Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Dec. 15, 2006

The sword and the pen

I wish I could have attended Otto W. (Bill) Meyer's funeral. The 81-year-old retired publisher of the Marion County Record died before Thanksgiving. Well-known in Kansas journalism circles, he also was a World War II veteran, having fought in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

Journalists from throughout the state and veterans from around the country were among the mourners. His extensive obituary included information about his war service. He was an ammunition train soldier, working from rail points in the rear to the front lines. His unit was surrounded between Nidrum and Elsenborn, Belgium the night of Dec. 17, 1944. He suffered severe frostbite, which resulted in disabilities which later required him to use a cane.

Until I read Bill's obituary, I didn't know the details of his World War II service nor had I known that he received the highest award of the Belgian government, French and English decorations and several meritorious service awards from the U.S. Army.

I also discovered from the write-up that "in his spare time" in his early years, he drove a school bus, worked as an ambulance driver and was a licensed funeral director for 20 years!

Bill grew up in the Flint Hills near Cassoday, just a hop and a skip from my hometown of Burns. After the war, he received a journalism degree from the University of Kansas. In 1948, he began work at the Marion County Record and, in recent years, became co-owner of the Hillsboro Star-Journal and the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin. I worked on the Peabody paper when I was in college, long before he owned it. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for that little weekly and still look forward to seeing it in my mailbox every Friday. I was glad that he and his wife Joan decided to buy it because I knew it would be in good hands.

I knew Bill as a crusty old editor from my home county, but I also had seen him at journalism functions in recent years.

He was a regular at Kansas Press Association conferences, and I always made a point of chatting with him. Bill, who wore glasses and had a white mustache and small white beard, reminded me of Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. One minute, Bill could be crotchety, blasting government entities for their unwillingness to open their records to the public. The next, he'd soften a bit while recalling his work in his community and county. He was instrumental in helping preserve historic buildings, establishing a hospital district in his town, arranging for construction of the Marion Reservoir and many other civic projects.

In 2002, he won the Eugene Cervi Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors - only the second Kansan to win the award in the organization's then 26-year history. The first to receive it was McDill (Huck) Boyd, the man for whom the Huck Boyd National Center for Community Media at Kansas State University is named.

Bill was not one to give compliments easily, so it surprised me one day when he said, "Huck would be proud of you." He was referring to my work as the center's director to help preserve community newspapers.

Bill Meyer was buried with military honors, complete with a three-volley salute by local veterans followed by the sounding of "Taps." If the ceremony was anything like my Uncle Bud's military burial seven years ago, I'm sure it was moving.

That generation of soldiers wasn't much for talking about their war years and didn't wear the title "hero" comfortably. Most of them said the heroes were the ones who didn't make it back.

Bill Meyer wasn't any different. His obituary, most of which was probably penned by the old editor himself, stated: "PFC Otto W. Meyer Jr. (17 176 684) was no hero, but served among them."

Thank you, Bill, for your battles for our country - by both the sword and the pen.

2006 Index