In February 2012, I made my first trip to Ironton. I stopped at the offices of The Tribune, a newspaper that has served Ironton and Lawrence County for more than 100 years. Raymond Stephenson was a paper boy there and worked for The Tribune as a young man. He was at work in the circulation department in 1941 when news of the attack at Pearl Harbor broke. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Army Air Corps.
I introduced myself to Mike Caldwell, the Executive Editor of The Tribune at the time. He was gracious and helpful. In the course of our conversation, he asked me to tell him the story. After telling it, he said he would like to do a feature article on it and about my mission to write it. Reporter Shane Arrington, a former correspondent with the United States Navy, wrote a superb piece.
Mary Counts and Marta Ramey at the Briggs Library were generous with their time and more helpful than one should expect. I talked with folks at local shops and restaurants, who could not have been more friendly.
I visited Ironton High School, from which Raymond graduated. I went to the home in which he grew up, a house his father built with his own two hands. I walked throughout downtown Ironton, an area ravaged by two floods that covered most of the city, and was economically devastated by the Great Depression.
I mourned at Woodland Cemetery, Raymond’s hallowed final resting place. He could have been buried in Arlington National Cemetery, but his beloved Helen knew he’d want to go home. I prayed for him and the others buried there, who sacrificed themselves so that future generations could live.
It’s been said that people in small towns and cities share common bonds. I could sense that in Ironton. They share bonds of loyalty, character, pride and faith.