Central Illinois World War II Stories

WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - February 21, 2008

Oral History Interview: Wesley Matthews of Mechanicsburg

Wesley Matthews served in the army and fought in the Battle of the Bulge as an ammunition bearer. He was hit by shrapnel that pierced his thigh, and he lay wounded for a whole day and into the night before four soldiers rescued him.

Categories: Health, History, Military

WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - February 21, 2008

Tuskegee Airman Elmer Jones

Producer Denise La Grassa talks with Tuskegee Airman Col. Elmer Jones, one of six original aviation cadets for the Tuskegee Airmen trained at Chanute Field in Rantoul. Jones, who became ground crew commander, was proud to serve his country in aircraft engineering during World War II, even though he served in an all-black unit. He maintains that being in a segregated unit provided an unexpected opportunity for the Tuskegee Airmen. They were able to prove their abilities at a time when people questioned whether African Americans should be allowed to fly and maintain planes. "They proved they were as good as white fighter pilots," said LaGrassa. "World War II was really the beginning of the civil rights movement."


WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - February 20, 2008

Oral History Interview: Jim Hull of Urbana

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(Duration: 29:48)

Jim Hull served all over Europe in many of the major campaigns. He was in the Army for about three years, serving with the artillery in places like the Argonne Forest and Normandy. His artillery group followed the troops in on the beaches on D Day and went with Patton through France. Hull was in the Battle of the Bulge and talks about the bitterness of the cold 7 degree temperatures. He shows samples of the K rations that soldiers ate—small boxes containing a canned dinner or a breakfast/lunch combination, and cigarettes. Hull shares the letter all soldiers received from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower before they hit the beaches. At the time, he said, he and his buddies were so ready to go that he didn’t think much of it, but reading it after surviving the war and looking back, he realizes how much that letter meant. His group was the only one to hold a bridge over the Elbe River, a bridge they called the Truman Bridge. His group served as part of the Army of Occupation when the battles ended.

Categories: History, Military

WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - February 14, 2008

Oral History Interview: Ralph Rinehart of Decatur

Ralph Reinhart grew up in the Midwest and until becoming a part of World War II, had never seen the ocean or been in a ship. After going through basic training and learning on a cannon and other artillery from WWI, he was sent to Australia where he served with a boat company in a variety of positions, from deck hand to tug boat skipper. The company moved through the South Pacific islands following a number of major battles, securing the areas and moving equipment. Reinhart kept a journal so he would remember his time in the service and the men with whom he served. He speaks movingly of being lucky enough to live through the war and returning with 300 men he calls friends.

Categories: History, Military

WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - February 14, 2008

Love and War

The story of Jerry and Wilma Ashenbremer of Oakwood is one of love amid the ruins of war. They met in Vienna at the conclusion of World War II. Wilma was a young Austrian, Jerry a GI patrolling the city. They began a silent relationship.
Bob and Hattie Marion of Urbana sustained their love throughout the war when he was overseas. Letters kept the spark alive. But every time the letters temporarily stopped, Hattie worried.

Producer Denise La Grassa looks at the lives of these two couples in "Love and War." "The couples are similar in that they've been together so long that there's a great friendship and a close bond," says Denise. "I found the way they interacted to be very fresh and youthful, yet both couples are older. I wonder if it's because they came through so much in their years having to go through the war and its aftermath together."

Categories: Community, History, Military

WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - February 08, 2008

Oral History Interview: Joseph Smith of Champaign

Joseph Smith enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on June 11, 1943.  Smith selected the Marine Corps after a USMC recruiter convinced him that he would be treated just the same as white recruits and could expect a job other than cook.  While Smith would eventually serve in the Okinawa Campaign as a truck driver, he quickly learned during his trip to boot camp that institutional racism was alive and well in the Armed Forces.

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WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - February 08, 2008

Oral History Interview: Joseph Smith of Champaign

Joseph Smith enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on June 11, 1943.  Smith selected the Marine Corps after a USMC recruiter convinced him that he would be treated just the same as white recruits and could expect a job other than cook.  While Smith would eventually serve in the Okinawa Campaign as a truck driver, he quickly learned during his trip to boot camp that institutional racism was alive and well in the Armed Forces.

Categories: History, Military
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WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - February 07, 2008

Oral History Interview: Charles Dukes of Georgetown

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(Duration: 1:44:53)

Charles Dukes enlisted in the Army in October, 1943, during his sophomore year at Indiana University. He was shipped overseas 80 days after D-day, entering battle in the Cherbourg Peninsula. He fought through Belgium, Holland and Germany. Dukes was captured Nov. 23, 1944, spending six months in Runddorf, a labor camp near the Czech border. He escaped several different times, finally making it to the Elbe River where Americans were being exchanged one-for-one for Russians.

Categories: History, Military

WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - February 07, 2008

Iris Lundin, Champaign

When World War II broke out, Iris Nigg Lundin of Champaign left her small town in Minnesota and joined hundreds of other women in the newly formed Marine Corps women's Reserve. She became one of the first four female navigation instructors.

Producer Denise La Grassa said that in her conversations with Lundin, she was impressed by the strength of this woman who left a secure life in Minnesota to join the ranks of the Marines, the toughest of the tough. "This was the first time many of these men who were her students had encountered a female instructor and she really held her own," said La Grassa. "When I listened to her stories, I was moved by her description of how she went to bat for African-Americans on the military bases where she worked. She was brave enough to tell a higher-ranking officer that he shouldn't be treating a steward in a demeaning manner. Later in her life, equality was very important to her."