Power of Words
I wrote this story during the run up to the first Gulf War in 1990. I was assigned to cover the local national guard group’s departure and had already written a story about them leaving the day before, based on a ceremony held in the town.
At about 4:30 a.m., I went over the armory and decided that rather than interview people and get some quotes, I’d just circle the room listening to what the departing guardsmen were saying to their friends and loved ones. I took notes on what I saw and heard.
Later that morning, I returned to the office and sat down at my desk and wrote this story in one burst, not really thinking too much about what I was writing but letting the mood of the morning work its way onto my keyboard.
I finished a couple other stories for the day’s newspaper and headed out for lunch. When I returned, the ladies in the front office were crying. I thought someone had died. Turned out they were moved by my story.
I knew that words had power to move people, but this was the first time that my words had deeply touched people. For weeks afterward I would have family members of the departing service men come up to me and tell me how much they appreciated this story.
The short article went on to win “Best Written News Story” in the 1991 West Virginia Press Association newspaper contest.
Mineral Daily News-Tribune, Keyser, W.Va., Dec. 11, 1990
By Steve Campbell, Staff Writer
Members of Battery C of the 201st Field Artillery, West Virginia Army National Guard, left Keyser for Fort Campbell, Ky., in the wee hours this morning.
Scores of area residents braved the cold and dark to line West Piedmont and Mineral streets early today to say goodbye as the bus loads of troops and trucks filled with gear left town under Keyser police and fire department escort.
While tears were shed at yesterday’s appreciation ceremony held in the parking lot of the Kelley National Guard Armory, this morning a quiet and stoic calm met the troops.
Family members and friends looked on as the 70 or so members of Battery C assembled before 5 a.m. in uniform with duffle bags and back packs, and loaded their gear onto green and brown camouflaged trucks.
There were plenty of donuts and coffee, as well as hugs and handshakes, in the armory gym this morning.
Grandparents held grandchildren, while moms and dads shared one long embrace.
Dads offered long, firm handshakes to sons leaving with the company. Departing fathers held children, some too small or too sleepy to remember the early morning goodbye.
A little girl with brown hair and bundled in a pink jacket hung onto a uniformed dad’s neck her arms tightly around his broad shoulders and her legs wrapped around his waste.
Another man held an infant son tight against his chest.
Few talked in quite tones. Most were silent. But, there were no tears.
Young men offered friends a pat on the back. Some relieved the awkward feeling with jokes and quiet laughter.
All said, “take care.”
Outside the armory a long pile of duffle bags waited loading.
Police cars and fire trucks waited to provide an escort through town. Lights flashed in the cold early morning air.
Down at the corner of West Piedmont and Mineral streets and over at the base of the bridge, a quiet crowd of over a hundred people shivered and waited for signs of the caravan.
Each set of headlights coming up West Piedmont brought expectation until finally the blue flashing lights of a Keyser patrol car indicated the time had arrived. The company departed in two groups, first the trucks and then the buses.
Gloved hands offered muffled applause and a cheer went up as the faces of the Guardsmen pressed against bus windows to look out as they passed.
The Keyser High Key Club carried signs and a pair of veterans stood guard with the United State flag at the base of Memorial Bridge.
After the processional, the crowd left for home.
Battery C was on its way to war.
Here’s a pdf of the story: