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."

January 30, 2008

Oral History Interview: Philip John Dziuk of Homer

When Phil Dziuk was an 18 year old farm boy, he qualified for an eleven month long Navy electronic technician training program, in June 1944. His education in a two year practical program in the School of Agriculture at the University of Minnesota and experience milking cows was a far cry from repair, maintenance and servicing radar, sonar, receivers, transmitters and other electronic gear. He struggled through the program at Herzl college in Chicago, Great Lakes, Treasure Island, California. He served on the USS Ajax, a repair ship that went to Hawaii, the atom bomb test site in Bikini and later served at the transmitter station in Lualualei, Hawaii. Discharged , August 4, 1946, he was welcomed back to Foley, Minnesota and immediately began work in the harvest fields, on August 5. He later took advantage of the GI Bill and taught at the University of Illinois for more than 37 years.

December 12, 2007

Oral History Interview: Perry Rannebarger of Champaign

Perry Rannebarger was drafted into the Illinois National Guard in September 1941 prior to the U.S. entering World War II. He became part of an infantry regiment and was sent to Australia just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was among the first soldiers to become part of the Americal Division. He fought in the Battle of Mount Austen during the Guadalcanal campaign.

November 16, 2007

Oral History Interview: Harry Reed of Danville

During World War II, Harry Reed was a flight engineer on a plane that was the equivalent of today’s Air Force II. His plane carrying Secret Service members flew about 20 minutes in front of the plane carrying the President and landed in time to give the Secret Service people adequate time to secure the area for the President and other dignitaries. His assignments included flying Eleanor Roosevelt after FDR died (The President’s body was moved by train). Reed’s plane flew the President and others to vital meetings at places like Yalta and Pottsdam, as well as making a flight to South America that gave the U.S. options for a possible new way to reach Japan by air. The plane also broke the round trip speed record to Paris. Harry Reed will tell you that is proud that he was able to serve his country and that he sees himself as being very lucky to have gotten the assignments he did.

November 11, 2007

Oral History Interview: Alexander Samaras of Danville

Alexander Samaras was the commanding officer of an LCT in the Navy, and fought at Utah Beach on D-Day. He and his men worked to ferry in troops and equipment, and then later on to ferry out the dead and prisoners. His LCT also carried in crucial equipment used to set up communications for both Omaha and Utah Beach. He joined his LCT in New Orleans, and the LCT was taken across the Atlantic on a larger LST. As a junior officer, he had to take his turn standing watch on the LST. During rough weather one night while he was on watch, three of the ships in his convoy were struck by torpedoes and blown up. That same night, his LST was hit by a torpedo, but it was dud. The entire hold of his LST, the length of a football field, was filled with ammunition. The torpedo put a dent in the stern. “It made me a fatalist,” he says.

November 08, 2007

Oral History Interview: Hale Burge of Hoopeston

Hale Burge started his career in the Air Force (then the Army Air Force) when he was drafted into World War II as a teenager in rural Illinois. Like all inductees, he was tested in a lot of areas in order to best match his skills to the job he would be assigned. For him, that meant that he would be working on planes. Burge served in the Aleutian Island chain, frequently taking parts from a number of broken planes in order to create single plane that could be safely put back in the air. He saw terrible crashes and talks about the loss of life. Planes from these northern Pacific islands bombed Japan and other sites. America’s presence in the area prevented invasion of Alaska and gave the enemy another area to worry about and to have to spread their forces out more. Burge, a man who lived through the dark Depression years, also talks about involvement in the war as positively affecting this country.

November 08, 2007

Oral History Interview: Edward Layden of Hoopeston

Ed Layden went into the Army before World War II, but suffered an injury and was discharged before the U.S. went to war. He returned home, and worked on the family farm. Once the war started, it was very hard to find workers to help with farm work, and many farmers worried that it wouldn’t be possible to get their crops harvested before they spoiled in the fields. The program in which German POWs helped out as laborers on their farms proved to be very helpful. Layden worked with 20 German prisoners from the German POW camp in Hoopeston harvesting sweet corn. The prisoners were picked up at the canning factory in his dad’s truck and brought to his farm. They enjoyed being out in the country, where his mother would make them sandwiches, cookies and chocolate milk.

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