Alta author Barbara Derksen has had the opportunity to delve into a part of history that has been forgotten and it has changed her thinking considerably.
The book, "Second to None - Warrior Voices," came out this summer and contains the stories of 54 soldiers who fought for their countries with the second infantry division of the army. The stories, as Derksen said, "help us see the hero in our veterans."
Derksen became acquainted with Jim Warrender, Quimby, past president of the second infantry division, who asked her to put a collection of the veteran's stories together. "The stories are all out there," he had told her.
And as she pondered the idea, the more it grew on her.
"The Korean War has been labeled 'the forgotten war,'" she commented. She intended to bring to the surface a minute fraction of the millions of stories that could be shared.
Over about a two-year period, Derksen received stories - hundreds of stories - many provided by Warrender from veterans he is acquainted with. She narrowed the stories down to 54 for inclusion in her book.
It was a difficult task to make the decision. The stories she read were compelling and many of them will never leave her mind.
"I will never look at a veteran the same way again. We need to honor all veterans as well as the ones serving in Iraq," she said.
It is a difficult task for some veterans to talk about their time in the service; the situations which they went through are embedded in their minds and remain there, often gnawing at them for years. The book of collected stories will surely bring back memories and perhaps open up some wounds for those who served. For the bystanders, the stories will leave them with the thoughts - "We had no idea they went through that."
"These stories are their accounts of what they went through," Derksen said. "Many of them were 17 to 19 years old, some were younger. I have three sons and I can't event imagine them having to face some of the horrors they did. These are memories these veteran have to live with on a daily basis. It is difficult to imagine some of the choices they were given and the decisions they had to make."
Since Derksen's book hit the market, the response from veterans has been overwhelming. She has been invited to attend reunions of the second infantry division and had the opportunity to meet many of the Korean veterans. The get togethers have been incredible. She attended a reunion in Tulsa, Ok. over Labor Day Weekend and recently returned from a reunion being held in Shreveport, La.
"At these reunions, you see strong men but it could be a face they put on for the public," Derksen noticed. "The reunions remind me of a high school reunion; they band together with their comrades that they fought with side-by-side, killed side-by-side and prayed together side-by-side under horrific circumstances. Being there and watching them interact, seeing their pride, is not something the average person is privileged to be a part of."
Derksen said she overheard veterans talking about incidences they went through together, perhaps serving as therapeutic for them; knowing no one else would understand. And it appears that the book is letting the soldiers know it's ok to talk about their service years.
Because the stories came to Derksen, she did not have the opportunity to meet the soldiers who wrote the stories. She did have the chance to meet "Andrew" at the Tulsa reunion. That was an awesome experience. She doubts she will ever meet all 54 soldiers who wrote the stories but she has met many, at the gatherings, just like those in her book.
"Their faces may not be the same but their stories are," the author said.
Derksen is thrilled with the response of the book. "These stories are important to tell. A lot of people have thanked me." She added that some veterans have come up to her and asked her to write their stories for them, in a book exclusive of them. She is considering the invitations.
Derksen would like to see the book in libraries and made available to high school students so the stories of these brave veterans can be read. "What's unique is to have a collection and a variety of stories such as these," Derksen said. "The stories cover a wide range of experiences that all veterans can identify with." Stories in the book include those about POWs, "horrific" situations and even a few humorous accounts.
The Author will attend the Midwest Second Infantry Division reunion in Des Moines next month and has been invited to a Purple Heart Convention in Los Angeles scheduled for next summer and is anxious to met more veterans. She hopes to make it to the Korean War monument someday as well.
When the word of her motives got out, she began receiving stories relating to World War II veterans. She is pondering taking on the task of compiling their stories in a book, too, but explained that there may be a lot more work involved since the stories are handwritten, rather than generated on the computer. She feels these stories are important, as well, especially since many of these veterans are older and may not be able to relate their stories any longer.
The author is in the process of composing a fictional murder trilogy and realizes that if she decides to compile another veteran's book, it will have to wait.
"Second to None - Warrior Voices" is available at Salt and Light Bookstore in Storm Lake or through Derksen's web site (www.barbaraannderksen.com)
Fifty percent of the book's proceeds are going to the Infantry Division Association and to the Korean Veterans Alliance.