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
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
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.