Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online

Sometimes the story just walks right by – how a snapshot became our cover


Sometimes the story just walks right by – how a snapshot became our cover
Gracie Kuhns, then 11 years old, marches in the 2013 Veterans Day parade.


It has been such a delight to work with talented photographers in the making of our magazine. I’m not one of them.

Someone with real skill could have captured our cover photograph in such a way that it looked more important and evocative, but the person with the camera that day was only me.

I can find the subject, often – maybe not this time –?focus, and then click the shutter. This is not my strong suit.

I don’t care. I like this cover anyway and I’ll be better with words at explaining why.

At last year’s Veterans Day parade at Chaffee Crossing, with float after vehicle after groups marching in formation, I almost missed a young girl passing right in front of me.

She was alone, this kid, dressed in a baggy camouflage uniform obviously too large for her and a helmet that almost came down to her nose. Over one shoulder she was carrying an American flag and in her other arm, a picture that I just managed to see was a man’s face.

There was another reason she caught my attention – her self-assurance. As I have two daughters who possess that same quality, I recognized her air of doing exactly what she intended to be doing.

In order to identify her, we had to publish the photo online. Tami Burdick Kuhns phoned me within an hour – thanks, internets – to tell me that the “little soldier” was her daughter Gracie Kuhns, now 12 years old.

Tami works at the Community Services Clearinghouse and Gracie’s father, Jeff, works for the City of Fort Smith.

The portrait Gracie carries is her grandfather, Command Sgt. Major Jim C. Burdick, who died in 2009. Burdick, Tami’s father, joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1963 and served in Vietnam as a crew chief of aircraft mechanics. He later transferred from the Oklahoma National Guard to the U.S. Army Reserves where he finished his more than 30-year military career. All of that was before Gracie was born.

From 1975-2005 Burdick worked at St. Edward Mercy Medical Center as a craftsman in the cabinet shop. Many of the crosses hanging at the hospital were created by Burdick, Tami said. After retiring from St. Edward he was diagnosed with ALS.

He was a member of Trinity Baptist Church in Pocola, Okla., and a past president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter #467. But as important as his military service was, he was also the husband of Barbara, father of three and grandfather of five granddaughters, including Gracie, and a great-granddaughter.

Gracie’s parade appearance was foreshadowed when she asked to wear Burdick’s uniform to school for Veterans Day in her Pocola elementary. Then, for the first two parades at Chaffee Crossing, she marched in his honor. She may do it again. She makes up her own mind, her mom said. I?like that in a girl.

Thank you, Gracie. More than the wonderful floats and banners, more than the waving flags, you remind me that while all veterans are to be respected, each veteran, here or gone, is someone’s beloved. – Lynn Wasson


This story appears in the November 2014 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.


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