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.
Central Illinois World War II Stories
John O’Connor of Champaign served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. He was chosen as lead pilot with the first experimental flying unit aboard the B-24 Liberator. He flew 50 missions and also used his skills as a trumpeter and band director. Flying back from a mission, John and his crew would often pull out their instruments and play. O’Connor later became a member of the Medicare 7, 8 or 9 Jazz Band, performing around the country.
(Aired on WILL-TV's "Prairie Fire" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 17, 2008)
(Aired on WILL-TV's "Prairie Fire" on April 10, 2008)
In World War II, soldiers from Decatur, Ill., served in North Africa, Italy, the Philippines and Germany. Local volunteers rolled bandages, collected food, and recycled bales of paper and heaps of scrap metal. Citizens planted victory gardens and bought war bonds and savings stamps. Dan Guillory's book, "Wartime Decatur: 1832 & 1945" documents the vigorous wartime culture based on community involvement and a strong sense of patriotism. Prairie Fire talks to Guillory about his stories of service both on and off the battlefield. Then producer Denise La Grassa recounts the experiences of Decatur's Carl Mocabee, who was a master sergeant in the Army stationed in the Philippines and New Guinea. He received a Purple Heart and Silver Star during his service.
O.B. Streeper served with the Army Air Corps from March 1943 to September 1945. He was shot down May 27, 1944, over southern France. He parachuted to safety, and joined the French resistance. During one of the missions that he participated in, a bag was accidentally left behind contained his name and some of his identification. After finding this bag, the Nazis were apparently convinced that Streeper was one of the key figures in the French resistance so they offered a large reward for him—large enough that it represented several years of salary to an average French citizen—so Streeper had to distance himself from some of his colleagues in the resistance for fear that someone might turn him in for the reward money.
(Aired on WILL-TV's "Prairie Fire" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 3, 2008)
A friendship during World War II helped George Kitterman of Bloomington survive fierce conditions during the Battle of the Bulge. In this Prairie Fire story, Kitterman describes being pinned down in a foxhole with his friend Joe Spencer, covered with snow with only a bazooka and one shell between them. They wondered what they would do if a German tank came over the ridge.
Producer Denise La Grassa begins with Kitterman learning about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when he and his pals were finishing a game of touch football and turned on a car radio to hear the Chicago Bears score. "We follow him through much of his war experience, but the centerpiece is this friendship that was so important to him," La Grassa said.