Central Illinois World War II Stories

WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - August 28, 2008

University of Illinois WWII Veterans Presentation

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.


WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - April 24, 2008

Interview Excerpt: Joseph Smith of Champaign

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(Duration: 7:24)

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 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 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 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."


WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - October 10, 2007

Theodore Freeman of Rantoul

Freeman was a steward, serving officers in the mess hall on the USS Missouri. But when the enemy struck, he had to man his position on a gun mount and defend the ship. He was on board the USS Missouri when a Japanese kamikaze pilot crashed his plane into the ship very near to where Freeman was standing. He talked with WILL-TV producer Denise La Grassa about the challenges he faced as an African-American onboard ship and about the conflict between his life as Pentecostal pastor before Pearl Harbor and his life as a sailor pledged to defend the country.


WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - 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.


WILL - Central Illinois World War II Stories - August 31, 2007

Oral History Interview: Ralph Langenheim of Urbana, Part Two

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(Duration: 49:18)

This is the second part of Ralph Langenheim's oral history interview, and was recorded on August 31st, 2007.