Sam Weldon grew up in Champaign, Ill., a Midwestern college town. He was drafted and became a member of the 4th Marines Division at 18. Following a shortened training session, he and his fellow Marines were put on ships and sent to the Pacific. He was part of the second wave to land on Iwo Jima. His stories of the days and nights of battles there are amazing and touching and very human. He became a Corporal when the officers ranked above him were killed. Weldon talks about friendships made and friends lost and those who survived during the fights on Iwo Jima and afterward. His stories of being discharged and celebrating in Chicago add another picture. Looking back over it all, he can still say he would do it all again.
Central Illinois World War II Stories
Three hundred people attended a community conversation August 28, 2008 at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center at the University of Illinois IL featuring musical storytelling emphasizing the events of WWII and prominent songs of the period with vocalist and narrator Dena Vermette , Don Heitler and his jazz trio with Ben Taylor on bass and Jeff Magby on drums. The musical performance will be narrated by veteran John Weaver. The musical performance was followed by a video screening of people who lived and trained at the U of I during WWII and discussion with panelists plus an archival display.
Speaking were Katie Harper Wright, who attended the U of I from 1940 to 1944 and was one of a small number of black students on campus; Jim Stallmeyer, who was drafted into the Navy and trained at the U of I from 1944-1946; Earl Swanson, who attended the U of I before joining the Army in 1943; William Prather, a soldier in the Army who trained on campus, and Kathryn Luther Henderson, a student from Champaign.
The event was co-sponsored by co-sponsored by WILL, the U of I Alumni Association, and the U of I Archives' Student Life and Culture Archival Program, funded by the Stewart S. Howe Endowment. The panel and audience discussion were moderated by Tom Rogers of WILL AM-FM-TV.
George Boyd was 7 years old and living in Urbana when Pearl Harbor was attacked. His homefront memories of the war years are sharp and reflect much of what children living in this country experienced. He did the things children did, playing and going to movies and helping with liberty gardens. He gives a good picture of life in middle America where everyone was involved in some way in the war effort. At the same time he heard adults talk and radio reports and knew when neighbors or family members were hurt or had died in battles. Children of this period in our history were changed by what was happening and in some ways were adults well before they might have been if the war had not happened.
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."
Hoopeston was home to a German POW camp where prisoners were taken to area farm fields and factories to work. Eighty people attended a community conversation October 25, 2007 at the Hoopeston Public Library in Hoopeston, IL featuring local stories of the former POW camp in Hoopeston during WWII. Speaking were brothers Tom and Ed Layden who worked side-by-side with captured German soldiers; Carol Hicks, a historian who has researched and written on the Hoopeston POW camp; Curt Campbell, who was a POW mistreated by German soldiers; and Larry Coon, who has a child visited the German POW at the Hoopeston camp. The event was co-sponsored by WILL AM-FM-TV and the Hoopeston Public Library. The panel and audience discussion were moderated by Tom Rogers of WILL AM-FM-TV.
Seventy-five people attended a community conversation October 16, 2007 at the Danville Public Library in Danville, IL featuring stories from eight Danville-area residents. Speaking were John Saint who enlisted in the Air Force in 1942 and was a POW in Germany; Bill Kannapel, who cared for wounded soldiers as a doctor; Helen Montgomery, who served in the Medical and Identification division of the American Women’s Voluntary Service; Charlie Dukes, who was a POW in Germany and Russia; Joe McCormick, who was a translator who worked with the French Underground; Milt Crippin, who landed on Utah Beach on D-Day and “Sparky” Songer who was a POW in Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. The event was co-sponsored by WILL AM-FM-TV and the Danville Public Library. The panel and audience discussion were moderated by Mary Coffman of the Danville Area Community College. The Danville Public Library has been videotaping oral histories of local residents. Some of those residents, John Sant, Bill Kannapel, Helen Montgomery, Gerald Sooley and Charlie Dukes, share their stories with Mary Coffman, retired humanities professor from Danville Area Community College.
Ninety people attended a community conversation October 11, 2007 at the Early American Museum in Mahomet, IL featuring three men who survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during World War II. Speaking were Art Leenerman of Mahomet, Don McCall of Champaign and Earl Riggins of Oakland. They shared detailed accounts of how they survived four and a half days in the water waiting to be rescued while battling sharks, cold and hunger. The event was co-sponsored by WILL AM-FM-TV and the Early American Museum. The panel and audience discussion were moderated by Jack Brighton of WILL.
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.
Yuki Llewellyn spent three years during World War II interned at the Manzanar Assembly Center in California. Llewellyn and her 23-year-old single mother were evacuated from Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, to Manzanar in Lone Pine, Calif. The now famous 1942 National Archives photo, taken by Clem Albers and showing Yuki sitting on a suitcase in the train station, became representative of that period. A retired assistant dean of students at the University of Illinois, Llewellyn returned to Manzanar last fall for the first time since she and her mother left it in October 1945 with $25 and a pair of government-issued bus tickets. Producer Denise La Grassa talks to Llewellyn about living in Block 2 inside the internment camp where she shared a 20 x 20 room with her mother and another family.
Original members of the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron formed during World War II at Chanute Field join a discussion about WWII at the Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, Illinois. Participatants include Elmer Jones, one of six original aviation cadets to be trained at Chanute; Mrs. Edith Roberts, widow of George “Spanky” Roberts, who was the first commander of the 99th Pursuit Squadron at Tuskegee; and Mrs. Eunice Dansby Gingery of Decatur, widow of Ellsworth Dansby, who was one of the first enlisted volunteers to arrive at Chanute Field in 1941.