Local residents lend voices to WWII project

By PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Donald Oberholzer, 86, who served in the Merchant Marines and Army, was interviewed by Ellen Chadbourne, 17. The high school students are part of a project to record the experiences of veterans of the second world war. Their memories will be preserved at the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

Twila Hatcher, 90, talked about her husband Vinson, who was in the Air Force.

John Kinney, 96, spoke of his service in the Air Force to Lauren Shappell, 15.

Ten Washington D.C. area high school students interviewed as many Franklin County veterans and others of that generation at a special event Nov. 4. Filming took place at the Greencastle Senior Center for “Capturing the Voices of World War II”.

James Percoco, director of education for Friends of the National WWII Memorial, brought the seniors, juniors and sophomores from two Virginia high schools to Greencastle. Students typically used the memorial as an outdoor classroom to interview veterans and others who served on the home front. They veered from the National Mall site to visit the senior center, only the second road trip for the teenagers. The first was to Hagerstown, Md. last February. 

The project was designed to ensure that the legacy, lessons and sacrifices of WWII were not forgotten. It began in June 2012.

“We will keep interviewing veterans until there are no more veterans left to interview,” said Percoco.

The men and women sat in either of two sets, with special lights illuminating them, and a camera running. They spoke into microphones, answering questions from the youth. By January, the digital documents should be posted at wwiimemorialfriends.org

One girl asked for advice from videographer Tom Sullivan, since she felt she was not getting the answers she sought. He advised her to use terms the men understood, such as “theater” and “missions”.

The invitation

Kathy Freese got the ball rolling after learning about the Hagerstown visit. The Senior Center had sponsored a bus trip to the WWII Memorial, but she wanted to involve veterans who did not get to go.

“People need to tell their stories,” Freese said. “World War  II vets were pivotal in preserving our freedoms in America and the world. It was the war of all our lifetimes.”   She and center director Danielle Henry contacted Percoco and he agreed to come up. Henry supported the program for clients of the center.

“It gave them the opportunity to be able to tell their story and have it live on for future generations. It is rare that the kids travel anywhere, so it was a privilege for us that they were able to come to us.”

Freese made sure the candidates signed the release forms before they posed for the cameras.

Homeschooling families came to watch the activity. Michelle Kegerreis brought son Daniel; Sue Sipes was accompanied by husband Duane, father -in-law Ralph Sipes, and daughter Julie; and Lee Nunemaker brought sons Daniel and Josiah.

“We thought it was a wonderful opportunity,” said Kegerreis.

“They are studying this topic now, 20th century world history,” added Sipes.

Jason Swartz, 17, a senior, was participating as an interviewer for personal reasons.

“This helps us bring their monument to them, and it’s an opportunity to learn about the war history of our nation. They did a lot for us. I want to give back to them.”

Twila Hatcher, 90, was interviewed because her late husband Vinson was held prisoner of war by the Japanese for over three years. She believed the atomic bomb saved the prisoners. Vinson and the others saw the mushroom cloud from a distance. A few days later the captives were liberated.

Friends of the National World War II Memorial was founded in 2007 and the monument itself was dedicated in 2004. So far over 550 people have been interviewed for the Voices project.