07/24/05 — Archivist wants to record WWII veterans' stories

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Archivist wants to record WWII veterans' stories

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 24, 2005 2:00 AM

A resurgence of interest in World War II might be helpful in collecting data about North Carolinians who served then and in other facets of the military, the state's military archivist said.

Ret. Lt. Col. Sion Harrington III of the Archives and Records Section of the state Division of Historical Resources, has spent the last 10 years compiling a roster of North Carolinians who have served in various branches of the military. He has already gathered thousands of photos and documents, plus 500 interviews of veterans collected for an oral history.

On Saturday, he spoke to the Old Dobbs Genealogical Society about the effort and why it is so important to preserve the state's military history.

"We're now finally realizing that we're losing more of our World War II veterans," he said, "1,400 a day or about 42,000 a month; that's a city."

With the passage of time, the history will be buried and lost forever if the stories are not collected and shared, he said.

"I have gone to funerals and heard about what the person did in the service, but no one wrote it down," he said. "It won't be a bit of good after they're dead. While we have these people, we have these pictures, you're going to regret it if you don't ask them to share their stories."

He said World War II is particularly significant because it was a total war effort that the country stood behind.

"We have not had a war even close to that since then to even approach that," he said. "It was, as Studs Terkel said, the last good war."

He said that "everybody understood it had to be fought. North Carolinians were in every branch of service" and the nation, young and old, got involved and pitched in, even going so far as to raise money to pay for the war.

"People were willing to sacrifice to win that war," he said.

Harrington said he is thankful the project began a decade ago to document information and individual stories. At that time, he said, there were still more than 70 W.W.I veterans still living in the state.

"Unfortunately, we were unable to get all of them but we did get a lot of them," he said. "So we have a lot of them on videos or on audio."

He said the collection includes interviews from veterans of World Wars I and II, people in POW camps, and Pearl Harbor survivors. The weakest areas are the more recent conflicts, from Korea and Vietnam, to Desert Shield and Desert Storm. There are also fewer stories on women veterans, he said.

"We need to get their stories," he said.

Harrington told the group it doesn't matter how short or long the person served, during war time or peace time, or how seemingly small their contribution.

"If you know a veteran and want to make sure their story is preserved, talk to them," he said.

His office will even make available the questions and information to conduct the interviews, which can then be sent to the archives office in Raleigh.

"We're looking for anybody who served," he said. "Some of these people have never told their story. No one's ever asked them.

"You won't do anything that's more rewarding than interviewing a veteran."

Another project his office is involved in is compiling a roster of North Carolinians who served in Confederate Naval service or the Confederate Marine Corps, which only had about 500 men in it at its peak, he said.

Harrington said because his office is limited in staff and time, the projects would be good ones for organizations like Dobbs as well as DAVs and American Legions to take on.

For more information on any of the archive projects or to submit photographs, papers, or other memorabilia from military veterans, contact Harrington at the Archives and Records Section, Military Collection, 4614 Mail Service Center, 4614 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4614, or call 919-807-7314.

The Dobbs Society also has several publications planned. President Cathy Blow said the first volume in a series is expected to come out in November and will feature listings of cemeteries in Nahunta, Buck Swamp and Great Swamp townships.

Pre-orders are being accepted until Sept. 1, she said, and a limited number will be available for sale. For more information, call 735-1089.