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A message for Veterans Day

Photo by Juliette Lynch

Three months have passed since we posted our stories and folded up the tents. We've gotten a lot of great feedback and some good exposure, and we thank everyone who took the time to click on our work.

We've all moved on to other things now – internships, jobs, finishing up degrees and starting toward new ones. As our time in the woods of Washington fades into memory, though, it's hard to forget the personal stories we heard from the men and women who have served our country.

This is our Freedom

"To really know us, to know what happened to us, you have to be here. You have to see it with your own eyes."

The most common question asked of the Syracuse News21 team during our six-week stay in rural Washington state was a simple one, but it proved difficult to answer:

Why are you here?

To answer in brief, we went to Ferry and Okanogan counties because so many veterans are there. The reasons why they are there are sometimes obvious, sometimes touching and sometimes discouraging to hear, and they helped guide us in telling these stories.

A Gift Given

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By Justin Murphy
News21 / Syracuse University

One thing about Ed Bush: He knows how to laugh.

It’s a hoarse belly chuckle that goes along with good news and bad. His gray ponytail and prodigious stomach get to bobbing; his small, sparkly eyes sparkle more brightly, casting about for someone to draw into the joke.

Ed didn’t always laugh like this.

Not as a gunner in Korea during the Vietnam War, when he rappelled from helicopters into a hail of midnight bullets with a simple task: eliminate.

All That Lingers

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By Justin Murphy News21 / Syracuse University

Even after you get to the swinging front gate — across the gravel bridge over Bolster Creek, half a mile down a rumbling, rutted driveway, cheatgrass stabbing through the car windows and magpies rattling along a barbed wire fence — Jerry Middleton’s house is still out of sight.

One of the Guys

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By Sherri Williams
News21 / Syracuse University

Shannon Williams joined the U.S. Army so it would be a passport out of her small town and its five-screen movie theatre, Wal-Mart and Pizza Hut.

About half of the 40 girls who attended Okanogan High with her ended up pregnant while they were still in school or shortly after they got out, and they were tied to men and jobs that stifled their potential, Williams said.

She didn’t want that for herself.

18 and Enlisted

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By Sierra Jiminez
News21 / Syracuse University

Children Left Behind

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By Sherri Williams
News21 / Syracuse University

Kaden Hollenbeck’s firm handshake, energetic personality and animated voice belie that of a typical 7-year-old.

His maturity mixes with his spirited and sad greeting: “My dad is in Iraq!” he shouts with both pride and pain swirling in his voice at the family home on the Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash.

When He Came Home

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By Matthew Nojiri

News21 / Syracuse University

The Marine’s family and friends come to this cemetery just outside of town to think about the kid who loved to wrestle, who spent holidays fishing with his father, who had a smile people still remember.

Someone has placed a toy motorbike on his gravestone. As a teenager, the Marine used to race up these Northeastern Washington trails and dart between trees in a town covered with more forest trails than streets.

Soldiers before Citizens

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By Sherri Williams
News21 / Syracuse University

Headstones at Native American cemeteries tell the stories of warriors who fought for this country since its early days.

Alongside the graves of revered warriors Chief Joseph and Yellow Wolf, who battled white settlers to preserve Indian life and land, lay the lesser-known Native American soldiers who went to war to protect the United States.

Graves at the reservation cemeteries in Washington state mark some of the conflicts in which Native Americans served: WWII, Korea, Vietnam and even Grenada.

Mothers Left Behind

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By Sherri Williams
News21 / Syracuse University

Daralyn Hollenbeck almost crumbled before her only son went off to war in Iraq.

She didn’t know how to say goodbye to Josh Hollenbeck, 29, without falling apart.

Her worries overwhelmed her. Daralyn crawled into bed late one night about a week before her son’s deployment and cried uncontrollably.

What if he doesn’t come back?

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