Band of brothers and sisters share WWII experiences in new book

November 9, 2009 | Features
By Cynthia Nowak

Russell Frautschi, a radio operator and gunner on a B-17 shot down over Germany, lived for 10 days in a bare six-by-eight interrogation center room where, as he said, “All I would give them was my name, rank and serial number. I don’t know why they kept questioning me. They knew everything about me, even knew my mother’s maiden name.”

webwwii-book-cover-4c1-10-5-copyHarvey Canard, who spent five weeks on the ash-covered Pacific island of Iwo Jima, recalled the peculiarly personal turn combat could take: “If someone creeps up on you at night, you can’t fire your rifle because the flash can be seen for miles and the next thing you know, shells would come raining in on you … next you throw a hand grenade at him. The downside to that is he can pick it up and throw it back at you. The next option is to take him hand-to-hand. The choices are bad, bad and bad.”

Marguerite Terrill, a real-life Rosie the Riveter who worked on B-24s at Michigan’s Willow Run plant, remembered the day a flight engineer helped her sneak onto a bomber test flight: “The crew was in on it, so I told them I was there and they gave me a parachute to wear. The crew had to work out a lot of bugs while in the air, so I didn’t get back until an hour after shift change. I missed my ride home.”

Those are just snippets of three of the 80 interviews with members of the “Greatest Generation” that appear in What a Time It Was: Interviews With Northwest Ohio Veterans of World War II, a book published today by The University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center Press. The book was compiled and edited by U.S. Army veteran and UT alumnus Andrew “Bud” Fisher, a volunteer for the local Veterans History Project that’s archived in the Ward M. Canaday Center of Special Collections in Carlson Library.

Fisher interviewed some 500 area WWII veterans, a feat honored by the Library of Congress. He spoke with men and women from all service branches and both the European and Pacific theaters of operation, in addition to the home front. The book’s appendix lists all the interviewees, whose recordings are housed in the Canaday Center.

Fisher, who located the book’s subjects though veterans’ organizations, said of the experience, “It was a privilege to talk with all these people who answered the call to duty. There was a thread that ran through all [the stories]: patriotism and modesty. No matter how many medals some of them won, they would downplay it; sometimes I’d have to drag it out of them.”

In many cases, veterans who’d never shared their wartime experiences with their families would open up for Fisher. “Afterwards, receiving a copy of the audiotape for the family was important to them,” he said.

Dr. Tom Barden, professor of English and director of the UT Honors Program, who helped edit the book, noted the confluence of its publication and the Nov. 11 dedication of the Veterans’ Plaza on Main Campus. “It’s an ideal match,” he said.

Pointing to the success of the National Public Radio’s “StoryCorps” project, Barden added, “A lot of what‘s circulating out there points to the importance of oral histories like these.”

“[The veterans] took me all over the world, to places I never heard of,” Fisher said of the interviews. “It was a history lesson, a geography lesson, a lesson about Americans.”

What a Time It Was will be available for purchase for $25 following the 11 a.m. Veterans’ Plaza dedication at a table inside the Memorial Field House. It also can be ordered online from the Urban Affairs Center at Shipping and handling is $1.35. An option for credit cards will be available soon, as will copies at the UT Bookstore and UT Medical Center gift shop, and at Borders Books.

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