Before newspaper people can tell stories, we must hear them from someone else — their own stories, or stories about someone they know — and we have to decide how much truth is involved.
One rule of thumb is this: Those who did the least talk the most, and those who did the most talk the least, particularly when it comes to war stories.
Real veterans don’t talk except on rare occasions, as some of them did for D-Day stories the Times-News ran this week.
A young woman’s mother told her that her great-uncle operated a landing craft on D-Day.
When she asked him, he said, “Honey, all I did was take those boys in to die.” Later, he relented and told her things he may never have told anyone else.
Thousands of them did die.
When the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out in 1998, several D-Day veterans who were then in their 70s got together here and went to see it.
Everything was fine until a scene in which a Higgins boat dropped its disembarking ramp directly in front of a German MG 42 machine gun that fires 1,200 rounds a minute. G.I.s called it “Hitler’s buzzsaw.”
The soldiers in the landing craft were shredded, almost before they knew what was happening. This happened any number of times in real life on D-Day.
Several of the veterans got up and walked out of the movie. They’d already seen more than enough of that to last a lifetime. Some had to seek counseling.
Our old friend and newspaper colleague Tom J. “Bucky” Walbert was — as those who knew him can attest — one of those who talked the most, but only about certain things.
Other things, he didn’t talk about at all. He never let us know that on D-Day, he was one of those who did the most.
We were aware that Bucky had been in the Army during World War II and was a disc jockey in the service. He was far more willing to talk about his career as a professional boxer and virtually anything else. His stories were worth hearing, laced with both good humor and wisdom.
A photo of Bucky spinning records in his uniform shows him wearing a master sergeant’s chevrons and rockers (three each), so there had to be more to him than we knew. Master sergeant is one of the highest enlisted ranks in the Army. Only about 10 percent of those recommended are promoted to it.
It was only after Bucky’s death that we learned he was one of the U.S. Army Rangers who scaled the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc to take out German gun emplacements on D-Day.
Bucky was a large man, and the thought of him climbing a rope up a 100-foot cliff was intriguing, but not surprising. We’ve seen him dance with his wife, Pauline, and his light-footed agility was amazing.
In a story on Page 1A of our June 6, 2014, edition, Bucky’s son Tim told our reporter Michael A. Sawyers that the man who would live to become his father was tasked with holding the rope at the bottom and climbing up last.
“He told us he was almost to the top, and the next thing he knew he was airborne and falling 60 feet onto sand and rock. They were taking fire and the Germans were cutting some of the ropes,” Tim said.
Tim said the fall ripped a muscle off his father’s hip, and he lay on the beach for the next 10 hours.
“Medics would come by every three hours and give him morphine. They were too busy dealing with those who were more badly injured,” he said.
Bucky returned to his unit to fight in more battles and was wounded three times in three days, then was too close to a German mortar shell when it went off. He woke up two days later in a church that was being used for a hospital, being treated by a nurse who called him Bucky.
As of last September, only 486,777 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were still alive — about 3%. By extrapolation, only about 2,200 of the 73,000 who landed on D-Day would have been around. The numbers have dwindled since then.
The Veterans Memorial on South Centre Street in Cumberland bears these words: “They are not gone who fought and fell, they only wait ahead.”
Bucky Walbert wrote that.