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Memorial Day salute to those who chronicle the deeds of sons and daughters who fought our wars

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Those who fight the wars that political devils create are sometimes also tagged as evil. But some journalists convinced that those warriors deserve to be remembered, chronicle their sacrifices and thus merit special recognition for ensuring that the sons and daughters who fought our wars are remembered appropriately.

That was the lead of my Memorial Day column of two years ago, which was a reflection on those who write of the warriors who fight our nation's wars to ensure their sacrifices are remembered.

That column included my longtime friend and former UPI colleague, Joe Galloway, whose three books and a movie about the battle of the Ia Drang Valley made him perhaps the best-known correspondent of the Vietnam War He died three months after that Memorial Day of a massive heart attack at the age of 79.

And it included my then-recently acquired friend, Scott Huesing, a retired Marine Corps major who guided his men of Echo Company through battle in the deadly urban battlefield of Ramadi during the Iraq War and then wrote about his experiences in Echo in Ramadi.

Huesing, in a small-world connection, but maybe not so small, explained to me when we met in San Diego in August of 2020 that as he wrote Echo in Ramadi, "it was the voice heard in Galloway's We Were Soldiers Once...and Young that left a great mark. It shared not just the stories of battle but of people. That power of human connection is so vital to me in all things."

Huesing's book became a number-one best-seller after it was published in 2018. It was described by a prominent reviewer as "so gripping it will be read by a generation of grunts and leaders, vividly depicting how, in crisis after crisis, mutual trust pulls a unit or a business through."

Huesing said he sent autographed copies of the book "to those I owed something, and Joe was one. Joe sent me a heartfelt note and a glowing review of my book. Although we've never met in person, Galloway and I understand the uncertainty of war and the most certain danger it brings close to one who endures the worst of what humanity provides, a connection that is something irreplicable"

Scott Huesing wrote of leading his Marines into war in Iraq in Echo in Ramadi
Scott Huesing

Now Huesing, 53, whose 24-year career in the Marines spanned 10 deployments and who led combat operations in 60 countries, seeks to help other veterans to become authors. One of those he introduced me to in an email exchange in which he described me as "fellow Marine and friend" was Andrew Biggio, whose book The Rifle. Was then about to go on sale days after that 2022 Memorial Day.

The Rifle is described as "an inspirational story and hero's journey of a 28-year-old U.S. Marine, Andrew Biggio, who returned home from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, full of questions about the price of war. He found answers from those who survived the costliest war of all — WWII veterans."

The promotion for his book goes: "It began when Biggio bought a 1945 M1 Garand Rifle, the most common rifle used in WWII, to honor his great uncle, a U.S. Army soldier who died on the hills of the Italian countryside. When Biggio showed the rifle to his neighbor, WWII veteran Corporal Joseph Drago, it unlocked memories Drago had kept unspoken for 50 years. On the spur of the moment, Biggio asked Drago to sign the rifle.

Andrew Biggio's The Rifle collected the stories of WWII vets who held and signed his M1 and relived memories
Biggio

Thus began this Marine's mission to find as many WWII veterans as he could, get their signatures on the rifle, and document their stories.

For two years, Biggio traveled across the country to interview America's last-living WWII veterans. Each time he put the M1 Garand Rifle in their hands, he recalls that their eyes lit up with memories triggered by holding the weapon that had been with them every step of the war.

With each visit and every story told to Biggio, the veterans signed their names to the rifle. 96 signatures now cover that rifle, each a reminder of the price of war and the courage of the soldiers.

Biggio noted that he realized of the WWII vets "they were leaving us at an alarming rate, and their knowledge was leaving with them."

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 325,574 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive, but around 296 die every day.

Biggio said the M1 being held by the veterans, who averaged 94 years of age, "acted like a time machine to take them back 75 years, and I asked them to tell me about their most stressful experiences." And thus, the book took form.

Biggio told me that about half of those whose stories are contained in the book have died since it was published. But among those still alive, most have become friends, and he has taken four or five at a time to France for book signings.

Now another group of interviews will be included in The Rifle 2, which is due for publication in September.

Biggio brought deeply rooted ties with the New England veterans community to the book project as the founder of Boston's Wounded Vet Run, a motorcycle rally nonprofit through which he's helped raise more than $1 million for wounded veterans.

Huesing has created his own non-profit to aid veterans. His is Save the Brave, devoted to providing companionship and stress-management tools to veterans with programs to address psychological and emotional challenges.

The most visible of those is Save the Brave Offshore, which provides offshore fishing opportunities for veterans at no cost, with Huesing sharing his view that nothing "can cure the effects of PTS better than connecting with fellow veterans in shared experiences on the water."

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