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Published: Sunday, 11/28/2004

Hancock Co. museum puts faces on WW II memories

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

"It was a hot August day and the convoy moved in stop and go fashion, until about noon when it stopped. The hours dragged on and we received no word of what was happening ahead. We had to remain alert for the threat of sniper fire from farm buildings and woodlands, and the ever-present threat from enemy aircraft."

- Fred G. Konersman

in France, 1944

FINDLAY - Hancock County soldiers like Fred Konersman came home after World War II and eventually told their stories.

Others were not so lucky. Others simply didn't want to talk about it.

For those who did and for those whose memories are preserved through their letters and scrapbooks, the Hancock Historical Museum has published a collection of stories called Heroes by Necessity: Stories of Hancock County Veterans of World War II.

Curator Paulette Weiser, who co-edited the book with Ron Ammons, said the 60 stories are just a sampling from local World War II veterans. She knows there are many more out there.

"We're already talking about volume two. This barely scratches the surface," she said.

"Unfortunately, many of them are gone and their stories gone with them."

The new book will be introduced at a reception at 2 p.m. Dec. 5 at the museum on West Sandusky Street in Findlay.

"We spend most of our time practicing how to advance against the enemy and how to set up positions on the defensive. We have to dig a lot of foxholes. Tomorrow nite we are going to stay out all nite and in two weeks, we'll stay out there for two weeks."

- Billy Frazier in a letter home from basic training at Camp Wheeler, Ga., Feb. 14, 1944.

The book includes short stories, journal entries, even some poetry from 60 Hancock County veterans, less than half of whom are still living.

It also includes a series of letters written by Billy Frazier, a 1942 Rawson High School graduate who left Ohio State University to serve with the First Battalion, 12th Infantry Division. Following a counterattack by German forces on Sept. 19, 1944, the 20-year-old was listed as missing in action.

Ms. Weiser said she intended to use only excerpts from his letters but decided to reprint many of them in whole.

"They were such good descriptions of what training camp was like and what it was like to be in Europe during the war," she said. "They painted such a vivid picture."

"Still can't see why the Germans fight on but I expect them to crash any day. I've still got hopes of being in the States by Xmas, but maybe so - maybe not ... I'm feeling good and think it will be over soon and everyday I feel surer that I'm coming home. Wish I were there now helping you. The future looks good."

- Billy Frazier in a letter home, Sept. 4, 1944.

Ron Ammons, an amateur historian and head softball coach at the University of Findlay, interviewed area veterans and compiled their stories after his father, Jack Ammons, died in 1979, and he found his father's written account of his war experience.

Once he started interviewing veterans, it became his passion. Many of those stories are included in the new book.

"I want people to realize that we won that war with citizens. We went up against professional armies: The Japanese, Germans, and Italians had trained for years. They were pros," he said.

"... We had a moral mandate to win and we did that. Everyday people did that, and they came back and melded back into society. Those heroes are out amongst us."

Ms. Weiser said in some cases, the stories published in the local history book may be the only time the veterans told their stories.

She tried to call one man included in the book only to reach his daughter and learn he had died three days earlier. The woman was surprised to hear her father had shared his World War II experiences, she said, because he had never talked to anyone about them.

"I turned and looked back to see if it was all clear. It was dark, but I noticed a large gray ship moving toward us. The ship, a British merchant, was closing quickly so I turned my rudder left toward the barge and then jumped from the tug onto the barge. The ship struck the back of the barge and as it slipped past, my 50-foot tug briefly rolled underneath the barge but then rolled back to the surface. Amazingly, I was safe and my tug was upright in the water. My high school class ring was still hanging on a peg in the pilothouse where I had placed it."

- Frederic Hirsimaki on the Hoogly River, India, 1944, 327th Harbor Craft Co.

The book is arranged by theater - beginning at Pearl Harbor and the South Pacific and continuing to South Asia, North Africa, Italy, and northern Europe.

"It covers all branches of the service, every war theater, men and women," Ms. Weiser said. "We've covered a lot of territory but it's still only scratching the surface."

"Destroyers love to pick up airplane pilots out of the ocean. When they rescued Jimmy it was pilot rescue No. 15 for them.

"Destroyers keep a box score on it, just as carriers keep score of the planes they shoot down. They keep records of their speed, and try to set a new record. Their record rescue was three minutes."

- Ernie Pyle, war correspondent, writing about the rescue of his friend, Lt. Jimmy Van Fleet of Findlay, after watching his plane go down from the aircraft carrier USS Cabot (CVL 28) in March, 1945.

This is no fancy, hardcover book with gold-embossed edges. Ms. Weiser said it was being printed locally with the primary goal of disseminating the stories to area residents who may learn more than they ever knew about their neighbors and others who served their country.

"Our philosophy is it's important to get the information out there rather than letting it set on our shelves," she said. "I think these stories really personalize things that a lot of us - my generation and younger - have only read about in the history books."

Clark Frazier, of Rawson, said his elder brother's letters home are in many ways private to his family, but he hopes those who read them will gain something. Billy Frazier was declared killed in action a year and a day after he went missing.

"We've always figured Billy was wasted, and if somebody can get some information out of him, that's a good benefit," he said. "That's fine."

"Had a dream last night that I was home and Mom was baking mince pie. I'm anxious to get home and down to business. Maybe soon - Love, Billy."

- Billy Frazier's final letter home, Sept. 8, 1944.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.



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