Voices of World War II
World War II will come alive through the remarkable voices of three Island residents at 3 pm Saturday, March 20, at the Martha's Vineyard Museum in Edgartown. From the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge to the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the innocence of a Chilmark childhood disrupted by war preparations, three Vineyard residents will share their personal accounts of this crucial era in American history. Ted Morgan, Tom Hale, and Jane Slater will tell their stories and answer questions about their experiences.
Mr. Morgan, an 88-year-old Edgartown native, enlisted in the Army in 1942. By 1945, he had served as a combat medic in North Africa, Spain, Sicily, Italy, England, France, Belgium and Germany. Parachuting into the front lines, he helped save lives during some of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
"I remember everything - exact incidents and names of fellow soldiers," Mr. Morgan says, his voice still vigorous. "It took me 50 years to talk about the war after it was finished, but I've overcome the pain."
A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Mr. Morgan recalls preparing for action on D-Day. "My commander told us to look left, then right. 'Two out of three of you aren't coming back,' he warned. He was right. I guess I was just lucky."
For a half-century after returning from the war, Mr. Morgan was unwilling to revisit memories of the dead and wounded. "Some of us never talked about it again," he explains. "You come home and want to put it out of your mind. I had six children and none of them knew what I had accomplished in the war."
On the 50th anniversary of D-Day, one of Mr. Morgan's sons, also in the military, asked for a resume of his war experience. "I was finally ready to talk about it," he says. "Now I get upset that so few young people know about World War II. I'd like to speak to kids in schools about it. It should be part of the curriculum. It's just too important to forget."
At 85, Tom Hale of Vineyard Haven says that his first exposure to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northwest Germany was the most unforgettable moment of an unforgettable war. "I saw it with my own 18-year-old eyes - the horror of Bergen Belsen," he recalls. "I took pictures that I still have. No one can tell me that the Holocaust never happened."
Mr. Hale joined the American Field Service as an ambulance driver after all branches of the U.S. military turned him down for active duty. Told he was draftable only for "limited service" but eager to see action, he instead served in the all-volunteer Field Service and was dispatched to Africa in 1943. He worked with the British Eighth Army there and during the invasion of Italy until he was transferred to support the British 2nd Army in Germany - all on the front lines.
During the last two weeks of the war, after more than two years in combat situations, Mr. Hale witnessed the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp that still held 60,000 prisoners, most of them severely ill, when the Allies arrived on April 15, 1945. All told, the camp was responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 prisoners between the years of 1943 and 1945. The atrocities that confronted Mr. Hale are, as he says, indelible in his memory.
More than 3,000 miles away from the European front, Jane Slater was enjoying a rather uneventful childhood in Chilmark - until she turned nine years old and the Island began gearing up for war. "It was obvious there was a war going on," she explains. "With Coast Guard and radar stations in Chilmark, World War II affected everyone's lives." Convoys of military vehicles, dog patrols, airplane squadrons, and training planes became part of daily life in rural Chilmark.
With no electricity and no gasoline to travel down-Island, Ms. Slater says that her experience of the war was an isolated but unforgettable one. "My mother assured us that although there was a war being fought, it was taking place a million miles away and that we were safe," she remembers. "The next day we had an air raid drill and were scared to death."
Ms. Slater will share a child's recollections of an era on the Island that she has never forgotten. "To this day, if I sit down with my contemporaries, the subject always comes up."
"Voices of World War II," part of the museum's Spring Lecture Series, is being held in conjunction with an ongoing exhibition, "Those Who Serve - Martha's Vineyard and World War II." Admission is $8 for members and $12 for non-members.
The discussion will take place in the Museum Library, next door to the Pease House galleries where the exhibit, "Those Who Serve, Part I," currently features the oral histories, photographs, film footage, and artifacts from 10 Vineyarders who experienced World War II at home and abroad. Part II of the exhibit, featuring the stories of 12 additional Vineyard residents, will open on May 28th.
According to Linsey Lee, oral history curator, the museum will also co-host a World War II film series with the Martha's Vineyard Film Society during June and July.
For more information on events at the Martha's Vineyard Museum, visit www.marthasvineyard history.org, or call 508-627-4441, ext. 110. The museum is at 59 School Street in Edgartown.