"Grant Cantrell is no longer in Afghanistan, but the peace and quiet of his North Coventry home is not enough to erase the horror he has seen, or the intense pain in legs doctors once wanted to remove."
Those words last Friday introduced a front-page story written by Brandie Kessler and photographed by John Strickler about a local war hero and his rehabilitation from injuries suffered in Afghanistan. It was not the first time the Purple Heart recipient was featured in The Mercury. We learned of Cantrell's return home when covering a welcome-home ceremony at Ludwig's Corner Horse Show grounds attended by a crowd who witnessed the emotional moment of this young Marine walking toward his mother, the first time since his injury she saw him walk unassisted.
Our staff, particularly Brandie and John, have written/photographed a number of homecoming ceremonies for returning soldiers, Marines and airmen. Our proximity to A Hero's Welcome, the organization started by Pottstown woman Sharon Hyland-Keyser and kept going by her mother Maria Hyland of Lower Frederick, and Brandie and John's sincere admiration for those who serve our country inspire many story pitches for coverage.
It's impossible to say no.
These stories and many others are also part of the American Homecomings website, a yearlong project of Digital First Media. Cantrell's story was the centerpiece of the website last week. Brandie's original feature on A Hero's Welcome remains one of the top-read stories on the national site, and a photo feature by John with another story by staff writer Frank Otto set the stage for the site's poignant coverage of Memorial Day across the U.S.
The stories of our returning servicemen and women are not always easy to read. And Brandie and John will tell you they are not always easy to report and photograph. These are stories of pain and readjustment, of futures shattered and dreams broken.
They are stories we need to hear, however.
As Americans, the least we can do for those who sacrifice for us is to take the time to learn about their struggles and honor their commitment. The least we can do is to take time to better understand what it means to leave here with a future intact and return to uncertainty.
The sacrifices are not only in physical injury but also in mental and emotional damage, in jobs put on hold, in education interrupted, in family moments missed and in experiences that alter a person's view of the world.
The least we can do for those who sacrificed is to seek understanding and to lend a helping hand.