A Veteran’s Day Inspiration: Julie Ann Walker on Working with the USO

It’s Veteran’s Day, and we at RT would like to take a moment to thank all those who have served our country so selflessly, for the good of us all. For author Julie Ann Walker, honoring veterans is near and dear to her heart — she used to volunteer weekly at her local USO. We wanted to hear more about her experience, and how it ties into her writing — her latest, Full Throttle is out next month. 

I’ve heard many authors groan when asked the question of “Where do you get your ideas?” And I totally get the knee-jerk reaction, but I’m a rare animal in the writing world because I don’t mind talking about where I get my ideas. And maybe that’s because talking about where I get my ideas allows me to talk about something even nearer and dearer to my heart, supporting soldiers and veterans. You see, the genesis of my romantic suspense series Black Knights Inc. came about because I was volunteering weekly at my local USO. Being around servicemen, listening to their ribald banter, talking with their families, and seeing the camaraderie, distinction, and integrity with which they comport themselves made me go, “Hey! There are some great stories here!” Stories of courage and valor. Stories of patriotism and sacrifice. Stories of bands of brothers fighting for a cause and for each other. Stories that need to be told.

Like the story of the mother who brings her daughter into the USO every year to have her picture taken in front of her Marine father’s star. It’s a simple thing, a white, ceramic five-point piece that hangs on the Wall of Honor and is stamped with his name and rank.  Just one star among many stars. But it’s all they have left of the man who gave his all, his last full measure of devotion on some sand-swept plane in Iraq. The pictures of the girl may have changed from a four-year-old with pigtails and chocolate ice-cream stains on her shirt to those of a text-happy, lip-glossed teenager. But what hasn’t changed is their love for the man, the soldier, the Marine who died to ensure they both continue to live the American dream.     

Or like the tale of the young Army infantryman who stopped by the USO just hours before he was due to ship out for his third tour in Afghanistan. He was twitchy, itchy, and it was obvious he was scared, no doubt convinced his luck had run out and he wouldn’t make it back home this time. Then an old Vietnam vet strolled in. “Just to have a look around,” he said, telling me about visiting USOs back when he’d been in the service. He milled about the place, his expression cloudy, his mind lost in times long gone. But the minute he saw the infantryman, he stopped, sat, and began to talk. I don’t know exactly what he said to the young man, but whatever it was, it seemed to calm the baby-faced soldier. Or maybe it was simply staring into those aging eyes and realizing that maybe, just maybe it was possible he, too, could survive to a ripe, old age that gave the young man the strength to stand, shake the vet’s hand, and walk out that door to board that transport plane. 

It’s been my greatest joy to sit down at my keyboard every day and write about the men and women of our armed services. They are real-life heroes and heroines. And an author couldn’t ask for better inspiration than that. So today, let’s we celebrate our veterans and give thanks for their service and sacrifice. 

Julie Ann Walker

A Happy Veteran’s Day to all! Full Throttle is available December 2. For more suspense-filled romance, visit our Everything Romance page.

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