Sept. 2, 2005, marks the 60th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II. To commemorate that significant date, Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) will premiere two programs about Wisconsin's role in the global conflict. One is a documentary, Wisconsin World War II Stories "Legacy," and the other is a roll call of all 8,432 Wisconsinites killed during the war. The roll call is the first-ever public presentation of a comprehensive list of this kind. It will be a compilation of names displayed on the screen in a simple format that conveys the enormity of the numbers, and of the ultimate sacrifice made for country and for democracy.
Wisconsin World War II Stories "Legacy" will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31, and Wisconsin World War II Honor Roll will air at 9 that same evening. The programs will re-air according to the following schedule: "Legacy," 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1; noon Sunday, Sept. 4; and 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12; "Honor Roll," 11 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1; and 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 4.
Wisconsin World War II Stories "Legacy" is the fifth in a series of WPT broadcasts. The series presents the greatest stories of these people's lives, which are told through straight-on-camera interviews with the veterans as they appear today, reliving tales of valor and horror. The interviewsoften marking the first time these individuals have shared these stories, not even having shared them with their familiesare interspersed with archival footage, archival radio broadcasts, historical photos and photos of the veterans from their days of service.
The project also includes a portrait collection of veterans and a comprehensive Web site, wisconsinstories.org. All interview transcripts will be housed at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum and available to any requestor. The Wisconsin World War II Stories project is a partnership between WPT and the Wisconsin Historical Society, in association with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
"Legacy" opens with an assessment from the narrator: "The names, places and events of World War II still live in society's memory, carried by the veterans' stories from a time that continues to affect the world today."
"Legacy" presents 20 veterans, including Dave Donnellan of Eau Claire. "We probably thought it could be another great adventure. When you're young, you don't realize that things can happen," he says in the documentary. "We looked forward to coming back."
Those who came back often returned as changed people, to a changed world. Milwaukee resident Ruben Hale, who had built bridges for the infantry, says, "When I came back, I was a much smarter, wiser person." Hale said he had seen and learned too much in the war to go back to the agricultural way of life and his family farm in Arkansas. Instead, he attended Milwaukee School of Engineering and chose a new path.
Annette Howards of Madison was a Marine, a real source of pride for the lively now nearly-80-year-old, who said it was difficult to shed her uniform and be told it was time to become a housewife and forget all of that wartime strife, and its camaraderie as well.
Also profiled is the war's most-highly decorated pilot who was a native of Wisconsin, Richard Ira Bong of Poplar. In an archival radio broadcast, World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker pays tribute to Bong by saying, "He became every American whose road to war was a one-way street to sacrifice."
Other "Legacy" segments explore an eyewitness account of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri, a victory celebration on the streets of Milwaukee and recollections of how the G.I. Bill opened educational opportunities.
There also is a moving account of the 1942 University of Wisconsin Badger football team, which enjoyed a nationally ranked season and then, true to patriotic duty, saw nearly all of its players go off to fight a war. Combat claimed the life of Lancaster-born Dave Schreiner, an All-American who died in Okinawa. Speaking of his loss, and that of another teammate, Otto Breitenbach of Waunakee says, "It's kind of hard to rationalize it. Why them and why not me? How could I be so lucky to be living here at the age I am and their lives were snuffed out in their twenties? That's hard to accept at times."
Wisconsin World War II Honor Roll will be posted to wisconsinstories.org following the broadcast.
Funding for Wisconsin World War II Stories is provided by the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation; Duard and Dorothea Walker; Demco, a John E. Wall family-owned business; contributors to the Wisconsin Program Fund and the National Endowment for the Humanities; Philip J. and Elizabeth B. Hendrickson; the Ho-Chunk Nation; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; an advised fund of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin; the Krause Foundation; the Evjue Foundation Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times; the Boldt Company; and the Dorothy Inbusch Foundation.
WPT is a service of the Educational Communications Board and University of Wisconsin-Extension.