Members of America’s greatest generation were honored Saturday at the Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theatre with an exclusive screening of a documentary about Cobb’s World War II vets.
“Memories of War” is an attempt to preserve the stories of those who served in Europe and the Pacific during the great conflict.
Filmmaker and former MDJ photo editor Kelly Huff said he was inspired to create the project after his son joined the Navy. He presented the first batch of stories from 10 veterans last November, and this year’s event featured 11 never-before-seen interviews with survivors of the war. The evening was hosted by Col. Pat “Phantom” Campbell, commander of the 94th Airlift Wing Operations Group at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, and also featured patriotic music performed by the Big Chicken Chorus.
Huff said he didn’t initially expect to create a part two, but he found there were too many interviews that were not featured in the first film. Over 70 Cobb World War II vets were interviewed for the project.
“There’s just too many good stories that need to be remembered, from World War II, from our local veterans who live in the county and the city,” he said. “We need to remember them, and this is my way of doing it. … It’s an honor to pay tribute to them. They deserve it. They gave so much of their lives for us, so it’s the least I can do.”
The stories come from folks across various branches of the military who served in different capacities. Some are dramatic, like the story of Tom Richardson, who flew multiple bombing missions over Berlin for the United States Army Air Corps.
Richardson said he was known as “the lucky pilot” because his missions seemed to go off without a hitch every time, and other troops would line up to fly with him.
“No one ever got even wounded flying with me. … The Lord looked after me, took care of me and blessed me very much,” he said.
The luck did not last forever. On his 18th mission, Richardson was shot down behind Russian lines. He and his crew met up with others in Russian custody in a boxcar guarded by one unarmed soldier.
Richardson said the Americans were treated little better than prisoners of war, but they never tried to escape.
“I’ve had people ask me, ‘Why didn’t you ever escape while they had you on that boxcar?’ I’d ask them, ‘How big an area do you think Poland and Siberia is?’ To start out with, we were in freezing territory when we went down, and as long as we were headed south to where it was warm, I wasn’t going to make any effort to escape,” he said with a laugh.
Richardson and his men were turned over to the British several weeks later, and Richardson went back to combat, flying a total of 27 missions before war’s end.
Many of the vets do not shy from describing the harsh realities of the fight, but the film features moments of levity as well.
One such moment came from Robert A. Cushing, who also flew for the Army Air Corps.
Cushing was still in high school when the war broke out, but he dreamed of flying airplanes, so he went out to take the test to join up anyway.
“I figured if I flunked it, I’d know something about the test,” he said. “The next time I took it, it would make it a little easier.”
But Cushing didn’t flunk the test.
“When the test was over, they said, ‘You passed. Good. Raise your right hand.’ Sure. ‘Do you solemnly swear you’re going to do this, that and the other in the military?’ Sure. I was in the Reserve and didn’t know it, and I was still in high school.”
One of the veterans, Marine Harry Kone, stayed after the screening to answer questions from members of the audience.
Kone had some fun with the audience, such as when he was asked what went through his mind when he was undergoing training at Parris Island, South Carolina.
“How to escape,” Kone deadpanned.
Kone also told the audience about his time fighting in Guadalcanal, battling the heat, the mud and mosquitoes. He talked about losing friends and some of the terrible things he saw.
Kone was honorably discharged after being wounded on Guadalcanal and went on to a career of teaching in public schools. He told the audience he thinks students need to learn about World War II so they can avoid future worldwide conflicts.
“I think we should talk about why the nations went to the war, what were the reasons for it? … Because war doesn’t solve anything, only thinking and planning happens. War is just a waste of time, a waste of money, a waste of life. It just isn’t worthwhile. … We have to learn to live together, and we can learn that through love,” he said.