Karen Spears Zacharias and Destre Livaudais are kindred spirits. Their connection, despite an age gap of more than 40 years, is one borne of heartbreak and fathers who died much too young.
Zacharias, who lives in Hermiston, lost her father, David Spears, to the Vietnam War in 1966. She was 9 years old, exactly the age Destre is now.
Destre was 5 when his father, Nino Livaudais (pronounced LIVE-a-day), 23, became one of the first 20 Iraq War casualties in 2003. The Army Ranger died after a pregnant suicide bomber began to scream and beg for help from a nearby car. Livaudais and two other soldiers working a checkpoint north of Baghdad rushed to the woman. The car exploded, killing six people - the soldiers and the three occupants of the car.
"Faces of Freedom," a newly-released book, features 52 profiles of service members who died in either Iraq or Afghanistan - one hero per state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Zacharias wrote about Livaudais, who hailed from Utah, and two other fallen heroes.
Zacharias, with three, had more than any other contributor.
Rebecca Pepin, who compiled the book, knew Zacharias from her book "After the Flag is Folded," about the struggle of Zacharias' mother as a frightened widow with a ninth-grade education.
"I'm pretty well-known in the veteran and survivor community," Zacharias said. "She contacted me and asked if I'd write a profile for a Georgia soldier."
Georgia is Zacharias' home state.
During the conversation, the Hermiston author volunteered to cover Oregon and Utah, too. Pepin let Zacharias select the veterans.
For Oregon, she chose Lance Cpl. James Huston of Hermiston. Huston, 22, a gunner, drowned July 2, 2004, in Iraq when his Humvee plunged into a canal. Huston rode in the gunner's seat high atop the vehicle and was pinned when the Humvee overturned.
"I wanted to honor the sacrifice that rural America makes," she said. "And I wanted to choose a local boy - it was a way to bring it home to this community."
The Georgia soldier, family friend Sgt. David Salie, was killed in a bomb blast on Valentine's Day in 2005. The blast, in Baqouba, Iraq, came just four days after Salie began a year-long tour.
Huston's mother Shirley said the book stirred some strong emotions and pride.
"I was impressed when I saw the book," she said. "I hadn't anticipated what it would look like."
Huston said dealing with her son's loss is still a roller-coaster process. Certain days are still tough. His birthday on Sept. 14 is one difficult day. July 2, the day James died, is another.
"It's good to have that one over with," she said.
Destre said he is proud of his father, too. He is sad his youngest brother will never know him. Grant, 3, was born five months after his father's death and will know him only through photographs. One of those photographs is a picture of Nino at Destre's age, a veritable carbon copy of Destre, except for Nino's darker skin.
Destre knows Zacharias is farther down the road than he and his two brothers, Grant and Carson. Zacharias made a pilgrimage to Vietnam in 2003, something Destre isn't eager to do now, if ever.
"I don't want to go to the battlefield where my dad died," he said. "It would be too devastating."
Destre said he doesn't usually mention his dad at school because "other kids think it's cool."
It's not cool, he said.
Destre and his two brothers are visiting Zacharias from their home in West Point, Utah.
Book proceeds go to fund Fisher House, a series of "comfort homes" for family of service members who are hospitalized.
Zacharias also wrote "Benched," a memoir of Georgia's first female Superior Court Judge, Rufe Dorsey Edwards McCombs. Another book, "Where's Your Jesus Now?" will be released soon and another, a novel called "Mother of Rain" is under review.
Her next project is a photo-driven book called "Glimpses of a Missed Life," that will contain photos and interviews with people who've lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.