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History, from its witnesses

A Powell Middle history project becomes a priceless show and tell for veterans.

By JOY DAVIS-PLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002


BROOKSVILLE -- Kerri Hall has grown up with stories about how her grandmother riveted ships during World War II at a manufacturing plant in New Jersey.

Listening to the stories over the years gave 14-year-old Kerri an idea for Veterans Day.

Why not share some of the stories with her classmates at Powell Middle School? And why not bring into the classroom some of the veterans who lived through those trying years?

"She was just like Rosie the Riveter," Kerri, an eighth-grader, said of her grandmother, Anna Hall, who has lived with her family as long as Kerri can remember. "It gave me an idea for a history project, and it snowballed into this whole big thing."

Class after class listened Wednesday as Spring Hill veterans -- men and women -- recounted stories of the years they spent defending freedom during WWII.

Rodger Hinds told students about the 35 missions he flew in a B-17 as a sergeant in the Army Air Forces. Despite his vivid memory of plane design and mission parameters, the children seemed more interested in the human side of the equation.

"They asked me if I was scared and what it feels like to get shot at," said Hinds, 78. "And I guess those are good questions, too. I suppose it's what comes to their minds."

At the age of 22, Hinds' wife, Mary, served at Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine as a lithographer, 2nd class. The opportunities for women in today's armed services are much more exciting, she said.

"Our generation wasn't brought up to do things like that," said Mrs. Hinds, now 81. "Most of our parents weren't thrilled that we were going into the service, and neither were the men. But I don't think that patriotism is something that belongs only to men."

Lee Lund's parents certainly had no intention of letting her join the Navy WAVES, a volunteer emergency service group.

"The minimum age was 20," Lund said with a bit of a smile. "But I was only 19, so I had to forge my mother's signature."

With one brother in the ministry and another who was ineligible for service, Lund said she felt it was her duty to represent the family. She worked as a yeoman at the Bureau of Naval Personnel at Arlington, Va.

"Once she (her mother) saw me in my uniform, she couldn't argue," said Lund, showing a 60-year-old picture of herself in white gloves and hat and a dark blue uniform. "That made her so proud."

Kerri's teacher, history instructor Suzanne Miranda, said honoring Veterans Day, which is Monday, by having veterans speak to her classes brought something no book could match.

"These are oral, living histories," Miranda said. "That is a very valuable resource."

When a group of Allied POWs was released from prison in Manchuria in 1945, Betty Gallagher was a nurse stationed on the USS Relief, a Navy hospital ship that went to pick them up.

"It was so pitiful to see them," said Gallagher, who was in her mid 20s. "When they came over the hill and saw that huge, white ship with the big red cross, they just let out a scream."

On the five-day trip to Okinawa, Japan, Gallagher nursed 75 officers and enlisted men in her orthopedic ward. To this day, she says bringing those men back home was the highlight of her Navy career.

"It was the most wonderful feeling in the world to see those guys," she said.

Gallagher later married and had three children.

"I've had a wonderful life," she said. "When I look back at my journals and pictures, it's like reading about someone else. It seems like a dream."

-- Joy Davis-Platt can be reached at 848-1435. Send e-mail to joy@sptimes.com.

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