From the moment I walked into the theatre as a 6-year-old boy to see “Star Wars”, I fell in love with movies.
I had been to some matinee cartoons at the mall with my mom, but this was the first time I went to a movie at night. I went to the movie with my neighbor and his mother, so there was added excitement at the thought of going out at night on my own.
As we approached the theater, I was awestruck by the bright lights of the marquee. Then, walking through the doors it felt like I was transported to another world. I remember the mass of people I found inside, the carpet in the lobby, the archways leading to the theaters, the smell of hot buttered popcorn.
Although movie theaters like that have steadily been replaced with home theater systems where you can watch a 4K disc or stream the newest releases on your flat screen TV, I often think of that experience when I settle in watch a movie.
My taste in movies is pretty varied and my viewing choice can easily be swayed by the mood I’m in. But as I have gotten older, I tend to gravitate to movies based on actual people or true events. Maybe it’s the reporter side of me peaking through, but I am easily fascinated by these stories.
Recently, based on a recommendation I received from my cousin, I watched “The Last Full Measure.” The movie centers on the research involved to determine if a pararescueman with the United States Air Force, who was killed in action during the Vietnam War, was deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
During the course of his research, the investigator assigned to the case learned how meaningful receiving the Medal of Honor would be to the man’s parents and those he saved during the battle that ultimately claimed his life.
Hearing those accounts on film gave me a small glimpse into how meaningful it must have been for Vernon J. Baker and his family to learn that he would be receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor more than 50 years after distinguishing himself in battle in Italy.
A 1939 graduate of Clarinda High School, Baker was one of the first seven African American soldiers to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during a ceremony in 1997. Baker, who was 78 at the time of the ceremony, was the only living member of the seven recipients. He was presented the honor by former President Bill Clinton.
I have had the honor of writing several stories about Baker and had the opportunity to meet some of his family during the dedication of Vernon J. Baker Main Street in 2006. He is certainly a great source of pride for Clarinda.
However, there are many other former or current residents of Clarinda that should also be sources of pride for the community. Like Baker, they too are military veterans.
I have had the privilege to meet many of these fine men and women. I am honored many of them have trusted me over the years to share their stories of military service.
No matter how long they served or whether or not they saw combat, these people stepped up to serve their country when called upon. Their actions helped set the foundation of this nation and for that reason, their stories are worth preserving.