Digital expressions of love are often quick, disposable and cheap, yet they are difficult to delete forever. Thoughtful, hand-written love letters and timeless old film photographs, on the other hand, are irreplaceable once they are destroyed.
For Jennifer Johnson Bryant, the photograph of her grandparents embracing in a passionate kiss on their wedding day — just one day before he left to fight in World War II for a year — is a treasure that gets more valuable every day since it was taken on July 11, 1944.
Bryant, a development manager at Lexmark, said preserving her family’s history is all part of a larger book project she is working on with 9th District Councilman Jay McChord called “A Veteran’s Legacy…In Love.” The project is focusing on preserving the love stories of veterans, young and old, and creating a platform for people to share their stories or their families’ stories of love in times of war.
“For me, the big thing is I have a heart for veterans and a heart to capture stories that help bridge the gap through generations,” McChord said.
McChord published another book two years ago, “A Veteran’s Legacy,” which honors veterans and captures the military experience. To follow that up, “A Veteran’s Legacy…In Love” will capture the experiences of those who served in light of the relationships with their loved ones.
When Bryant heard about the project, she knew her grandparents’ story would be perfect. When Bryant’s grandmother Dale Johnson died in 1991, her grandfather Kenneth Johnson was going through old photos to use at his wife’s funeral.
“It was a really special time because it was just the two of us and he had all of these grocery sacks full of photos and folded up notes that I had never seen before,” Bryant said about the day when she was just a teenager. “He was very private about them and didn’t let me read any of them. They were their personal letters.”
Bryant secretly saved the photo of her grandparents kissing on their wedding day and was glad she did because shortly after the funeral, her grandfather burned every last photo, letter and other pieces of correspondence with his late wife out of respect for their relationship. Bryant explained that a lot of older veterans and their wives made pacts to burn their personal letters to each other when one spouse passed away.
More than 20 years later, Bryant cherishes the photo she secretly took from her grandfather’s pile, and McChord drew a large replica of the tiny print for her to keep.
The urgency to preserve the love stories of veterans is a task that the duo now takes seriously, especially since more and more World War II veterans die every day. “A Veterans Legacy…In Love” will preserve the stories of American veterans from all wars fought, not just World War II.
“While we still have these people, we both feel this tremendous sense of urgency to learn what they experienced and get this history down,” Bryant said.