October 09, 2007

Oral History Interview: Bob Spitze of Urbana

Bob Spitze joined the Navy at age 21 after going through ROTC training in college. Soon after going through the Navy training program, he came back home and got married, only to then be shipped off to war. He was aboard an LST, which was a transport ship that often carried military vehicles like tanks and jeeps, or military personnel. Many of these ships were manufactured in Seneca, Ill., where the crews and officers would get aboard and travel down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, out to the ocean. This is exactly what Spitze did. While in the Pacific, he participated in the occupation of both Iwo Jima and Okinawa, two small Japanese islands. At Iwo Jima, Spitze says, he was witness to the great tragedy of the battle, and the final American victory when soldiers raised the American flag. For Spitze, World War II brought attention to the fact that we live in a global community. Now an economics professor at the U of I, he recognizes that the war was a result of certain global and national economic systems that allowed greed and the hunger for power to take hold of both economic markets and governments. But Spitze believes that we can ultimately recognize the importance of our global community and live at peace with one another. He and his wife have been educators ever since World War II, participating in educational efforts, not only in the U.S., but also in European countries during the reconstruction phase that followed the devastation brought about by the war.

October 02, 2007

USS Indianapolis Survivors

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.

October 02, 2007

Oral History Interview: Margaret Henderson of Urbana

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.

October 01, 2007

Oral History Interview: Robert Green of Champaign

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.

September 30, 2007

Sparky Songer, Danville

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.

September 30, 2007

Jill Knappenberger, Champaign

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.

September 25, 2007

Oral History Interview: Malcolm Davis of Urbana

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.

September 20, 2007

Rantoul screening event for Ken Burns’ The War

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.

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