kmsmith@naplesnews.com" /> Library of Congress project gathering stories of those who served in World War II » Marco Eagle

Library of Congress project gathering stories of those who served in World War II

All that should be left of Sherman Black is a white cross on an emerald lawn in the Normandy American Cemetery in France. A place where family and friends could visit Sunday and remember the young man he once was.

But the two German bombs that struck his ship June 6, 1944, were duds.

His ship, an LST 980 tank landing ship, was anchored at Juno Beach off the coast of Normandy, France, still fully loaded with equipment and a Canadian demolition team. They were given orders to stay put, the beach was still full of mines.

Throughout the day, they sat and waited.

Then the bombs came from overhead.

One struck the side of a truck, where it lodged tight. The other went through the ship, penetrating the hull and two bulkheads. That one they dumped overboard, but not before they saved a scrap of it for Black. It's now mounted on a plank of wood. He shares that bomb along with the photos he took of that day.

He may not have seen much action June 6, 1944, or witnessed the devastation taking place just one mile away at Omaha and Utah beaches, but he was well aware something big was happening.

"Everybody knew why we were there," said Black, 81, who left the Navy as a lieutenant junior grade and served as a gunnery officer on that LST 980 during World War II. "I think we were all so glad the invasion was on and it was official. We knew there were going to be fatalities. There were thousands of ships and tens of thousands of men so once it got started nothing was going to stop it from happening."

Black's story is just one of more than 150,000 from that day 60 years ago when Allied Forces swarmed the Normandy beaches and finally got a grip on the war ranging in Europe.

Many of those stories are now being lost as America's veterans die, nearly 1,700 a day now.

Black's story of that day, the tale of the two German bombs and his part transporting troops, German prisoners and equipment will be available for future generations.

His story will reside in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. alongside the tales of veterans from World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korea and the Persian Gulf War.

The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress is gathering stories of veterans and civilians who participated in the war in an effort to keep history alive.

The nearly four-year-old project has 16,000 submissions, and 3,000 more were taken over the Veterans Day weekend during the opening celebration of the World War II Memorial, said Anneliesa Clump Behrend, public affairs coordinator with the project.

The project started in October 2000 passed by Congress and later signed into law by President Clinton. Since then, volunteers nationwide have been recording the tales of veterans. Some 300 of the stories are on the Web site.

Black first heard about the project at home at Bentley Village, a North Naples retirement community.

Bentley Village is just one of 17 Classic Residences by Hyatt taking part in the project, said Alison Betts, public relations coordinator for Classic Residence by Hyatt.

"We have so many veterans at our communities, especially World War II veterans, and we thought, especially with the 60th anniversary of D-Day this week, this would be a wonderful way to honor all of our veterans," she said. "To think in 10 or 20 years we won't have anyone who has that experience and it's great to be able to document it."

At Bentley Village, 22 men have signed up to talk about their experiences. Others who served chose not to sign up, said Doris Reiner, associate executive director at Bentley Village.

She just wishes she knew about the project earlier, before two former residents, both prisoners of war, passed away.

Reiner, who interviewed one of the residents, said the project has sparked her interest in history and showed her another side of the generation she spends her days with.

"It gives you a deeper appreciation of people you work with to see the history," she said. "It gives you an appreciation of what they have done throughout their lives."

Reiner isn't the only one conducting the interviews, which will be shipped to the Library of Congress. Residents have also volunteered.

Sandy Black served in the Navy during World War II.

From 1942 to 1946, he wore the uniform, but even 60 years later the 83-year-old doesn't feel he did enough.

"My active duty wasn't spectacular or dangerous. I was only in harm's way twice in my service and when I hear some (other veterans') stories and their duty and their sacrifices, I don't feel my experience was comparable enough," said Black, who left the Navy as a lieutenant.

Now he finally feels as if he's giving back. He's helping with the interviewing for the Veterans History Project.

"The remarks and impressions and recollections should be recorded, even those by my neighbors, and since I don't feel I did enough in the war effort, I feel I'm doing something now," he said.

He's spending time listening to other veterans, but he won't record his own story. He feels it isn't important enough to be included.

Eugene McDowell believes just the opposite.

For years he's visited classrooms in Collier County telling students about his years in the Army Air Corp. Now he's recorded his story — his entire life story — to be included in the Veterans History Project.

"I think it's of great importance that their stories be told, both of the Great Depression and World War II," said McDowell, who served as a captain during the war. "It's lost forever. Each man has his own experiences, his own story and only by recording it for review by future generations will it get out. Mine is only one small part of it. Eisenhower had a part, MacArthur had a part, and 16 million of us had a part."

His part is wide-flung and varied.

AT A GLANCE

For more information about the Veterans History Project, to receive a project kit, or to read or view some of the stories, visit the Web site at www.loc.gov/folklife/vets or call 888-371-5848.
He started with the 31st Infantry Division and ended with the 254th Aerial Squadron after completing pilot training. In July of 1943 he was assigned copilot of a B-24, but he didn't fly his first combat mission until Feb. 13, 1944.

It was his second mission, Feb. 20, that earned him his Purple Heart. The Germans shot his B-24, and though they managed to crash land on the airstrip, he had a fragment of a 20mm cannon shell lodged in his foot. Six weeks later, he returned to the air to head back out to the same target.

Soon afterward, he became an instructor pilot, training new crews for missions with the 453rd Bomb Group. It was in that capacity he flew his 12th mission June 6, 1944.

Though they weren't told much, they knew the target was near Utah Beach. At midnight the first wave of bombers, including McDowell, set off carrying anti-personnel bombs.

"I remember it clear in my mind, we dropped our bombs at 6:06 1/2 and we were six minutes late," said McDowell, now 82, of that morning. "We dropped our bombs and proceeded. When we got there, there were clouds above us and clouds below us. We dropped on the flare."

In the first wave of that attack on June 6, McDowell also got a glimpse of what was happening below on the flight back to his base.

"We flew behind the invasion fleet and that's a sight I'll never forget," he said. "By the time we got there it was 9:30 and we could see everything going on. It was a mass of ships and you could see the shells and even a German fighter attacking. I could look down and see that whole panoramic view and it was unbelievable, the equipment, the ships, the men."

For more information about the Veterans History Project, to receive a project kit, or to read or view some of the stories, visit the Web site at www.loc.gov/folklife/vets or call 888-371-5848.

Contact Features Editor Kristen Smith at 213-6043 or kmsmith@naplesnews.com.

© 2004 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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