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All Points West: Getting to the truth of the matter
July 23, 2015 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
When I met the late Hal Drake, he was twirling an elongated band of wire called a “whirligig.” At first, I thought it was a twist tie for a loaf of bread. He squinted at the device he spun between his forefinger and thumb as he walked toward my workspace on the copy desk. Then, I was a newbie copy editor at Pacific Stars and Stripes, one of two Department of Defense daily newspapers – the one I worked at was published right in the middle of one of the biggest of all Asian cities, Tokyo, Japan. You could find Stripes’ counterpart in Darmstadt, Germany. Both are legacies of America’s wars – more specifically, WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam.

Hal was an artilleryman in the Korean War and had a front row seat to some of the carnage that lay waste there at Heartbreak Ridge. Some of my colleagues said that’s what explained his whirligig, or what I referred to as a whirlybird because it looked more like an airplane propeller once Hal’s thoughts really got rolling.

When Hal had finally reached my desk, he asked me what he should write for his column. I was taken aback. Here was one of Stripes most accomplished senior writers and war correspondents asking me for ideas. What on my young fresh green Army face made him think I knew anything witty or insightful to say about the military, much less life in general? I knew one thing for sure, the smart aleck upstart whipper snapper that I was, according to my older news colleagues, never knew he’d be writing a column of sorts for his own hometown newspaper 24 years later.

Hal came to mind as I fumbled around on the computer waiting for genius to strike. Truth is, I’m still drawing a big blank on genius. On everything else, not so much. There are other truths, I’m sure of it. Hal was searching for some of those truths in me. As many newsmen preach, everyone has a story. It was our job as journalists to write it. For a while during my days as a reporter, I thought that was just my boss’s way of getting me out the door to cover stories like the grand opening of the Post Exchange, a story nobody else would touch.
As for the other maybe more compelling stories or human events, here’s one of them:

This past weekend, I joined nearly a hundred witnesses who watched my cousin marry the man she promised to love for the rest of their lives. Walking up the aisle flanked by her parents, I could see the tears coming to the surface. She held back, and by the time she took her place next to the equally stunned groom, her adorable smile was beaming, cutting right through each one of us. Right now, the happy couple is basking in the warmth and glow of the honeymoon phase, and can’t be reached for comment. Yet, I can’t help but think that this was the kind of moment Hal would say was wrapped in truth.

Though a simple wedding with all the accoutrements, one you would probably see on any given Saturday across America. This one was different, because there’s nobody else in the world like my cousin, for a time a single mom, which meant she had to take on one of life’s greater challenges of raising a child, by herself. Of course, I admire this about anyone – any parent – and now I’ve reached the age when I can talk about my own daughter graduating from high school and preparing for her first year at Boise State next month. Since moving back to Gering a few weeks ago, I have heard similar stories about my former Gering classmates as we all watch the next generation carry the mantle. Nostalgia abounds. A certain pride swells. But what we’re really doing, is heaving a huge sigh. Parenting is a tough gig.
As I watched my cousin exchange vows with her husband to be, I couldn’t help but think of the times that I have stood at the altar trying to make a go of it, but before you judge, consider that I might just be trying to perfect my art. With age comes wisdom, yes. It’s applying acquired wisdom that gets a little tricky.

The Priest officiating the ceremony made several good points about how to navigate the tricky, and sometimes treacherous roads offered up by marriage. He said listen carefully, change little, and something else I can vaguely remember. Looks like I totally failed on the first point. I won’t feel too badly though. Most males of the species suffer the same affliction especially at or near sporting events. Fair notice to the next possible wife.

If there was nothing else to say about the beautiful wedding ceremony in Fort Collins, Colo., and what I can only imagine took place at the wild reception I skipped due to the effects of bad food, a nervous stomach, or both, there was a stormy sea of emotions behind my cousin’s eyes, but only for a moment. What I’ll remember most was her un-wielding smile; a young lady surrounded by a loving prop-worthy family, that when you think about it, is more powerful than the president’s cabinet.
This was one of the truths Hal wrote about in his columns, no doubt thinking he could draw some tips from a young newsie such as myself, and what morals to the story he might introduce to readers.
The truth is … that although Hal died of cancer in Australia, at the age of 83, he lived a full life. My cousin, her young days will continue to unfold, and like me she’ll have many proud parenting moments ahead. As for me, I’m still waiting for that day to share some extremely insightful prose, at the very least for your sake. Until then, consider my space in the newspaper, a column about nothing.
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