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Connect with Living History; Veterans Share Their Stories at Appalachian World War II Symposium

By Rebecca Gitlen

Aug. 3, 2012. The Appalachian High Country World War II Roundtable, Inc. and the ASU Department of History are presenting a World War II Symposium at the ASU Broyhill Center Aug. 9-11. The purpose of the Symposium is to both honor our Veterans and to let us hear from them the stories of their experiences from the War.

“We want people to actually meet and talk to all the Veterans and ask them questions, shake their hand and things like that,” said Keith Buchanan, secretary of Appalachian High Country WWII Roundtable, Inc.

History is about the stories, and we have a unique opportunity to hear those stories from people who actually lived through the Great Depression and WWII, defining moments of the 20th Century. And these gentlemen have some amazing stories, Buchanan said.

“Think about this,” Buchanan said. “They take someone that’s 18-years-old and they take them out of North Carolina and put them in Europe – they put them in South Pacific. So, you got a bunch of 18-year-old, really, boys. And they give them lots of fireworks. Sometimes there’s some funny stuff that happens. You hear some really funny stories and you hear some that are really sad. You know when boys get together, they will be boys – you hear all sorts of stuff.”

The first session of the Symposium will take place on Thursday, August 9, starting at 7 p.m., featuring several well-known speakers. They include:

Maj. Gen. Tom Saddler (ret.) – a bombardier in the 8th Air Force, General Saddler is maybe better known to radio listeners in this area as “the General” from the John Boy and Billy Big Show.

Harvey Alexander – a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen, recently shown in the movie “Red Tails.”

“Mr. Alexander was a pilot,” Buchanan said. “The movie Red Tails that came out in January was on the Tuskegee Airmen. The United States Military was still segregated and this was an all-black outfit of pilots and they flew in Italy. They flew P-51s and they were awesome fliers.”

Ron Drez – a retired Marine Captain in Viet Nam. Ron has written several books on his own and gives historical tours of World War II battle sites.

“He helped Steven Ambrose do the research on Band of Brothers,” said Buchanan. “He leads tours on World War II battle fields. He’s a pretty interesting character.”

Kevin Hymel – the author of two books on General Patton and is seen frequently on The History Channel as a Patton expert. He is featured prominently in the series “Patton 360.” Kevin also leads historical tours of General Patton’s battles.

“[Hymel] is probably the leading historian on General Patton today,” Buchanan said.

Ken Wiley – a local veteran who helped start the local WWII Veterans Roundtable. Ken wrote the book “Lucky Thirteen,” telling his experiences during the war as a landing craft commander landing Marines on South Pacific beaches.

On Friday, August 10 and Saturday, August 11, there will be morning and afternoon sessions with interviews of our local WWII Veterans. There will be question and answer sessions and the audience will be able to talk with them individually after the interviews.

The morning sessions start at 8:30 a.m. and end at noon. The afternoon sessions start at 1 p.m. and end at 4:30 p.m.

Tickets for Thursday night are $30 for adults, $15 for 13-18 year olds, and 12 and under is free. Tickets for each of the daily sessions is $25 for adults, $12.50 for 13-18 year olds, and 12 and under is free. Advance tickets are available at a discount.

With any remaining proceeds, the Appalachian High Country WWII Roundtable hopes to reach out to the younger generation.

“If we have any remaining monies after we pay for this, we’re going to take our veterans to middle schools and high schools and let them talk to youngsters and tell them some of the stories. And there’s some pretty good stories.”

There will be displays of WWII artifacts and memorabilia, plus an art display as well as WWII books for sale.

Expect lots of red, white and blue when you attend, and expect to come away with great stories and a huge amount of respect for what our Veterans did for us.

Visit the website at www.appalachianwwiivets.org or call 828-385-1467 for more information.

About the Appalachian High Country WWII Roundtable, Inc.

The Appalachian WWII Veterans Organization was organized in the summer of 2011 after many of its members made a trip to Washington, DC on the Honor Air Flights.

It was organized with a two-fold purpose.

First is the goal to recognize and honor all WWII veterans, but especially those in the High Country area.

The second goal is to educate our youth about the sacrifices made for us by our veterans. Many of today’s youth know nothing about the war. They are not helped by the history books used in many schools. One book currently used has the war whittled down to two paragraphs: Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima.

Our veterans are living history books. The goal of the Roundtable is to “use” them to bring out the true facts of what occurred during this dire time in our history and pass them on to the youth of today.

The Organization meets the first Friday of every month at 1:30 p.m. at the Senior Center in the old Winn-Dixie building on 421. Anyone interested in learning more about the war or our veterans is welcome to attend.

Ken Wiley is the president of the organization. H.C. Moretz is the vice-president/controller. Sam Wotherspoon is the chaplain.

The organization has applied to the Internal Revenue Service for IRC Section 501(c)(3) status, which would make it a non-profit organization.