The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.
One of the most interesting stories I worked on this year involved Lester Hammond Jr., the only local resident to be awarded the Medal of Honor. So few people seem to know what a hero this man was, partly because only minimal accounts of his bravery are available to the general public.
Hammond died more than 60 years ago on a forgotten hill in a conflict history books have labeled "The Forgotten War." He was a Korean War fatality. He gave up his own life to save others, the ultimate act of compassion -- and bravery.
The Korean War unfolded shortly after the end of World War II and about a decade before Vietnam. History has treated the combat in Korea as a stepchild when it comes to the attention it has never received, and that's a shame.
While looking into Hammond, I met with a member of his family, Brad Richmiller, a nephew. It was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in more than 15 years of covering the news here in Quincy.
Richmiller's pride in what "Junior" -- what Lester was known as in family circles -- had sacrificed for his fellow soldiers and country was evident in every word he spoke. Sometimes there were pauses, which were awkward at first, when Richmiller was overcome with emotion. The awkwardness soon evaporated when I quickly began to admire Richmiller's passion.
"We were never able to celebrate our uncle like we could have. We didn't get the chance to really appreciate Lester like we should have," Richmiller said. "My mom and grandma never talked about (Lester's death)."
It was a different time in the 1950s. People dealt with tragedies of this nature in a different way, often trying to forget it or, in this case, celebrating a life that others should have known about long before they eventually did.
Lester Hammond would have been 82 years old if he were alive today. The following is a snippet of the story I wrote about him:
He sacrificed his own life in the midst of the Korean War to save the remaining members of his patrol who were being overrun by hundreds of Chinese communists on a barren, faraway hill in North Korea in August 1952.
Hammond's decision was the ultimate act of bravery.
Already wounded twice and separated from the rest of his men, Hammond called in artillery support to protect the rest of the patrol -- knowing that such a response would take his own life.
Hammond was 21 when he perished.
Looking back over those words, I can feel the tears forming in my eyes.
"Everyone who serves is a hero, but someone who gives his life ... is above and beyond." Richmiller said.
It took a long time for Korean War veterans to gain their due, in terms of acknowledgement, respect -- and even a memorial. Vietnam veterans can certainly sympathize.
"Now that I'm older, I have a greater appreciation of Lester," Richmiller sad. "I've been able to live a life that he ... could not. I appreciate what he did more than when I did when I was 25."
We all should remember to appreciate Lester Hammond -- and the tens of thousands of other veterans -- who both preceded and followed him.
After working on this story, I know I did -- and will.