By Catalina Righter
“I’m not trying to glorify [war]; I’m helping people to revive it so it doesn’t repeat,” said Jeff Millikin. On Tuesday, Nov. 11, Mullikin, a member of the Maryland Defence Force, shared his collection of military uniforms and artifacts as part of Washington College’s multimedia presentation entitled “The Real War: World War II Veterans Remember.”
The performance shared the stories of people involved with WWII. Source material for the project came from the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience’s StoryQuest oral history project. Through this initiative, students working with the Center collected nearly 50 oral interviews with veterans of their experiences both in combat and on the home front.
Junior Alex Foxwell, a member of the student team that interviewed veterans and dramaturge for the event, was in charge of putting together much of the program. “This has been my baby for a very long time,” he said.
Foxwell was inspired to take on the project because of the profound effect that war had on his family’s history. Both of his grandfathers were veterans and his grandmother was a survivor of the Holocaust. “I grew up listening to these kind of stories,” said Foxwell.
In addition to the C.V. Starr Center, the Department of Drama and the Department of Music as well as the Washington College Premier Artists Concert Series, the RiverArts Studio Gallery, the Washington College Alumni Association, and the Washington College Veterans Association. The aim was to “open this project across disciplinary lines,” said Foxwell.
The name “The Real War” came from a quote by the American writer Walt Whitman concerning the United States Civil War: “The real war will never get in the books,” he said. By drawing on the memories of the people involved, the team of the StoryQuest project hopes to avoid that problem. These stories are crucial to capture today because “the greatest generation is unfortunately starting to die out,” said Foxwell.
The evening began with dinner in Hodson Commons where all veterans were able to eat for free.
At 7:30 p.m. the program began in Decker Theatre. Live music performance by the Trio Galilei provided a soundscape for the oral histories of male and female veterans living all over the Eastern Shore, especially in Kent County. The veterans themselves narrated some of the stories. The recordings were shown alongside primary source video and photos of the war from sources such as the Smithsonian and the National Archives.
The Trio Galilei is made up of Carolyn Surrick on viola da gamba, Sue Richards on harp, and Ginger Hildebrand on guitar and violin. This program was not their first time playing to honor veterans. They have played at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center nearly every Friday for the past six years and they also create “CDs for wounded warriors and their families. Wounded warriors often have trouble sleeping,” said Surrick.
Other vetran narratives were read live by students from the Drama Department. Sophomore Kristen Barnes read the story of Edith Norberg Foley while junior Dom LaGrotta read the story of John Dogherty. This portion was especially powerful considering many of these veterans were pulled into the war at the age WC students are now. “A lot of them were boys…that really took the brunt of the war,” LaGrotta read from Dogherty’s oration.
Important for Foxwell was the fact that “for anything that deals with history onstage, it’s important to be authentic.” Though some of the pieces were cut for length, “I never changed anyone’s words,” he said.
The program ended with a prayer for veterans read by Rev. Anne Ledbetter, chaplain for Heron Point.
The performance was followed by a catered reception in the lobby of the theater. There, the stories featured in the performance as well as many others were displayed on large poster boards.
Commander John Caraway, a veteran who attended the event said he was “not only impressed but moved” by the program. “For a lot of veterans, it is quite meaningful,” he said of the effort to collect stories from veterans. “For a college to do this is not only impressive but resonated with me.”
The StoryQuest project is ongoing and any person that wishes to record his or her own story of WWII should contact the C.V. Starr Center.