Chesterton Tribune


County Museum honors local veterans with homemade WWII documentary

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Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked? For those of you who were around in 1941, it’s a moment not easily forgotten.

Like many Americans, Bryce Billings of Valparaiso was getting ready for Sunday school classes. Chesterton resident Nena Babcock remembers reports of Japan’s attack coming over the radio and gave way to a “very uneasy” feeling of “what should we do now?”

Billings and Babcock were two of 30 or so Porter County residents who volunteered to give accounts of their experiences in a new two-hour documentary presented by the Porter County Museum of History. In honor of Veterans Day, The museum premiered the documentary to a crowd of more than 70 at the Memorial Opera House on Monday afternoon.

The documentary, which was filmed and produced at Urschel Laboratories in Valparaiso, is available on DVD and can be purchased at the museum with a $5 donation.

Museum Executive Director Kevin Pazour said the documentary was born out of the desire to make the WWII exhibit more interactive. “We knew we wanted to integrate local stories of our veterans into the exhibit,” he said.

Volunteer Eunice Slagle of Valparaiso, whose late husband Frank was a POW of WWII, and her neighbor Ilaine Church collaborated with Urschel in organizing the interviews.

Their efforts also saw new additions to the WWII room inside the museum. Items featured include diaries and telegrams belonging to Slagle, military uniforms from WWII, Korean War and Desert Storm uniforms, propaganda POW pictures, and, with the help of local fabric decorator Toni Barkley, a replication of soldier’s sleeping quarters with pictures of pin-up girls and letters from loved ones back home.

“This has been our homework,” Church said.

From earlier, the exhibit displays a wealth of WWII items donated by the Seramur Family like a U.S. hand grenade, army helmets, Nazi Party and SS arm bands, an 8 mm K-98 sniper rifle, Japanese rupes, a German officer’s hat and identification papers, and Iron Cross badges.

Pazour said the documentary will be used in the exhibit as an interactive feature, possibly as a world map where important turning events took place.

Interviewees were involved in major battles and give orations of the Battle of Bulge, the Battle of Iwo Jima, and the Battle of Okinawa.

In the documentary, Slagle and Babock discuss life on the homefront where residents were either glued to the radio listening attentively to the latest news reports or writing letters by V-mail almost daily.

After Pearl Harbor, Americans confidently thought the war with Japan would be over a matter of a few months. But it wasn’t long when they realized they were in for a long haul and volunteers came in droves.

“Patriotism was so thick you could cut it with a knife,” said Valparaiso resident Bill Wellman who served in the U.S. Marine Corps. “People were ready to go.”

Other topics in the documentary include military examinations and training, scrap drives, rationing, peacetime celebrations and returning home.

Meanwhile, Pazour said the museum is preparing for its next major exhibit, the Treasures of Porter County and welcome any items county residents are willing to contribute. A 1940s Christmas will also be set up in the main parlor starting next week.

The Porter County Museum of History is located at 153 Franklin Street and is open on afternoons Wednesday through Sunday.


Posted 11/13/2012