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Patriotic Display

Oldham County History Center
to honor area veterans in exhibit

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (November 2002) – Out of the 19 million war veterans living in the United States, 1,500 die every day. The underlying theme of the Veteran’s History Project is that if we don’t preserve our oral history, it will die with the men and women who lived it.
The Oldham County History Center is participating in this effort to preserve the past by partnering with the Library of Congress, which is the organization behind this project created in October 2000.
In a national campaign to keep these stories from disappearing before future generations have a chance to hear them, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress has issued a plea for help in collecting and preserving audio and video taped oral histories, along with documents such as letters, diaries, maps, photographs, home movies of America’s war veterans and those who served in support of them during World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War.

Ada Lee Kane

Ada Lee Kane,
former USO performer

Oldham County History Center executive director Anita Fritz said the center would have on display an exhibit through mid-January to compliment this national project. In honor of Veteran’s Day, the center will have an opening reception from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 10, a day when most businesses will be closed.
The exhibit targets World War II veterans and their lives. The center is focusing on preserving World War II memories presently because these are the oldest age group of veterans.
Fritz urges any World War II veterans or their spouses and civilians who worked in factories that began during the war effort, to schedule an interview at the center to record their oral histories. Veterans from surrounding counties are also invited to participate.
She said these tapes are for chronicling the day-to-day living experiences during war time and to “educate us about World War II and what it was really like.”
So far, 25 tapes have been made, said Fritz. Robert W. Morgan of Smithfield, Ky., was among them.
Born Dec. 8, 1921, Morgan began his narrative by describing in detail the beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon he spent leisurely washing his car, until he heard the news that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corp on Oct. 31, 1942, and began a journey that would take him from Nebraska to England on board a B-17. He was one of many bombers stationed to fly into Germany to get rid of German fighter planes.
Morgan’s tape is descriptive, relating how cold it was at “30,000 feet – 15, 20, 30 degrees below zero.” He remembers how his plane was shot down on its fifth mission over Berlin and his subsequent experiences in a prison camp near Poland.
He suffered multiple wounds and was hospitalized for two months. He said the Germans took “fairly good care” of him, wrapping his wounds with paper bandages, due to a shortage of cloth bandages.
Morgan’s tape, along with others, tells of prison camp conditions, daily life, German guards, interrogation and life after the war. “It’s important to let the vet tell his own story, and have the flexibility to go where the interview takes you,” said Fritz.
But not all of the tapes recount only the horrors of war. If there can be a positive side to war, Ada Lee Grawemeyer Kane presents it in her tape.
Like Morgan, Kane “remembers very well when the war hit.” Born in 1929, she was at a picture show when news of Pearl Harbor spread.
But Kane had a different experience with the war era. She said in 1942 her parents answered an ad for entertainment people in Louisville. That was the beginning of her family-run USO troupe, the Barrack-Ades.
Kane reminisced about performing in War Bond rallies, hospitals, firemen shows, for sailors and three to five nights a week at Fort Knox, Ky. “It was a lot of memories, a lot of work,” she said.
“Things were good, even though they were bad. Everybody pitched in,” she said.
The American Association of Retired People is one of the founding corporate sponsors for this project. The association's state director Patrice Blanchard said, “We think this really touches the hearts of our members.”
The AARP arranged two group-training sessions in Louisville during the AARP National Day of Service, she said. Fritz and volunteers Shirley and Earl Orr took part in these training sessions.
Orr said the reason they became involved was because “my wife’s dad, Carl Klingenfus, was in the war. She always wished she could have taped him.”
Orr said some of these veterans “have never talked about their stories.” This affords them the chance to make a permanent record for family members, scholars, and any interest individual to view.
“We have chapters all across the states,” Blanchard said. “Many chapters host interview training sessions.” Plans have been made to include stories from veterans in nursing homes as well.
The History Center is an official repository for the Veteran’s History Project, Blanchard said. The taped information can be sent to Washington, D.C., or kept in a local location, such as at the History Center. All tapes are logged (a brief statement of what the tape contains), and this information must be sent to Congress for a permanent record.
Kane summed up the project saying, “When our generation is gone, the history is gone.”

For more information about the project, visit: www.loc.gov/folklife/vets or call the History Center at: (502) 222-0826.

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