Year's ago when I was working for the Picayune Item my phone rang...
"I just want to know why you haven't put my granddaughter's picture in the paper," came the gravelly voice over the phone.
"Well, I... uh, what's your granddaughter's name?"
She told me and the name didn't ring one single bell. I'm pretty good at remembering names and putting names with faces. Don't test me, because I'll fail if you ask me to tell you who I met today and what their names are. I've got retroactive memory. Forget short term, that's gone forever, I think.
I took down all the information and all the while that gravelly voice was talking.
"My granddaughter won such and such award and I think that is way more news worthy than graduating basic training. Just about anybody can do that, but not everybody in the military gets such and such award. You need to find that picture and if you can't I'll scrounge around the family and get one, then I'd like to see her story in the paper as soon as possible. I've been waiting months for her picture to get in the paper..."
Whew. I asked around and of course no one remembered getting a military picture. It wasn't in the computer banks anywhere and not in any of the folders in the files. I scoured the internet hoping to find a military picture of this young woman. Surely, someone would be bragging on her if the award was such a big deal.
I turned up one photo of her. She was in New Orleans, handing out candy to Katrina victims with the biggest smile on her face, like she was having the grandest time of her life. The kids were grinning, too. They were having a party. In the background were a couple of helicopters, blades twirling, and soldiers were lifting stretchers out of the helicopters and the tarmac had several stretchers lined up.
She gave those kids a lighter memory than the pure trauma they had endured. That's a real hero. I'll never forget her face, but her name escapes me at the moment. But, her name isn't as important as what she did.
I couldn't find a "proper" picture to go with the award story. It was time to go home any way, it was past 7 o'clock and I was hungry.
Next morning, the picture was on my chair with a note scrawled across a paper clipped piece of paper, 'okay to rerun.' Hmm, I didn't know it ran the first time.
I scanned the photo and wrote the story. It ran in the next edition. And the grandmother was right. It was really a big deal and a great award. The young woman deserved the recognition. But, I'm thinking in the back of my mind, that the real story was the grins on those kids' faces. Mighty Mouse, Tom Terrific, Superman... those are two dimensional heroes. This woman was a real life hero in those kids' eyes. You just can't beat that with a stick.