Central Illinois World War II Stories
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.
Sparky Songer served in the infantry in Europe and was captured by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. He spent six months in German camps before escaping as the war was winding down and finding his way to American lines, thanks to the help of an English-speaking German guard who was a graduate of the University of Michigan. Songer talks to WILL-TV producer Denise La Grassa about his escape and his experiences in the German camps, where he subsisted almost almost entirely on rutabaga soup. He weighed under 100 pounds when he reached safety. Songer is curator and president of the Vermilion County War Museum.
Jill Knappenberger 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. She talks to WILL-TV producer Denise La Grassa about being trapped for eight days during the Battle of the Bulge, surrounded by the enemy. Her brother, John Joseph Pitts III, an Army captain, was in the heat of battle only a few miles away. Knappenberger, shown at left with the clubmobile, said she joined the Red Cross effort because she was itching to get into the action of World War II. The soldiers taught her how to use a gun and she even got a few shots off at the Germans.
Malcolm Davis served in the U.S. Army infantry in the battles of Ardennes, Rhineland, Central Europe and the Battle of the Bulge. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In his pocket, he carried a small Bible with a metal cover. The Bible saved his life, he said, when a bullet hit the Bible instead of him.
Charles Bruns served as an engineer in the 3rd Infantry Division in Africa, Sicily, Italy and other locations in Europe.
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.
During World War II, Linda Weber went to Purdue University to train to be an employee in the drafting department of an aircraft manufacturer producing war planes. The company needed replacements for the men who had left to fight in the war.
Olive Cocker Clark relates stories from the home front, based on her experiences as a World War II-era bride. She and George Cocker settled in Childers, Texas, while George was assigned to the base nearby. When George was later transferred to Langley Field, Va., their cross-country journey by car to their new home was an adventure of late-night car repairs, a blinding snow storm, and finally a collision with the back of a slow-moving truck. With the assistance of the Red Cross, however, they were finally able to complete their journey. To the interview, Olive brought a World War II-era photograph of her late husband George standing next to Lord Louis Mountbatten, the uncle of Charles, Prince of Wales. George had helped to build and inspect engines during the Lend-Lease program with Britain, and Lord Mountbatten had stopped by to visit with the workers and to express to them his appreciation for what the workers in the Lend-Lease program had meant to England’s efforts in the War.
Paul Hackett was a Storekeeper 2nd class on board the USS Mindanao when the ammunition ship the USS Mount Hood exploded on Nov. 10, 1944, at Seeadler Harbor, Manus Island, northeast of New Guinea. The Mindanao, 350 yards away, suffered extensive damage particularly to her superstructure, and aft. Of her crew, 180 were killed or wounded.
Gerald Yaxley served in the Army in Europe with the 4th Mechanized Reconnaissance Regiment and the 104th Infantry Division.
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