Greg Jordan

Many years ago, a German general named Helmuth von Moltke said something along the lines of “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Well, something along those lines apply to schedules at newspapers, too. No schedule for the day survives first contact with the actual day. You can make all the plans you want, but they evaporate with a call on the police scanner or a politician’s announcement.

On Nov. 12, I was getting ready to leave after a long Friday when editor Samantha Perry suddenly called me. One of her contacts had called her minutes earlier and told her that deputies with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department and state troopers were driving their cruisers down to the Giles County, Va. line to meet an ambulance carrying a veteran, William J. Thompson, home from a hospital in Fairfax, Va.

Thompson, who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq, had endured two double-lung transplants. He had been exposed to toxic smoke coming from “burn pits” used for incinerating debris in Iraq. Tragically, the medications he needed after the second transplant had lowered his resistance to cancer. He had developed cancer, and now he was coming home to Princeton to live his remaining time under a hospice’s care.

I wasn’t personally acquainted with Thompson, but lifelong Mercer County residents tend to know each other. Thompson went to school with a lot of people including members of the law enforcement community. He also worked at Princeton Community Hospital, and the resulting connections brought him into the lives of many other people.

His family announced over Facebook that he was coming home and word spread quickly throughout the community. The news took everyone by surprise and there was little time to organize a welcome, but they did it anyway. One of Samantha’s contacts called her, and she called me and asked if I could do the story. Naturally, I said yes. Short notice is part of our profession. She called photographer Jessica Nuzzo and I was soon on my way.

The procession was set to go down Oakvale Road near Princeton, so I decided to cut down Locust Street from Route 460 to get into position. Members of Thompson’s family were going to be at the Maranatha Baptist Church along Oakvale.

Word about Thompson’s homecoming had spread quickly. Dozens of cars were parked along Oakvale Road and Athens Road with their hazard lights flashing. I parked at the church and spoke with two of his sisters.

Minutes later, the procession arrived. West Virginia State Police and sheriff’s department cruisers with blue lights flashing escorted Thompson’s ambulance down the road. It was a moving sight. Friends and family applauded as the ambulance approached, and later Thompson’s wife, Suzanne, told me how an EMT raised his head so he could see the people who came out to welcome him home.

Naturally, the process wasn’t finished that night. I spent part of Saturday making more calls and writing the story. Thanks to modern tech, I could work at my mom’s home and didn’t have to cancel a visit with her and my sister. Putting up mom’s Christmas tree and other decorations for her has become a tradition that I really couldn’t miss.

On the following Monday, the morning routine didn’t even have a chance. Samantha called and asked me to run to Bramwell because an historic church had collapsed. I hurried there and got that story.

When you really think about it, having no routine is the newsroom’s routine. It’s a rare day when everything goes according to plan. The news doesn’t have a set schedule, but that’s part of what makes the days interesting. Sometimes having stories come out of the blue is annoying, but they’re often the better ones, too. There’s nothing you can do but bless or swear at the news gods, collect yourself and go do the job.

Greg Jordan is the senior reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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