Seventy-five people attended a community conversation October 4, 2007 at the Urbana Free Library in Urbana, IL featuring three women who had very different experiences of WWII. Speaking were Yukiko Okinaga Llewellyn who, as a little girl, was interned with her mother at Manzanar camp in California; Iris Lundin who, as a member of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve, taught navigation to Navy pilots; and Jill Knappenberger who was one of three women serving on the front lines during the Battle of the Bulge. Working for the Red Cross operating a refitted truck dubbed a "Clubmobile," she passed out donuts, coffee and cigarettes to weary soldiers. The event was co-sponsored by WILL AM-FM-TV and the Urbana Free Library. The panel and audience discussion were moderated by U of I history professor Mark Leff.
Central Illinois World War II Stories
USS Indianapolis Survivors Art Leenerman, Mahomet; Don McCall, Champaign; Earl Riggins, Oakland
When the USS Indianapolis was sunk by Japanese torpedoes in 1945, only 317 of 1,196 men on board survived. Three of those survivors live in central Illinois. They got together with WILL-TV producer Denise La Grassa to talk about how they survived four and a half days in the water waiting to be rescued while battling sharks, cold and hunger. About 600 men died in the water after the ship sank. All three central Illinois survivors were brought up on farms, and were accustomed to hard work, long days in the sun and difficult conditions. They think it was a factor in their survival. “They had grown up learning to keep plowing along, no matter how tough things got. And that’s basically what they did in the water,” said La Grassa.
Margaret Henderson was a senior at Radcliffe when the U.S. Navy became so desperate for communications officers that it recruited several senior girls to train to become cryptologists. German U-boats were disrupting shipping to a great degree so the Navy needed help. Henderson trained for 30 days at Mt. Holyoke and then went to Washington, D.C. where she worked from 1943-45 in Naval Communications Intelligence for the European theater. In her office, Allies read communications in which German U-boat officers were wiring each other their positions, unaware that the Allies had broken their code. One of Henderson’s jobs was to keep track of the U-boats using a big map and pins.
Robert E. Green signed up for the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipman School in June of 1940, the same month he turned 21, and graduated as Ensign, USNR a year later. During the war, he served in the Navy in the Pacific, except for six months during 1943 when he returned stateside to pick up a new ship in New York. In the North Pacific, he served at Attu and Kiska in the Aleutian Islands in 1943. In the South Pacific he took part in the Guadalcanal campaign in 1942 and the Battle of Tarawa in 1943. He earned a Silver Star for his service at Tarawa, and earned four battle stars for his service on his first ship, an APA (attack transport). During the final two years of the war, he was first lieutenant of a floating drydock at Manus Island in the Bismarck Sea, where ships were quickly repaired so that they could return to action.