Local author and columnist Carol Megathlin admitted that war had a different meaning for her as a civilian, but that was before she got to know some soldiers and military families on a personal level.
Her father served in World War II and her brother served in Vietnam, but she hadn’t grown up around the military and had little understanding of what soldiers do and, more importantly, why they’re so willing to do it.
Her understanding and appreciation for service members changed following a conversation in 2002 that took place in her husband’s Sunday school class. A “seed” planted in her heart by Gerry Von Bargen, the father-in-law of then-Col. Jim Huggins, former 3rd Infantry Division deputy commander for maneuvers, would become an obsession. Megathlin soon would found the Adopt-a-Soldier program for 3rd ID soldiers of Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. She also serves on the board of directors for Honor Flight Savannah, an organization that provides World War II veterans with an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C.
“Things that have happened to me, things that have happened to everybody — that’s the things I like to write about,” explained Megathlin, a graduate of the University of Georgia and former public information officer with the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. “Strangers will say to me, ‘I’m so glad you wrote about that,’ because it’s something they were thinking or feeling. I like to write about things I’m passionate about.”
Her passion for her country and the soldiers who defend it is apparent in her columns in the Savannah Morning News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other publications. Many of her columns recently were published in an anthology called “Fighting without Fanfare: Honest Thoughts about Human Dilemmas.” Her book gives insight into the lives — the spirit — of Stewart-Hunter soldiers and their families, and it provides insight into the heart of its author, a gentle Southern lady with a warm smile and genuine love for people.
“When I get enthusiastic about something, I draw all my friends in with me,” she explained, noting that her curiosity about the Army led her to ask questions. At a press luncheon, she once met Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who then was commander of the 3rd ID and Stewart-Hunter. “He was so busy and yet so polite. He gave us all one of his personal cards and told us to call him if we had any questions. Boy, you don’t have to tell me twice! I called.”
Megathlin said she requested that her first adopted soldier be someone who was “drawn straight from the trenches.” She was assigned Pfc. Joe Dana, a young, quiet scout gunner. Though their initial meeting at Hunter just before Dana boarded a plane was a bit awkward, it left her with a lasting impression.
“We didn’t know what to say to each other,” she said. “I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated what he was doing and talk about his humble sacrifice. ... Finally, I said, ‘I’ll be praying for you.’”
She sent Dana care packages every two weeks. Once, in a letter, he mentioned his vehicle hitting an improvised explosive device. He mentioned it in a casual way, as if it was just part of his day.
“Part of my purpose in writing this book is to let everybody else know our (soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines) are the better part of this country,” she said. “The least we can do is learn about them.”
“Fighting without Fanfare” is available for $14.99 at www.amazon.com or www.CarolMagathlin.com. It soon will be available for Amazon’s Kindle, too.
The book is divided into two parts. The first half contains the author’s perspective on everyday life, love and loss; the other half contains some of her personal experiences with soldiers and their families, including being imbedded with a 3rd ID unit at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and then with the 3rd ID in Iraq.
“One of the treasured moments of my life occurred at the Hunter air terminal,” Megathlin said. “Major Gen. (Tony) Cucolo (former 3rd ID and Stewart-Hunter commander) was there to bid goodbye to a unit of his troops who were leaving for Iraq. I was standing in front of my Adopt-a-Soldier table after the initial rush was over, talking with him. He paused, looked me in the eye and said, ‘You’re one of us.’”
The soldiers she has adopted, supported and written about probably would agree. Megathlin isn’t really a civilian anymore.