So many years of memories from so many places

On Memorial Day, after visiting a friend buried in the Veterans Cemetery of Southwestern Virginia, a lot of memories came back
The Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of horror now remembers as "9/11."

In 1965, I packed my clothes, my cameras, a portable TV, and portable typewriter in a 1957 Ford and left Floyd County to move to Roanoke to become the youngest full-time reporter ever for The Roanoke Times.

My new home became a $65-month, one-bedroom furnished apartment at Grandin Apartments on Grandin Road in Roanoke.

The reporter as a young man

That was 56 years ago. The Times was my second full-time job as a newspaperman. I had worked for The Floyd Press for more than two years while in high school.

Four-and-a-half years later, I packed my clothes, cameras, and that same portable typewriter into a 1968 Ford Torino for an 800+ mile drive from Roanoke to Alton, Illinois, to become a reporter and photographer for The Alton Evening Telegraph, and afternoon newspaper in a Mississippi River city just up from St. Louis.

That was 1969, 5o years ago. A month later, my new wife finished packing up our belongings and watched a moving company truck department for Illinois before climbing on a plane to fly out and join me.

Twelve years later, in 1981, a second wife and I packed our furniture, clothing, belonging, including cameras, TVs, and other things into a rented Ryder Truck and drove for two days to relocate in a condo in Arlington so I could take a job with Congressman Paul Findley of Illinois as his press secretary and legislative assistant on Capitol Hill. Two weeks later, we flew back to St. Louis to retrieve our 1874 Mustang and drive it to Arlinton.

That move, we felt, would be about a two-year sabattical away from newspapers and a time to learn how government worked. Amy used her acting abilities to work in the area, return to Alton twice to direct plays, worked in commercials and helped produce a tribute to legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg at Lincoln Center in New York. She worked with Al Pacino on the project.

Doug Thompson, the special assistant to the ranking member of the House Science & Technology Committee.

My two-year gig at Congress turned into seven with two years helping New Mexico Congressman Manuel Lujan win his re-election from New Mexico, then two years as chief of staff for Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana before returning to work with Lujan as special assistant to the ranking member of the House Science and Technology Committee, where I worked primarily as an investigator on projects like the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion that killed seven and the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in Russia. I also served as a political operative for the national GOP parties, flying to various parts of the country to work on House and Senate campaigns.

In 1987, I took over the political programs division of The National Association of Realtors as division vice president and, among other things, directed the then-largest political action committee, but I walked away from politics in 1994, worked for a while for a buisness communication firm as senior associate before returning to jouralism as a contract repoter and photojournalist. Amy and I would continue to live in that Arlington condo as what was expected to be a two-year sabattical burned into 23 years with the final 20 putting me on the road in America and around the world on assignments.

An Israeli soldier guards the prayer wall of the Old City of Jerusalem as a young man prays.

I covered conflicts in Afghanistan, Desert Storm, Haiti, Israel, and other parts of the world. I covered the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and produced a video retrospective of that defining day in American history on the one-year anniversary for the Discovery Channel and that led to a return to Floyd to shoot a documentary on the Friday Night Jamboree for the History Channel.

In 2003, after returning from an assignment in Afghanistan, I was offered an embed position for the upcoming invasion of Iraq. I had been in that part of the world for Desert Storm a decade earlier but Amy asked me not to go for the first time in a life of accepting assignments.

“I have a terrible feeling about you going back there,” she said. I had learned long before that when she has such feelings, I would regret not listening to them, so I declined the assignment. The man who went in my place died there, as the first journalism casualty of that conflict.

In 2004, I spent much of the year photographing events involving the 2004 presidential election. We also decided that it was time to leave the Washington area and our condo sold in three days after putting it on the market, for more than four times we paid for it. We had moved our belonging from the condo into a storage unit and were living with my mother while looking for a home in Floyd County while I traveled on reporting assignments. I had also rented one of the studios in the just-opened Jacksonville Center (now the Floyd Center for the Arts).

A son and grandson find the name of a cherished relative on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, DC.

On election day of 2004, I finished up my last assignment for AFP press service and took a red-eye flight from Seattle to Washington, Dulles, then drove down to Floyd. On Dec. 1, we closed on our new home and a moving company brought most of our stuff from the storage units to Floyd County and moved into the home on Christmas Eve right after some new flooring was finished.

We were in what should be our last home — 39 years after leaving Floyd County with little expectation of ever returning.

That was 17 years ago. If we make it here for another six years, it will be the longest was have ever lived in any one place in a vagabond life.

So many years, so many places, so many adventures, so many good times and so many memories. Where has the time gone?

Share on facebook
Share on twitter