I became interested in WWII history when I was a kid. I have read about the war all of my life because it really interested me. Later when I started to understand what our lives could have been like if the men of the “Greatest Generation” had lost WWII it made me to want to tell as many people as I could about what our lives could have been like if it were not for their great sacrifices. I thought that a good place to start would be with my two daughters who were born in the 1960s.
In 2000 I started to conduct interviews of the front line combatants. The first interview that I have on DVD is really not a typical interview. It was a man named Bruno Salazar who lived in my hometown. He had been in the Eighth Air Force (Mighty Eight). Bruno had never seen film of his missions and I knew the History channel was going to show some of them on television so I had Bruno over to watch it. I set up a camera to record his response to the film. I found it very interesting and I later took him to POW day at Fort Custer in Battle Creek, Michigan where he stood up and told everyone that his claim to fame was that during the war he was in Jimmy Stewarts outfit. He was proud of that.
In 2007 I had about 25 digital interviews with still no thought of showing them to anyone accept my two daughters. That is when a friend named Gene Yehl who was a WWII Marine that fought at Iwo Jima said to me that I needed to share these interviews with the public. I thought about it for a while, when it dawned on me that I had always liked libraries so I stopped by my local library to see if there would be any interest in putting on some programs with my interviews. I was lucky enough to meet a librarian who seemed very interested in doing something with my interviews. I also happened to have a lot of memorabilia that I was able to set out such as pictures, military documents, newspapers, as well as some weapons. Our first program was in August 2007 and was held in the basement of the Jackson District Library’s Carnegie branch. The room held 70 people and we drew a stunning 130 people. Since that time I have put on 20 programs, some with the Jackson Library and some at other venues on my own. So far about 3,000 people have seen the programs. There are five more programs scheduled in 2010 in Jackson and I now have over 60 interviews.
Among my 60+ interviews I have four women, two German soldiers, and a Dutch underground fighter. I have three men who were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th 1941, men who were POW’s of the Japanese as well as the Germans. One woman lived under Japanese rule for nearly four years while her husband was being used as slave labor on the Burma/Thailand RR project.
Over the years I have been fascinated by how this program has touched people. After a program in September of 2009 in which I had a veteran who had survived the Bataan Death March, I received an email from a lady saying that she enjoyed the program more than anyone in the audience. There were about 200 people at the show, and I wondered why she would think that she enjoyed it more than the others. She then told me her story of how she had an uncle in the Death March who survived the march but died when the “Hell Ship” that he was in was sunk. As it turned out her uncle was the best friend of Dr. Eugene Bleil who was the speaker at this program. Her uncle had written many letters in 1940 and 1941 some with drawings in them and one picture was of Dr. Bleil. There were about 75,000 men in the Death March so the chance that her uncle even knew Dr. Bleil much less that they were buddies was extremely remote. This woman was so taken with the program that sheasked her library if they were interested in having me put on a program, which I did in November of 2009. She has also found several more veterans for me to interview.
Another story was from a granddaughter of a WWII paratrooper in the 101st Airborne who jumped into Normandy on D-Day June 6th 1944 as well as jumping into Holland, and the freezing cold of the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne. His name was Don Brinninstool who I knew for about two years before his passing in March of 2009. I later spoke to Don’s granddaughter and she told me that she had always wondered why her grandpa was so strict with her and the other grandkids. Though she always felt a great love from grandpa she did not understand why Don had been strict until she received a copy of the interview that I had filmed with Don in 2007. She told me that the interview made her understand her grandfather so much more and thanked me so sincerely that I was deeply touched.
One man named Don Goss who I interviewed in 2007 was telling me of his landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day June 6th 1944. As we started filming he turned to his wife Jan who he had known since 1943 to tell her that she was going to hear things that she had not heard before. As we got into the interview Don started sobbing uncontrollably. I turned to Jan who was just a few feet off camera to ask her if I should stop the interview; she said no, that Don needed this. As Don relived that horrible morning 62 years earlier he told of all the dead men in the water and running over them with their landing craft. He told of how the Navy Coxswain could not take evasive action to miss the men because it would have endangered the other men in the boats because there were so many landing craft and fatal collisions would have occurred. Don was later shot by a sniper and spent 19 months in and out of hospitals. After we finished the interview I asked Don if he would do a program with me. He told me emphatically that he would not. I thanked him for his service and the interview then left. The next year he came to one of my programs. I asked him if he and an Iwo Jima Marine would answer a question from the audience. Don spoke for less than a minute. I then asked if he would do a program the next year. He said he may. I called him in early 2009 about showing his interview and doing a Q &A after. He finally gave in and said he would and we did a program later that year.Don and Jan have told me several times that the interview and putting on the program has helped Don very much as far as putting the War behind him.
In the spring of 2010 while I was in Florida I met a Navy veteran who I wanted to interview but he broke down so badly when talking about the war that I thought we could not possibly continue. Then I had an idea. I called Don Goss in Michigan and I asked him if he would talk to the fellow sailor, whose ship, the USS Callahan, was sunk by a Kamikaze. He and Don talked for a few minutes and the sailor felt much better. We were then able to finish the interview. I cannot explain how this makes me feel. The only thing that I can say is that I never imagined that these interviews and presentations could touch so many people, so positively.
With the help of the Jackson District Library computer lab attendants a blog was created to share information about the programs and the many veterans I have interviewed which later lead to the creation of the LMWW2.com website. We are putting together bios of all the veterans and compiling photographs and video clips for the website now. I am in the process of trying to get my program listed in a State of Michigan catalog that has all kinds of programs that are available to schools, libraries, and other facilities around the state. This experience has been wonderful and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to share these amazing stories. I have plans to continue this program and take this to as many people as I can for as long as I can.
ALL TOO MANY OF US TODAY TAKE FOR GRANTED THE GREAT FREEDOMS AND PERSONAL SAFTY THAT WE HAVE. WE MUST REMEMBER THAT ALL OF OUR FREEDOMS WERE PURCHASED AT GREAT COST BY A VETERAN AND GIVEN TO ALL FREELY!!