WWII memories live on thru Carleton-Willard oral history project

Documentary film maker Ken Burns visited with members of the World War II Memories Project during his recent visit to Carleton-Willard Village.

Submitted by the Carleton-Willard World War II Memories Project

Many of Carleton-Willard’s residents lived through and actively participated in the Second World War.  One evening at dinner, having just listened to a new resident speak about his wartime experiences, the thought struck a couple of us that the stories our residents have to recount about the War must be recorded for our children and future generations.  These accounts bring a human side to that war, better than any history book can.  When we are gone so will our stories.

Thus began Carleton-Willard Village’s World War II Memories Project, more than two years ago.  The initial committee of four has expanded to eight.  Stephanie Smith, the Village’s Director of Public Relations, has worked with us since the beginning.  We could not have succeeded without her continuous support and guidance.  We decided to record the stories on video in the belief that oral histories are the most effective, although we welcomed written accounts as well.  Over 60 residents responded to our questionnaire.

Our next challenge was to find a videographer to record each one of us doing an interview.  Fortunately, Jan van Steenwijk, President of the Bedford Historical Society, learned of our project and eagerly committed the Bedford Historical Society and Bedford TV to it.  He, a professional videographer, agreed to record our interviews and to edit and complete the DVDs at the studio of Bedford TV.  Several group DVDs have been recorded at the TV studio, but interviews of individuals have been done in the residents’ homes.  To date, 13 videos have been produced by Jan van Steenwijk and Bedford TV, three of them group interviews done at the TV studio.  The first individual interview was recorded by Jan in June, 2011.  Bedford residents may have seen some of these on Channel 8.

When it became apparent that Jan was having difficulty finding the time to fit the project into his busy schedule, we were anxious to move quickly because we were concerned that the memories of our residents were fading, or we were actually losing the residents before they could even be interviewed.  We were able to retain the services of Leslie Wittman, a Bedford resident and professional videographer, to pick up where Jan left off.  Jan will continue to do group interviews at the TV studio, but Leslie has been doing individual interviews in residents’ homes.  So far she has completed another13 videos, six more are in process.  We are about to send out a questionnaire to this year’s new residents.  We have already identified at least three who were in the service during the War, and assume we will find more in the responses.  We are interested  not only in military experiences, but also in auxiliary experiences, such as in the Red Cross, or those on the home front, either here or abroad.

Our videos so far include accounts by bomber pilots (one US, one RAF), a ski trooper, a quartermaster in the Pacific fleet, a hospital dietician behind the lines in Normandy, Navy medical personnel involved in D-Day, an ambulance driver, a Red Cross doughnut girl, a nurse on Saipan, a younger resident who lost one brother while the other was a POW, accounts by residents who were citizens of European countries during the War, and many others.

We hope eventually to make these available to the Bedford Library and the Bedford High School and the Library of Congress.

Editor’s Note: On Veteran’s Day, Boston.com and the Boston Globe’s West Section featured the project. Click here to view snippets of several videos at Boston.com or here to read Nancy Shohet West’s article about the project.

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Greg Saltzman
Greg Saltzman
9 years ago

This is a great idea, how does a citizen get access to the videos if they are not in the library? Thanks to everyone that is participating.

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