The veterans who lived the stories collected in "Defenders of Freedom" were the first to get copies Thursday of the new book published by the Sun-Gazette.
Copies of the book largely written by Sun-Gazette reporter David Thompson were distributed to 42 veterans who attended a luncheon for them and their guests at the Capitol Lounge of the Community Arts Center.
The veterans are among those profiled in the 302-page book, which includes 75 profiles and photographs of veterans who served the country during World War II and the Korean War.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Layout coordinator Chuck Smith, right, hands a copy of the “Defenders of Freedom” book to World War II veteran Jack Getgen during a book release luncheon Thursday at the Capitol Lounge of the Community Arts Center.
Sun-Gazette Publisher Bernard A. Oravec said the newspaper was "honored and privileged" to have the veterans as guests and to have had the opportunity to tell their stories.
"We appreciate everything you have done for the country (and your) community," he said before introducing Thompson.
Thompson thanked the veterans for making the book possible and described his role as "probably ... the smallest role of all."
He described the experience as one of the most important and meaningful of his career. "It's right up there," he said in a post-luncheon interview.
During the luncheon, he told the veterans his experiences interviewing them and writing their stories was "priceless" to him.
"I made a lot of friends and heard a lot of great stories," he said.
He said the people he met and interviewed have come to mean a lot to him.
"To see you today makes me think I might have done it right," he said.
Hughesville-area resident Kenneth Stackhouse, a veteran of World War II and Korea, described his wartime experiences as "the greatest thing that ever happened" to him but admitted many of his experiences never were shared with his family and friends before his interview with Thompson.
"I told the whole story (to Thompson)," he said.
Stackhouse and other veterans interviewed also said the on-going series, which runs each Monday, is regularly read by them.
Pat DeSanto, another Korean War veteran, praised the series even before seeing a copy of the book.
He said giving the veterans the chance to tell their stories was "a great idea."
George Logue Sr., a World War II veteran who made possible the Lycoming County Veteran's Memorial Park at West Fourth Street and Wahoo Drive, was among those at the luncheon.
He and four siblings served in the war, and his brother, Robert, a submariner, made the ultimate sacrifice. Robert Logue is memorialized on the submarine monument at the park.
Leafing through the book for the first time, Earnest Eakin of South Williamsport, another veteran of World War II, said his "grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have something to remember (him) by."
Fred Schaefer of Loyalsock Township, a Korean War veteran, looked up from his copy and said he was "really happy with it." Elton Treese of Hughesville, a Korean War veteran, commended the work of the writer as he prepared to leave the luncheon.
"I thought Dave did a heck of a job," Treese said.
Oravec urged veterans who have not yet been interviewed to tell their stories for the series and a future book.
The newspaper still is looking for war veterans who have yet to tell their stories, he said.
The weekly series will continue as long as there are stories to tell, and future books are being planned.
Volume two of "Defenders of Freedom" is planned for publication around Thanksgiving 2011, Oravec said.