Every journalist anywhere is always asked: “Where do you get your ideas, anyway? Where do your stories come from?”
In truth, stories rarely spring full-blown from our imaginations. They usually, shamelessly, come from someone else: often a person you’ve never met — a reader, a listener, a viewer — sometimes even another reporter. It’s someone else who plants the seed of an idea and you just let it germinate. And then run with it.
The Centre for Military, Strategic and Disarmament Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., is a remarkable research gold mine, idea factory, and think-tank concentrating on the study of warfare, defence and peacekeeping. The director is Terry Copp, one of this country’s leading military scholars. The Centre’s wonderful archives includes tens of thousands of aerial photographs taken at immense risk by RCAF aircrews over the lethal skies of Nazi Germany.
The Laurier Centre invited me to contribute a guest blog to their web site, explaining how I came to write Triumph at Kapyong, a book on Canada in the Korean War. It was that old question: where do your ideas come from?
I wrote Kapyong during the summer of 2010. But I’d been crafting it in my mind for over half a century.
In 1961, I was an 18 year-old Officer Cadet at the School of Infantry at Camp Borden, an hour’s drive north of Toronto. Our training instructors were seasoned soldiers of the line, most of whom had harrowing experiences in real combat. They were tough as nails. We worshipped those guys. We’d have walked off a cliff if they’d but asked.
Our platoon commander, Lt. Don Ardelian, was raised on a Saskatchewan farm and fought in Korea as a sergeant; was an expert in night patrolling (a harzardous specialty, fraught with peril) and went on to have a highly distinguished military career as an officer. It was from Ardelian we learned the thrilling tale of Kapyong, fought in the Korean hills only ten years earlier. There was not an atom of bravado in the telling. But there was intense pride. How very Canadian, I think today.
A lifetime ago, in 1961, this is what we looked like: That’s me in the upper left. The geeky looking fellow in glasses. Adrelian is the steely-eyed figure in the front row, second from the right, in the light shirt.
(They were wonderful leaders, Ardelian and those NCO`s, though I remember but a handful of names, after a half century. The sergeant on the left in the front, wearing a Scottish tam was R.J. Curran, a veteran of the terrible fighting against crack Nazi troops in the Scheldt Estuary along the Belgian-Dutch coast. The chunky utterly unheroic-looking staff sergeant on the right was Gerry Enright, decorated in Korea for great bravery in a dreadful hill fight at Kowang-San that was even worse than the battle at Kapyong.)
These were the men who drew the images of Kapyong in my memory and in my imagination that have stayed with me over the decades.
Here then, is my guest blog, describing how I got one of my ideas, maybe the best idea I ever had in almost 40 years of journalism:
Ardelian, Enright and Curran are gone now, sadly. But I`ll be remembering them on Remembrance Day.