BECKLEY - Buckhannon Upshur Camera Club members John Simons and Al Tucker said that Saturday's OPERATION Thank You at the Yellow Ribbon event in Beckley was a rewarding day.
The two traveled south with 184 copies of their book, "A West Virginia Sesquicentennial Celebration," to the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center, where various units of deploying service men and women with the Military Police Unit and the Army National Guard gathered with their families.
"You don't get the scope or the human nature stories of the soldiers being deployed unless you come to this," Tucker, co-producer of the book, said. "See the eyes of the children, mothers, spouses - some worried, all proud."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
Alaura Cook, left, the 2-year-old daughter of SPC Dillon Cook and his wife, Danielle Cook, stand with Al Tucker, right, of the Buckhannon Upshur Camera Club after receiving their copy of the photo book, ‘A West Virginia Sesquicentennial Celebration.’
The book originally began as a collection of 150 photos for a camera club newsletter from various photographers around the state, but attracted thousands of submissions of photographers' images. The project became a 265-photograph book with images from more than 40 photographers. Tucker and Simons organized the project and designed the book.
Tucker and Simons said they did not expect the book to sell as well as it has. The profits generated from more than 1,000 book sales were so substantial that the club members decided the best use of that money was to spend it on local soldiers.
Camera club members have received thanks and appreciation from many of the service men and women - several deploying for the first time - who received the book.
The deploying soldiers were challenged by club members to circle photos of places in the book they would like to take their families when they return.
"It really means a lot to have the community support us like this," Capt. Dallas Wolfe said Saturday. "It's really great because we came a long way as an organization (Army National Guard/Yellow Ribbon).
"Twenty years ago, soldiers didn't have this kind of support," Wolfe said.
"It's really great to have something like this... It'll be great for (the soldiers) to look (in the book) and be able to see familiar things. It's great to have something that's a keepsake and to look at with fond memories.
"It helps them (soldiers) remember the community, know what they're doing serves a purpose. Not just to the country, but they're protecting West Virginia and these photos will help them remember that," Wolfe continued.
"It's overwhelming to see how the community wants to support us in any way they can," Sgt. First Class Willard Roberts said. "It means everything to know that we have their support.
"I think it will mean a lot, especially going into other territories, to be able to open the book. It gets you close mentally to where you're from and gives you that feeling of home."
Many of the deploying soldiers were the parents of very young children. Many will be sacrificing the first steps, first words and many other firsts in their family's lives. A mother of a baby boy said she was being deployed for the first time.
Second Lt. Jon Lopez has children who are a few years older. He will be spending time away from 5-year-old Maxton Lopez and 9-year-old Olivia Lopez.
"It's really nice for the Buckhannon Upshur Camera Club to put this together to where we can open up and see a picture from something when we were a child or an adult," Jon Lopez said.
"It says a lot about West Virginians and how they come together to support us."
The profits from sales of the book will continue to support local deploying soldiers, camera club members said.
Officials will travel to Kingwood on Dec. 13 with more books for deploying soldiers.
The book can be purchased by calling Simons at the Upshur County Senior Center at 304-472-0528, or online at www.createspace.com/4357439.