When We Were Soldiers

“It’s a silent exodus that Americans can sense – but maybe not quite see. The gradual disappearance of millions of veterans has accelerated rapidly, ushering in an erosion of the nation’s social landscape.”

“It’s the passing of an era never to be repeated.”

In a rigorous review of federal, state and local census data, reporter Brittany Van Heyningen discovered the arrival of a dramatic demographic shift that will tilt the fulcrum of veteran influence as we know it.

She and photojournalist Cal Gaines chronicle the issue through six decades of veteran migration, the collapsing veteran universe in the Northeast, the largest expansion of national cemeteries since the Civil War, the microcosm of a single 195-home street and the intimate journey of terminally ill veteran Ivan DeBaecke.

The Special Publication/Section ‘When We Were Soldiers’ won first place for Special Sections in the 2014 Society of Professional Journalists, first place Florida Society of New Editors award for photo story and first place Special Sections Florida Press Club. 


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This journey brought me into a cold, dreary meeting hall in Rochester, NY., where a VFW post is fading into the shadows. To the life of  WWII veteran Ivan DeBaecke who survived the Dust Bowl and Great Depression at his childhood farm in David City, Neb. where returned after his passing to walk through fields of grain.

This project taught me more about life than I ever realized. Within these veteran’s eyes, I saw hope, sorrow, fear, and I saw all of their tomorrows that they sacrificed for our today’s. When I was walking around in Rochester, NY. on assignment for this project  I came across a VFW mailbox and on the side it said “Hello, remember me.”

I will never forget… The Greatest Generation.

‘When We Were Soldiers’ won the following awards:

  • Society of Professional Journalists – First place award for Special Section
  • Florida Society of News Editors – First place award for Photo Story
  • Florida Press Club – First place Special Sections
  • Florida Press Club – First place award for Feature Photo Essay


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