By DAVID GREEN
"You'll never know just how much I miss you,
You'll never know just how much I care.
And if I tried, I still couldn't hide my love for you,
You ought to know, for haven't I told you so,
A million or more times?"
It was the wartime classic, "You'll Never Know," and the words were still in the minds of many older audience members June 20 at Stair Public Library.
Irish was in Morenci to talk about her book, "A Thousand Letters Home," and she soon knew she had a special audience seated in front of her. She didn't get a response like this everywhere she went.
The subtitle of her book, "One World War II soldier's story of war, love and life," refers to her father, Bud, who served in Europe from 1942 to December 1945. Inside an old Army trunk, Irish discovered neat rows of letters—nearly a thousand in all—that her father sent home from the war.
She knew about the trunk when he was alive, but whenever someone suggested going through it, her father responded, "Some day." She read the letters over a 13-month period and decided to create a book. Not only were the letters a historical account of the war, but they were also a love story and an amazing story of faith.
She wrote to dozens of publishers about creating a book, but she was rejected by each one. There were already many good stories of the war, but Irish knew she had something unique: a three-year account written by a single person.
"My dad left me his legacy and gave me my future," she said. Irish now travels to schools, libraries and other venues to tell her father's story. "I can't honor my dad enough. I can't put the book in my dad's hands, but I can put it in the hands of others."
Her father reminded her now and then when he was alive to be grateful for the freedom she has to go anywhere and do most anything. Those words didn't really mean a lot to her until the day she found his letters—the day that turned into night because she just couldn't stop reading. Since then, she said, Memorial Day has never been the same.
CITIZENSHIP—Although Irish realizes the importance of the fight her father and thousands of other soldiers were engaged in, she's not about to glorify war. She read the forward of a letter written by Major General Frank Keating to his troops in the 102nd Infantry Division that includes these words:
"There is but one more battle to fight and I know you shall not be found wanting in the completion of this mission. It is the battle for perpetual peace and a better world in which to live. You have a very definite task to perform and must prosecute it with the same spirit in which you fought. As citizens of the finest country on this planet, I hope you shall take back with you an indelible impression of the better things in life; a more thorough understanding of human nature and mankind in general; and a full realization of your duties of citizenship. They are as definite, serious, and obligatory, as the tasks you performed in uniform. Never forget this responsibility."
"My father came home from Europe with the same passion and vigor as before the war," Irish said. "He felt blessed that he had life and he wanted to give. He was given the gift of life when others weren't."
Irish doesn't think America's "Greatest Generation" was necessarily the result of what they did at war.
"I think it was how they conducted themselves when they came home," she said. "I think about the meaning of citizenship and the importance of looking to our left and to our right and maybe to the person right in front of us in our communities who maybe in their moment of despair needed someone to look them in the eye today, to touch them, to say 'good morning' as they passed them."
Maybe there's a kid in the high school cafeteria that no one wants to talk to, yet everyone is willing to talk about.
"We have the ability every day of our lives to decide what our community is like and the lives of people in our world experience because of us," Irish said.
Because of her father, she's unable to pass someone on the street without saying "Hello."
"We don't have to be the Greatest Generation by going to war," Irish said. "You can be the greatest citizens in our little towns just by stopping to be surprised when we hear things about people who just needed us to smile, and to not walk past a human being without saying 'Good morning.'"
Every day you can realize that you made a difference, but it requires a change in mind set from thinking about what people can do for you to thinking what you can do for someone else. Her mother gave her the rule to go out and do something for somebody and don't ever, ever wait to be thanked.
"She said that if you do that, the joy of your action can never be diminished by the lack of someone else's."
This can make you think about your actions, Irish said, and why you do things—because we're all people on this earth who have opportunities to interact with other people.
"I'm honored to bring my father's letters into print and I hope you will be inspired to reflect—on Memorial Day or Veterans Day or any day you drive by a cemetery and see those little flags."
The nation has done well honoring World War II veterans, Irish said, but veterans from all other conflicts must also receive their due.
"Together," she said, "let's remember our history."