By Alex Forkner
As World War II raged in Europe and the Pacific, hundreds of thousands of American men left their homes and loved ones to serve and protect their country. What unfolded on the battlefields is well documented, but a significant side of those soldiers’ stories remains untold: tales of the love and sacrifices made for those back home.
That’s the inspiration for a new project spearheaded by Lexingtonians Jay McChord and Jennifer Bryant. The two hope to raise $30,013 by July 19 to publish a collection of stories, letters and hand-drawn pictures and photos titled, “A Veteran’s Legacy…in Love.”
“What we found is, a lot of folks who served in the military don’t necessarily talk a lot about their experiences,” McChord said. “We’re especially finding that with World War II. One of the things that love stories do, it causes people to talk about things that are a lot more positive, things that are a lot more closer to the heart. They’re not history, they’re not battlefield, they’re not about the men—it’s about this commitment or this person that you left, that you came back to, that you fought for. It presents a very unique angle to tell U.S. history.”
McChord, Lexington’s 9th district councilman, and Bryant, who works at Lexmark, are funding their project through Kickstarter, a website that serves as a funding platform for creative projects. Interested people can back a project and pledge a minimum of $1.
“The history books do a great job of capturing what happened at what battle and when and all that, but what it doesn’t do is capture the personal stories,” said Bryant. “What were the sacrifices of these 18-year-old men, 19-year-old men? They saw the world, but they had a huge sacrifice, leaving loved ones behind. That is still going on today as people leave for Afghanistan five, six, seven times. What happens to the people left behind? Those people are making sacrifices as well. And what happens when they get back? And how they teach the children and what that looks like and how that sacrifice works.”
Though not specifically focused on World War II, McChord and Bryant know that time is running out if they want these stories to survive.
“We’re losing 1,000-plus World War II vets every single day,” McChord said. “Granted, this project is not just about World War II stories, but what we’re finding is that it’s a race against the clock to capture these stories.”
“They have a very cool story to be told, and I’m afraid that those are all going to be lost because that generation would burn their letters, or they wouldn’t keep their letters or their pictures,” added Bryant. “If we lose the people, we don’t even have the pictures to remind us, so we’re trying to do everything we can to save those and honor those people. … It’s not just World War II, but even the soldiers from the battles of today.”
This book is an outcrop of another project by McChord, “A Veteran’s Legacy: Field Kit Journal,” which allowed veterans to document their military experience. McChord and Bryant have a simple mission in mind, a three-word motto they hope to accomplish with the book’s publication.
“Honor, remember, heal,” McChord said. “We want to give honor to whom honor is due, we want to help provide an appropriate place to remember and we want to help heal, whether that is individually, relationally or as a country.”
McChord, who is the book’s artist, was inspired to start this project when Bryant brought him a picture of her grandparents on their wedding day, sharing a passionate kiss before being separated by war a short time later. Bryant, then 16, discovered the picture in the attic of her grandparents’ house after her grandmother died. She asked her grandfather about the story behind the photo, and after telling her the context he asked her to put it back.
As teenagers sometimes do, she didn’t listen and stuck the photo in her pocket. Not long after their conversation, Bryant’s grandfather burned every picture and love letter in that attic, turning memories to ashes blown away in the wind.
For Bryant, that picture serves as a physical reminder of a meaningful moment in not only her grandparents’ lives, but her life as well.
“It feels really good to be able to remember the conversation I had with my grandfather and to keep that memory alive, keep that story alive not only for me but for my son and for our family and to be able to share that with other people.”
Another motive for this project, McChord and Bryant said, is to positively impact the current generation who may not know what such sacrifice entails.
“We believe very firmly that by putting stories about love and commitment and sacrifice, sticking it out—those types of things—in print encourages everybody, but especially military families, military couples, that people have done this before,” McChord said. “There is a higher calling, that you can do this. I think there’s so much negativity and so much that the family is up against.”
Bryant hopes the book will give people to opportunity “to look at a positive story or a group of positive stories about people who are staying together and what that looks like and how to honor that, praise thata nd replicate that for a generation coming up that is not really used to seeing what commitment and loyalty and those kind of things look like.”
Through Kickstarters, donations to the project are incentivized, with larger donations being rewarded with a larger gift package. Project designers such as McChord and Bryant have a set time frame to meet their monetary goal. If they meet or exceed this goal, they complete the project. If they fail to meet the goal, they don’t get to keep any of the funds raised.
McChord noted that the project currently has 119 likes, but only 38 backers. Even if someone only pledges $1, McChord, said, it can help them meet their goal.
“When you start getting backed by lots of people, getting backed in substantial ways as it relates to the amount of you’re trying to raise, an algorithm kicks in and your project moves up on the page to more visible places. That’s what you want; you want the people outside your initial sphere of influence to say, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ So for everybody that comes in and backs you, even if it’s a dollar, that has impact.
“Our hope is that folks will take a look at it and see that it’s a really positive project and if they have a story that they want to have included in this book at some point in time they’ll back it and send us a story. We’ll have an email up there shortly where you can start sending those stories so we can start to collect those.”
McChord and Bryant hope their book will be a heartfelt chronicle that can extend well into the future, preventing these stories from becoming a blind spot in history. The book will be designed with blank space, offering people the opportunity to add stories on their own.
Bryant also sees the book as a chance to bring family members to life for those who may have never known them.
“One of the things I want to make sure to capture for my son, who is 8, is the history just of my family, just of my grandparents who passed away after I graduated from college. He’ll never know them, and I want him to know how these people played such a role in my life and why that was. To be able to pour that into a generation coming up, I think we’re losing a lot of that.”
Visit this Kickstarter project at kickstarter.com. View “A Veteran’s Legacy: Field Kit Journal” on Amazon.com.