I can’t think of a better word to describe the man who asked for a fist bump rather than a handshake when I first met him. I didn’t think he was unprofessional. Actually the opposite. It felt like he was greeting a friend and was excited to talk about something important to him.
The interview started with some background questions. I wanted to get the ball rolling and create a formal atmosphere. Then I moved into the territory that excited me most, hearing people’s stories. It’s like I’m traveling to a time period that I have no idea about. As Mayor Burchett talks about his World War II veteran father, I try to comprehend what it would like to be a twenty-year old trudging through forest with other men shooting at you.
Personal stories like these make the Medal of Honor Project come alive.
It’s crazy for me to think that our soldiers are sent off to a foreign land, perform heroic feats and are then plopped back into regular, everyday America. Mayor Tim Burchett expressed the same wonderment. He told stories of his father’s experiences coming back from World War II and told me about J. E. “Buck” Karnes, who earned the Medal of Honor in World War I and then became a Knoxville police officer after returning from the war.
The thing that struck me most about the interview was Mayor Burchett’s definition of hero. He said, kids look up to pro athletes and other personalities, who reached heroic heights with their “natural God-given gift,” but his hero reached heights higher than them and did it with his own two hands. His father, who served in World War II, is his hero. It’s not because he could hit a ball 400 feet or dunk a basketball. It’s because he was a man that put his country first and whose actions were worth looking up to.
While this was just my first interview for this project, it was one that I will remember. I am excited to share these stories of American heroes whose names are not on a jersey or light up a jumboton.
Our interview with Mayor Burchett will be part of a documentary, produced by the Medal of Honor Project, chronicling the 2014 Medal of Honor Convention. The convention will take place at the Knoxville Convention Center from September 9-13th, 2014. The convention provides an opportunity for the 79 living Medal of Honor recipients to come together to discuss their experiences and strengthen the legacy of America’s highest honor. For more information on the recipients, our documentary, or the convention continue to follow our project or visit the website for the convention.