By Tom Noreen
Over 130 people enjoyed the presentation last Thursday evening, October 22, at Cedar Springs Middle School, of A Thousand Letters Home: Journey of the Letters, by author Teresa Irish.
Irish is a gifted storyteller with a mission to remind us of the war that changed the world and the over 16 million men and women who served in uniform during that time. Her father, Bud Irish, wrote 1,000 letters home to his fiancé and parents during World War II and sent 250 photographs. These letters were stored in a trunk until after his death in 2006. Reading these letters changed her life, her outlook and ultimately her calling. She gained a complete new understanding of her dad and how it transformed him and of the war itself, both on the battlefield and at home.
While reading a letter on an airplane, she saw the many soldiers in uniform that were on their way to or returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. She wondered how many times she had seen these uniforms in the 45 weeks she traveled each year and not seen the people in them or realized what they were doing. She made a vow never to pass up someone in uniform or a vet and not thank them for their service. She struck up a conversation with the soldier across the aisle who was on his way to Afghanistan, and a few years later ended up marrying now Colonel Brad Foster (who is on another deployment). She spoke of the many vets she has talked with that no one has ever thanked for their service, especially those from Vietnam.
It is not just Vietnam. My dad, Roger, served in the Navy in WWII, landing soldiers in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and finally Normandy. While we were stationed in Belgium, we traveled to Normandy on 1999 with him to show him the beaches from the grassy side. As we walked the large cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, he and Virginia rested at the memorial. During that time, a group of Italian college students came up and asked if he had served in WWII. He said he did and they thanked him for his service. He later said that was the first time anyone ever thanked him.
Just as important as recognizing vets, is recognizing the needs of those around us. Seeing people as we would like to be seen and giving them a warm greeting may make the difference between life and death.
Teresa said of the pictures that were in the collection that she couldn’t understand why her dad had taken and saved some of the more graphic ones. In particular, ones of a group of concentration camp prisoners that had been burned alive in a barn until she looked at the back and saw where he had written, “Pictures don’t lie.”
It might not have been a bucket list item but getting author Teresa Irish as a speaker to present was high on librarian Donna Clark’s wish list. After learning about Irish’s program, Donna contacted her and found out that it would cost more than the library could afford at the time. In the summer, Teresa contacted Donna and said she was going to be in the area for another program and could do one in Cedar Springs for about half of the original quote. Donna said yes. She then asked the American Legion Auxiliary to sponsor part of the program and they agreed to do half. Later, she brought the lecture up at a City Council meeting and Dave Ringler of the Cedar Springs Brewing Company said he would do the other half.
The Brewing Company also hosted a private party for the Women’s Club before the presentation. A buffet of chicken, roasted potatoes and other root vegetables provided an opportunity for the kitchen and wait staff to practice before they open. They were treated to the brewery’s “Cedar Creek” soft drinks.
People stood in line for an hour to buy Irish’s book and have her autograph it. If you would like to read the book, A Thousand Letters Home, the Cedar Springs Public Library has them to sign out.