October 04, 2007

Urbana Film Screening and Discussion

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.

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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