Baumhower: The lesson of sacrificeWritten by Jeremy Baumhower | | email@example.com
‘Do you wanna play tag?” asked a familar 9-year-old boy.
The surrealness of the question caught me off-guard as I looked around. The visual of headstone after headstone, including the one belonging to this boy’s father, Sgt. Gary “Andy” Eckert, was unnerving.
“Myles, after you get your picture taken and your mom says it’s all right, then we can play,” I replied, watching the boy as he looked annoyed while having numerous photos snapped as he posed next to his father’s tombstone. “I am going to do Jeremy’s face now,” Myles told the photographer, imitating my awful crooked grin from the Toledo Free Press headshot that accompanies every column of mine. As I chuckled under my breath, trying not to encourage him, the photographer tried to refocus the restless boy.
The stark contrast between his humor and the monument he was sitting on was not lost on me. The Eckerts — Myles, his mom Tiffany and sister Marlee — along with Lt. Col. Frank Dailey, were having their pictures taken at Andy Eckert’s gravesite for this Toledo Free Press Military Yearbook, compiled by project editor Amanda Tindall. It was the first time I had visited the place where a single photo of Myles showing his heart by hugging a headstone set off a worldwide frenzy of paying it forward.
The Military Yearbook concept was inspired by the weekly magazines that showcase mugshots of local criminals. Two years ago, I reviewed a couple of these rags and was sickened by their commercial success. People are actually making a living exposing others at their worst moments. This issue was created because I was tired of seeing bad people as I pay for my gas and scratch-offs; it’s a perfect foil.
I am one of the fortunate; I have yet to lose a family member or friend to a war. When I made the call to TFP Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller pitching this idea two years ago, I knew it was something that could be beautiful. Seeing picture after picture of those who currently serve or have served in the two previous Military Yearbooks and reading the words that accompanied them confirmed the beauty of my dream.
Last year I was privileged to share a picture of my grandfather, Pete Zunk, during his time in Germany. His two years of military service gave Pete enough stories to fill every holiday and birthday over the past 60 years. I am alive and writing this because he came home.
It wasn’t until recently that I came to fully comprehend the weight and meaning behind the word “sacrifice.” I think as a society we use the word way too loosely.
After the cemetery photo shoot, the Eckerts, TFP Managing Editor Sarah Ottney and I ventured to the very place where Myles changed the world with a Post-It note. It was during this lunch that I learned what the word really means.
I watched a 10-year-old girl spontaneously erupt into tears after hearing her mom recount the story of saying a final goodbye to her dad at the Toledo Express Airport. Marlee’s tears and the sadness behind them showed the pain she carries every day for a man she knew for only the first two years of her life. It was at this moment that I understood what price was paid and who was paying it.
Marlee and Myles Eckert are living their lives burdened by the price of our freedom. These beautiful children, with their oversized hearts, have no idea about war, foreign politics or diplomacy. They know the game of tag, how to give a great hug and are experts with a Cracker Barrel menu.
One day I hope they’ll learn how they’ve inspired a nation to do something nice and unexpected for someone else. What better teachers than Gold Star children? One day I hope they understand they taught me what the word “sacrifice” means.
It has been an honor to share their story and I can’t wait to write the next chapter.
This 2014 Military Yearbook is dedicated to all the children of those who never came home.
Jeremy Baumhower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jeremytheproduc.
Tags: 2014 Military Yearbook, Amanda Tindall, Andy Eckert, Cracker Barrel, headstone, Jeremy Baumhower, Marlee Eckert, Michael Nemeth, Michael S. Miller, Military, Myles Eckert, Pete Zunk, Sarah Ottney, Sgt. Gary “Andy” Eckert, TFP Editor Michael S. Miller, Tiffany Eckert, veterans, Whitehouse Cemetery