His tears flowed.
Barry Booth is a tough guy. He is a Vietnam veteran and a macho man who travels across the country on his motorbike – alone. During our interview, he cried when he mentioned those who have “worn the cloth for this country.”
Tears don’t make you weak. Tears come from character, from heart, from courage and from sacrifice. Booth, a dentist, worked for years to secure the land for the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Spanish Fort, which came to fruition in 2012.
“I heard of the need and convinced my children that it would be good to honor the veterans. I’m very proud that my family is a part and that my children and grandchildren will continue the legacy,” Booth said.
Booth sat down to tell me a story about veterans, about honor and about service. I asked him about his role in the Vietnam War. His eyes got watery, his voice dipped a notch and his entire demeanor changed. Booth was a Navy dentist attached to the Marine Corps, NSA, Da Nang, 3rd Marine Division and 5th Special Forces Group.
“I went in 1966, early even though there were already 350,000 troops in the country. My service time in Vietnam was a benchmark of my life, and gave me a new perspective on life,” Booth said. “Having seen a war and the results of combat mark you. I don’t believe anything ever looks the same after that, certainly not with me. I don’t go through a day where Vietnam does not pass through my mind. Every day.”
We were still chatting when a car pulled up to the cemetery, and Booth’s eyes lit up.
“You want to meet a World War II veteran?” he asked.
Maj. John Jacobson, 3rd Army and Gen. George S. Patton’s quartermaster, landed at Normandy, walked in treacherous snow to Germany and played a role in changing history. Booth held the 105-year-old veteran like he was his own father. Jacobson spoke with a soft voice you could barely hear, but his words were loud and powerful.
“It is such an honor for us to have this cemetery. The honorable men buried here gave everything for this country, and they deserve our best efforts,” Jacobson said. “My wife is buried here, and I will be next to her one day.”
Booth helped Jacobson to his wife’s grave, and the two stood in silence. There was no need for words.
“There could be no more honorable gift to those who have served the nation (than) to turn a nature preserve into hallowed grounds,” Booth said, his voice shaking. “We are very proud of it. It took a lot of people, a number of years, trips to Washington, various hurdles that had to be squared, but with effort and perseverance we succeeded.”
Booth considers the connection between veterans an intangible bond that cannot be measured. He told me that when veterans get together, no one else could see or feel it, but those who have worn the cloth of the nation can.
“Those who have worn the cloth” and “hallowed grounds.”
Words powerful enough to paint a picture of service, of honor, of perseverance and of sacrifice; and to draw tears from one tough guy in Spanish Fort.
Alabama Bright Lights captures the stories, through words, pictures and video, of some of our state’s brightest lights who are working to make Alabama an even better place to live, work and play. Award-winning journalist Karim Shamsi-Basha tells their inspiring stories. Email him comments, as well as suggestions on people to profile, at [email protected]