Window to Winn with Bob Holeman

By: Bob Holeman

As Veterans Day approached this year, I was working on the idea of recycling a series of interviews I began back in 2011 as we were heading towards the annual Veterans Day program put on by Winnfield Intermediate School students.  That would have marked the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 2011.

I was prompted by the passing of World War II Army veteran Richard Wayne Skains, a member of our church who died just two days after his 97th July 4 birthday.  I interviewed all local World War II veterans who were willing to talk with me a decade ago.  Some did not wish to revisit their memories but 33 did.  Now only one interviewee remains with us, Rev. C.W. “Jack” Jones.  I recently found that another surviving veteran is Lee Young, father of longtime Winn Parish Enterprise employee Minnie Young.  There may be others I did not reach in 2011.

When Diane and I arrived in Winnfield, Veterans Day was celebrated with some pomp and ceremony around the little flagpole on the courthouse corner.  Band music, speeches and the playing of “Taps” preceded a veterans’ march around the courthouse block.  The crowd included some World War I veterans.  I felt honored to cover the presentation of Legion of Honor Awards to two local men for their participation in the liberation of France in World War I.  But then they were all gone.

A decade ago when I undertook my project to interview our surviving World War II veterans, I realized that before long, they too would all be gone.  I was fascinated to discover as I spoke with these many men and one woman that citizens of this small rural community were engaged in the whole gamut of the war, from pre-war to D-Day to the occupation of Japan and Korea that followed.

This work was also a humility-check.  None saw themselves as heroes.  They just responded to their country’s call.  Despite their time away from home and the danger they faced, they viewed their actions as duty.  Most didn’t talk about their role.  In more than one home I visited, family stood in the back of the kitchen to hear the story their father had never told them.

But it is a story that needed to be told, as witnessed by an emotional observation that was part of a love story interview.  As I spoke with Clomer and Audrey Walton in their Autumn Leaves bedroom, he described the whirlwind English weekend romance of an American soldier and a young woman in the RAF. He was ready to finish his tale by saying that when he was next in town, he knocked on her door to ask her to marry him.

Audrey interjected, urging him to tell of days that immediately followed that first weekend.  That was D-Day and the battles that ensued.  From Portsmouth, England, she’d witnessed a harbor filled with boats and ships one day and vacated the next.  By afternoon, young men (“boys,” she emphasized) were being brought back, dead, dying and wounded, by the thousands.  Americans cannot understand the devastation of war, she suggested, for it has not been fought on our shores since the Civil War.

She’d struggled to hold back tears as she told her experience but pushed on, insisting that the stories need to be told so that the lessons of World War II would be remembered.  “If we don’t, all could be forgotten.”  How true.  I feel that even we Baby Boomers never got a full grasp on the hardship and privation our parents, both the fighting men and all who stayed on the home front to keep our country running, endured.  We just enjoyed the euphoria after our soldiers returned home.  Unfortunately, with each generation that followed, the picture of what our country went through during those war years has grown dimmer.

We’ve got to tell the stories and remember.  To this end, I spoke with Jodi at the Winn Parish Journal and we’ve agreed to rerun these interviews, one per week, and ask readers to consider this group of individuals as a microcosm of the millions of Americans dubbed the “Greatest Generation” who fought abroad and persevered at home to protect the future of our nation.

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