Book honors veterans
REXBURG – Two southeast Idaho men have worked together on a book about military veterans that they hope will be both an inspiring tribute and a memorial. “Welcome Home,” by Stewart Portela and Sam Walton, recounts stories of veterans from the Vietnam War period up through today’s combat against terrorism.
Portela, of Firth, is a science teacher at Firth High School who also teaches a course on military history.
Walton, of Blackfoot, is a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division who was a member of the division’s parachute team, the Screaming Eagles.
The book will be available next week, and the authors have several book signings planned.
The book features stories of veterans from towns and cities all over southern Idaho, including some from the upper valley and Teton Basin.
Walton said the veterans they have talked to for the book are modest about their service.
“One veteran leads to another,” Walton said. “They’d say: ‘I’m not a hero, but you should talk to this guy, because he is (a hero), and the next one would tell us the same thing.”
The new book has the stories of 94 veterans and centers on their homecoming perspective and military history.
It also memorializes several who did not return.
“I wish every student up and down the valley would read this book because it would give them a sense of appreciation for what these veterans have done,” Portela said. “The book is not a book about ‘blood and guts,’ but about the veterans themselves.”
The book joins two previous books by Portela, “Heroes Among Us,” and “Footsteps in the Sand.”
The first of those books has stories about veterans from World War II and the Korean War and the second book returns to the World War II period.
Two basic themes tie the stories in “Welcome Home” together.
The authors note that Vietnam veterans received little appreciation when they returned home.
Portela and Walton state that today it is the Vietnam veterans who are welcoming home and aiding the young veterans of today.
“It is inspiring to see these veterans of 50 to 60 years of age, some still wearing uniforms and medals, shaking hands and hugging these young veterans upon their return from overseas deployment,” Portela wrote in an e-mail.
The book includes accounts of forward air controllers who went outside their lines to call in air strikes and recent soldiers’ challenges in dealing with improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists.
There are also stories of veterans of the Cold War, the first Gulf War, and those who served in submarines and missile silos.
“What I hope everyone gets from this book is the number of veterans we have all around us and what they have done for us,” Walton said. “I hope if you read this book, that someday you may bump into one of these veterans and be able to shake their hand and tell them thank you.”
Portela wrote: “‘Where do we find such men?’ That’s the closing line in the movie, ‘The Bridges of Toko-ri,’ made from the novel of the same name by James Michener. A senior naval officer says it in wonder at the self-sacrificial heroism of several naval aviators, killed while fighting in rice paddies of Korea after their aircraft went down. In all of my interviews with the men and women who have served our nation, I have often asked myself this question, ‘Where do we find such people?’ I am in awe of what our veterans have done for our country and the cause of freedom. What makes this question so relevant is that many of these veterans served and sacrificed, then came home to an ungrateful nation.”
For more information, call 346-6675.