WWII symposium sets sights on youths
by Sherrie Norris
It is the hope of those working behind the scenes of the conference that the younger generation, specifically high school students, will take part in the event and, more importantly, leave with a renewed interest and appreciation for a significant time in history.
The daylong event, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., will provide an opportunity for those who fought in World War II to share their memories with the younger generation and all others who will attend.
"We want those grandfathers and great-grandfathers to talk -- and we want the grandsons to ask questions," said Matt Bagley, one of the event's organizers.
Bagley's grandfather was a WWII prisoner of war, "whose story basically died with him."
"I'd like to prevent that from happening to other families," Bagley said. "My grandfather didn't want to talk bout it -- and that was his right -- but I wish I had persevered. I asked him to write about his experience, but instead, he gave me a book about his unit. I'm sure there was so much more I could've learned from him."
The upcoming symposium, planned in conjunction with history teachers and students at Watauga High School, will match-up local students with WWII veterans, at least for the day, Bagley said.
"They will get to know each other and sit together during the event," he said.
Prior to the symposium, each participating student will be given the opportunity to review the previously taped documentary of the veteran to which he or she will spend the day.
"To have the support of the school leadership, especially the principal, Marshall Gasperson, and the history teachers, is very exciting to us," Bagley said. "It's very important to get the kids involved while school is still in session."
Like last year's inaugural symposium at the Broyhill Inn and Conference Center, the upcoming event will be hosted by the Appalachian High Country World War II Roundtable, with representatives Bagley, Keith Buchanan and WWII veteran Ken Wiley again taking the lead.
"In addition to Ken, we have a few other WWII veterans who are helping coordinate this program, including H.C. Moretz and Sam Wotherspoon," Bagley said.
In an earlier conversation, Wiley said bringing a symposium to Boone "was a dream come true."
Wiley has made it his personal mission, for many years, to make sure the aging veterans are not forgotten.
A WWII Coast Guard veteran and author, Wiley helped organize the Appalachian High Country World War II Roundtable Inc., and has videoed dozens of interviews with local veterans, which are now a part of documented history and protected in video libraries. Wiley also conducts monthly meetings of the roundtable at the Lois E. Harrill Senior Center in Boone for the veterans to have a place to socialize, reminisce and discuss topics of interest.
The May 18 conference will have many similarities to the 2012 event, Bagley said. Guest speakers will include noted military and history experts, WWII veterans who will be sharing their stories and a room dedicated to war memorabilia and artifacts.
"Throughout the entire day, we will have about 30 local WWII veterans sitting at various stations, with their name, rank, and information in front of them about their war activity," Bagley said. "They will be available to talk about their experiences one-on-one."
Bagley said the planning committee is hoping to include more community participation.
"We want to invite those who might have gone beyond their comfort zones back home to make a difference, such as school children who collected scrap metal and women like Rosie the Riveter, who worked three shifts to do all they could to help, or those who worked in local industry making life vests -- anything like that," he said.
The event will be free of charge and open to the public.