, David Cassady, drilled into my head early on.
"A journalist is never the center of his own story," he said. 
In short, no matter how appealing this may be to people, I couldn't be the one to tell it, since I'm the focal point of it.
So, I got in touch with a fellow reporter at The Oregonian, whom I'd helped a little on another unrelated story, and asked if they might be interested in it.
I wasn't really expecting anything, but a few days later, I was contacted and asked to set up a time for an interview. That was in the middle of July, and I had to wait until last week to get it done, but done it is.
After nearly three hours of talking, notating, photographing and recording me reading excerpts from the Scroll, we got it done.
I was given no timetable on when I'll see it published (which is par for the course in this business and I tell people that all the time), but it appears it will be out before the end of the month.
When I have the links I'll post it here, there, and probably everywhere else.
In the meantime...Tally Ho.

Surveying the Landscape

Once I had the letter finished and everything documented, the weight of what I was about to undertake started sinking in.
On normal 8x11" paper, single-spaced, the Scroll comes out to about 88 pages and over 47,000 words. By comparison, The Great Gatsby is about 50,000 words in length and my present copy (in book form) is exactly 180 pages long.
From that, some 150 names were pulled, over 40 different locations, some which exist, some haven't for decades. There was also the historical aspect of the time to consider. From where I was able to start transcribing because of deterioration, my grandmother starts March 9, 1945, and finished around April 23, 1945. There are small pockets of time which are unaccounted for, but for the most part she was consistent. She may not have written a whole lot on a given day if there wasn't much to talk about, or considerably more if there was. 
In my early research however, there were two important historical points which occurred the same day.
1.) The United States began their three-day firebombing of Tokyo on March 9, 1945, and she never mentions it, so I can't confirm the public was informed.
2.) 66 years later, on March 9, 2011, at exactly 2:46 p.m. her great-grandson (a.k.a. my son) Daniel Erik was born. 
In realizing little historical quirks like that, as well as the progression of the war in both Europe and the Pacific by that time, I wasn't sure exactly how I was going to turn this massive amalgamation into a book?
And even if I did, how was I going to put it all together from the other side of the continent?
So I've gotten in touch with the Winchendon Historical Society, and mined as much information from my parents and relatives as I could. I've also started trying to track down Gramps's Naval record from his time in the SeaBees, but that looks like it will be tough slogging for right now.
Also, thanks to the economy, I have to come up with money to get the research done, which I don't have, so I'm in the process of assembling a Kickstarter campaign to see how it pans out.
I'll have more on that in the next few days, but for right now, the emphasis has been on getting this website up and running, and looking halfway decent for the short term at least.

So It Begins...

When I was 16 years old, I saw my paternal grandfather in person for the final time, and I didn't even know it.
He was living alone in the same house in my hometown of Winchendon, Massachusetts, which he'd shared with my grandmother since they'd gotten married in 1937. She had passed away seven years prior from cancer, just 15 days after they'd celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Gramps was 80 years old by then, and time had finally caught up with him. He didn't move with the strength he showed when I was a boy, and being without Gram made him quite lonely, even though his friends, daughter, and grandchildren would check on him often.
On this day, I was with my maternal grandmother, the only grandparent I have left, and we were visiting Gramps to see how he was doing.
As usual, he was sitting in his chair, telling the stories I think I've heard my whole life. Sadly, at that age, I wasn't really realizing that within a few years, he'd be gone as well, taking all those great stories with him.
I don't remember what caused him to go to the rather ordinary steel file cabinet in the corner of the room, but up he went, taking his time to open it up and pulling out something wrapped in an also rather ordinary sheet of notebook paper.
What emerged was something that until that moment, I had no idea existed, but knew it was something I wanted to have with me for the rest of my life.
It was a well-preserved roll of shelf lining paper, and upon it was a letter that Gram had written to him on a rickety old typewriter, nearly 50 years earlier.
I had always known my grandfather had served in World War II, even though I had no idea where or with which branch of the military. As a kid I used to lie that while he wasn't at D-Day, he was one of the guys lucky enough to come off the boats after the fighting had stopped, then helped the Allies beat the Nazis the following year.
When he explained what it was he was holding, I was immediately fascinated in the way that someone who shares my affection for history would be. The first thing I wanted to know was, how long was it? From the width, it looked like it was at least 10, maybe even 20 feet long! And what the heck did Gram put on this thing? What was underneath all those layers that no one had read in almost a full lifetime?
I never really asked him about it, so I never got an answer. I also didn't take it with me, because it would've been disrespectful to do so. I may have been a little kid when my grandmother was still alive, but even then, I knew what they meant to one another.
To take it would've been to take one of his last great memories of his wife, and I couldn't do that to him. It wouldn't have been fair.
What I consider the time of purest happiness in my entire life were the summer nights when even as a five-year-old, I'd walk the two blocks to their house from mine, and sit on the porch with a popsicle while they sipped lemonade, practicing the lost art of conversation.
When Gramps finally passed on January 1, 2002, my aunt called me and asked if there were any of his effects I'd like to keep. I told her I only wanted one thing.
I wanted the Scroll, and I wouldn't take no for an answer.
Five years passed until I finally had the chance to get it. When I went home for the first time in nearly 15 years, it was waiting for me, a little more worn on the top than it had been, but otherwise perfectly intact.
I carefully transported it back the 3,013 miles to my home in Oregon, and there it stayed, wrapped in a plastic bag and kept out of the sunlight to protect it. Only brought out once in a while to show it to friends or make sure it hadn't eroded further.
It wasn't until five years later, just a few months ago, that I was at the point where I decided to see what was on it, and I did so because I desperately needed an escape.
Anyone who's been through a divorce will tell you that it's probably the most brutal thing you can experience short of the death of a loved one. I'd already endured that when I was 18, not to mention a million other things I'd just as soon forget. 
Not long after my son was born, the years of trying to put on the good front and being the strong-minded guy finally caught up with me, and I broke down. Badly, and I'm not proud of it. Within months, I was on my own after alienating everyone else who dared stand by me in the aftermath and was totally, completely lost.
Like most people in this situation, I was looking for something to cling to. Something I could put my fractured mind into and keep myself from degrading any further than I had. It was then that I remembered the bundle I'd kept in my own file cabinet, and how I'd always planned to find out what was on it.
So I started to transcribe the Scroll, carefully uncoiling it a few inches at a time, and finding out what my Grandmother had told my Grandfather, now nearly 70 years ago.
It took nine days, working on it as soon as I got home from work until I was too exhausted to keep at it. Sometimes I'd only get a few hundred words down, or 5,000. It was a few hours a night where I could just sit down and not think about everything I was dealing with.
I could remember the good times I'd spent with my grandparents back when things truly were much simpler and much happier, and before I knew it, I'd reached the end.