My favorite Veterans Day story

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In honor of all our veterans, I thought, this week, I would share with you one of my favorite stories about a story I wrote in college almost 30 years ago in Dr. Ray Tassin’s feature writing class during my time at Central State University. I was writing my final paper of the semester and thought if I interviewed my grandfather Jack Ross, who had served in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise CV-6, that I could gather enough facts to intrigue the old department chairman/former Naval aviator into giving me an A on the paper.

Dr. Ray Tassin was the first person in Oklahoma to have ever earned a doctorate degree in journalism. He had also served as a fighter pilot in W.W.II and to my complete ignorance, had landed his airplane numerous times on the flight deck of the same aircraft carrier my grandfather was serving on. I had always wanted to interview my grandpa and get him to tell me what it was like to have been in all those battles. I drove to his house in Newcastle and sat with him at his kitchen table. Grandma joined us on that late July day as we began to talk, and he began to reminisce. I started taking notes and wrote down everything he said.

It was a special time for grandpa to get to be interviewed. I could tell he was proud to get to help me with a college assignment. He knew I wanted to do good things and get a good grade.

I wrote the paper that night and crafted it to tell my reader (Dr. Tassin) a story from the perspective of someone who was helping maintain a United States war ship while all hell from the Japanese kamikazes was breaking loose. I chose my words to remind Ray Tassin about how he felt when he flew from the flight deck of the United States Navy’s most decorated ship. I tried to make him remember how nerve-racking it was to land his plane at night on that “old grey ghost.”

I finished writing my “masterpiece” that night and ended it by explaining to Ray with this statement:

After surviving countless kamikaze attacks during its service in WWII, the U.S.S. Enterprise was decommissioned on February 17, 1947 and scrapped.

The next morning, I took my paper to class and turned it over to Tassin. I was very arrogant about my work. I knew I had done good. I knew I would be getting an A and that I was on my way to mega-riches in the community newspaper business.

On the last day of that summer of 1989 feature writing class Dr. Tassin walked into class and started handing out all those papers he had graded. I will never forget the look he gave me when he handed mine to me. He had marked the top of the front page with an A- followed by a note that read “Anderson-see me please.”

My heart sank. Did he think I had plagiarized something? Did he not believe I had actually interviewed my grandfather? What could he be thinking? I was sweating it.

After class, I took my paper and walked down the hallway to Tassin’s office. He told me to sit down as he reached over to his coat rack and started to put on his authentic leather bomber jacket (map lining) and all! Dr. Tassin knew that I would soon be graduating and that he would be retiring at the same time.

He told me that he had watched me wear my bomber jacket to many of his classes throughout the years and he wanted me to see a real one that had been in combat. I asked him if I could try it on and he seemed so honored to grant my wish.

He looked at me, pointed to my paper and said something that I will never forget. I have told many college kids this same story many times when I guest speak to their classes.
He turned my paper to the final page. He took his red marker as he went to the final paragraph. He circled the word countless. He then handed me a paperback book titled “The Big E.” A book written about the U.S.S. Enterprise CV-6. He pointed to a fact in the book, looked me in the eyes and said:

“Let me tell you something Anderson. When guys like me and your grandpa Ross are battling in the South Pacific against the Japanese Imperial Navy, and they are dive bombing their airplanes into our boat, By God you better believe we counted them!”

I teared up. I had nothing. There were no words I could say to this great warrior.

As I sat there a minute wearing his Navy bomber jacket, he said. “Go share this book with Grandpa Ross. Tell him he can keep it as long as he wants.”

Dr. Ray Tassin told me that day to get my facts straight. To do it right. When it comes to being a newspaper man, I can’t carry his bag in the airport.

God Bless all our United States Veterans who fought for our country. God Bless Dr. Ray Tassin.

Thanks so much for reading. I will see you next Saturday. Would you like a Progress?