World War II Symposium spotlights local veterans and military experts
by Sherrie Norris
One of the area's most
profound history lessons unfolded
Thursday night and continued through Saturday afternoon at the World War II
Symposium at the Broyhill Center on the campus of Appalachian State University
Joining local veterans were
their families, noted military authorities from across the country and
interested community members and students for this first event of its kind
involving the war heroes who are often referred to as "The Greatest
The three-day event provided
a rare opportunity for guests to hear from those who made history -- the
individuals who lived through such conflicts as The Battle at Normandy,
Operation Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, and Okinawa. Those battles
and dozens of others were brought to life once again during the event, almost
as clearly as if they had been fought yesterday.
Despite a smaller crowd than
organizers anticipated, the conference was deemed a great success, said Ken
Wiley, a veteran of World War II whose personal mission has been, for years, to
keep the war and its veterans in America's forefront.
During Thursday's opening
session, Wiley shared his experience as commander in the US Coast Guard who
guided his Landing Craft No.13 to beaches throughout the South Pacific. He
ultimately authored several books, including "Lucky Thirteen," which chronicled
his military involvement.
It was Wiley who first had
the idea for the symposium, said Keith Buchanan, advisory
board member of the Appalachian WWII Veterans Roundtable, who also helped
coordinate and sponsor the event, and served as emcee and interviewer of the
veterans. He was joined by fellow board member and president, Matt Begley, and
local TV producer, Terry Smith.
"It it all evolved from the
experiences the men shared during their Honor Flight to Washington, DC, two
years ago, which was sponsored by the Boone Sunrise Rotary Club," Buchanan
In an attempt to maintain
the bond they formed during the trip, the veterans decided to form the Appalachian
WWII veterans' roundtable organization with Wiley at the helm. From the group's
monthly meetings came discussion for such an event.
The roundtable gained
support of the ASU History Department and a number of other organizations and
businesses, including presenting sponsor, Frye Regional Medical Center of
Representing the history
department, Ray Christian, stood in during Thursday's opening session for
retired Captain Harvey Alexander, noted Tuskegee Airman, who was unable to
attend as scheduled, due to health concerns.
Christian shared a summary
of Alexander's prepared remarks, regarding the challenges of the only
African-American pilots who served in combat with the Army Air Force during the
war. Their exemplary performance opened the door, Christian said, for the
racial integration of the military services, and contributed to the end of some
of the country's institutionalized racial segregation.
On Friday afternoon, the
history department's Rennie Brantz delivered a presentation on the Nazi
Holocaust --"A war Within a War."
On Saturday, ASU's Ed
Behrand-Martinez presented "Travels to WWII Battlefields.
Jesse Stollings, an Air
Force veteran, social studies teacher at Watauga High School and history
aficionado, who said he was "drawn" to the stories of the WWII veterans,
contributed to Saturday's overview of the war, from the Battle of the Bulge to
Displays of artifacts,
memorabilia and compelling artwork from WWII were made available from the Blue
Ridge Military Museum in Hendersonville, The World of Faith Christian School's
Holocaust Museum in Rutherfordton, and the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va.
Memorabilia from local
veterans were also on display, including a collection belonging to the family
of Lt. Col. Raymond Harris Harmon, M.D. of Boone, noted as "the highest ranking
officer from Watauga County."
War-related books and taped
documentaries of local veterans --another successful project of Wiley -- were
also available for viewing and purchase.
The purpose of the event,
which was clearly fulfilled, was to honor the aging veterans, while providing
them a platform to share their war experiences with an attentive audience.
In addition to Frye and
Buchanan, the event's major sponsors included Boone Industries, Inc., Boone
Hotels and the Bank of North Carolina.
Guests Speakers included:
Ron Drez from New Orleans, a
retired Marine captain who served during the Vietnam era; award-winning,
best-selling author of eight books, six of which are related to WWII; a
contributing author and editor to the Encyclopedia Britannica website for its
President of Stephen Ambrose
Historical Tours; was both friend and associate of the distinguished, late
Accomplishments include his
initial discovery and interviews with the "Band of Brothers," which he
chronicled in a special edition of WWII magazine called, "Finding the Band of
Major General Thomas Sadler (ret.) from Montgomery, Ala;. known regionally as today's straight-talking "General" on the Charlotte-based John Boy & Billy Radio Show.
A highly decorated commander
of the 21st Air Force, Sadler served as bombardier on a B-17 in WWII, and in
Korea and Viet Nam. After retirement, he was named executive director of the
Speedway Children's Charities and has helped raise millions of dollars to help
less fortunate children.
Kevin Hymel, author of two
books on General Patton and dozens of papers on WWII and frequently seen on The
History Channel. Presented a walk-through of his pictorial, "Patton's
Photographs: War As He Saw It."
While researching an article
on Patton, Hymel discovered, through the Library of Congress index, lists of
photo albums, in which he ultimately found were taken by Patton during WWII, a
"gold mine," he said, of which Patton's official biographer was unaware.
He also assists the
Department of the Army interviewing returning soldiers form Afghanistan and is
currently working on Paton's "ultimate" biography; frequently seen on MSNBC
News, "War Stories with Oliver North;" was a major contributor to The History
Channel's "Patton 360" series.
On Friday and Saturday,
local veterans were interviewed, first those of the North Africa, Sicily and
Italy conflicts, followed by those who served in Normandy and the European
battles, with reflections of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge to the end.
During each session, a
commentator offered an overview of the specific areas in which each veteran
Following the interviews,
the veterans responded to questions from the audience.
The veterans on the agenda
for interviews included: Wiley, Jack Hennings, Rubin Stout, David Watson,
Norman Isenhour, Melvin Norris, Danny Moretz, (representing his late father),
Sam Wotherspoon, Hugh Cook, Glen Cottrell, Warren Wall, Gene Thomas, Tom Kyles,
Bob Byrd, George Winebarger, John Miller, Joel Coffey and H.C. Moretz.
Coordinators of the
symposium wish to express their appreciation to the honor guard members from
the Watauga County DAV, American Legion, VFW Posts from Watauga, Avery and
Johnson counties, as well as the ROTC from Watauga and Avery High schools, the
Boy Scout Troop of Boone United Methodist Church and choral members of St.
Elizabeth Catholic Church.
For more information about the local WWII veterans organization, visit http://www.appalachianwwiivets.org or call (828) 264-4724.