Veteran captures memories of fellow WWII vets
A few of the men can count eighteen battles stars. Lawrence “Peanut” Warren, who served on USS Enterprise (CV-6) in the South Pacific during World War II, can. Others are like Elwin Hudson, who flew fourteen missions in a B-29 bomber. After being shot down over the Indian Ocean, Edwin and survivors among his crew spent two days adrift before being rescued. A.C. Bible served for fifty-eight months—nearly five years—in seven major campaigns in Europe during the war; others like him logged as many as 300 days in constant combat, and some endured three or four years without leave.
“Very, very few people today have any idea what went on in World War II or [in] any war for that matter,” says Martin Parker, a veteran who served on USS Kitty Hawk (AKV-1) and who today seeks to capture as many stories of fellow veterans as he can. “Sixteen million men and women served in WWII, and 450,000 died for their country. This boggles the mind of people today. At this time of life, these WWII veterans are becoming very scarce. If they have never revealed their service . . . , they need to unload their hidden stories before it is too late.”
With the assistance of his wife Francinn, Martin seeks to record and publish as many of these “hidden stories” as possible. He has published two collections of WWII veteran stories, Freedom Ain’t Free, with 246 stories, and A Legacy of Heroism, with 72 stories, the latter in association with Crestview Baptist Church. Martin has also helped publish individual veteran stories in the Austin American-Statesman, Weatherford Democrat, and Taylor Daily Press. He has assisted, as well, with the WWII Comes to Williamson County exhibit at the Williamson County Museum.
The story collecting started in 2006, when Martin was “shooting the breeze” with fellow veterans and began to listen to some of their stories. “What I [heard] was unbelievable,” explains Martin. “Walter ‘Boxy’ Elam, now deceased, told us of his nine battle stars, four [earned] in Europe and five in the South Pacific. I had no idea Boxy was involved in so much. [Then] Lawrence ‘Peanut’ Warren said, ‘I was in eighteen battles and have proof of it.’ Gene Wilkins [responded], ‘I was not in nine or eighteen battles, but I flew many a flight over “the Hump” as a pilot of B-24s.’”
Martin could not ignore these stories, waiting to be collected and shared, much less the hundreds of other stories that he knew were carried in the hearts and minds of men who served. As he began to collect stories, though, he encountered some difficulty in locating WWII veterans. To solve this problem, Martin turned to local churches, like the Brethren Church in Taylor, and to American Legion Halls, tracking down names and addresses. Even after he began to locate veterans, though, he had to do a little more work to encourage them to share.
“[The] most surprising thing [has been] how difficult [it is] to get the stories out of hardened combat veterans,” explains Martin, who with Francinn created a list of twenty-two questions to prompt veterans when they have no idea how to begin telling their stories. “Most veterans are timid and reserved about their service, so they don’t want to appear as heroes.” Despite this reluctance, Martin persists, confident that the stories he collects are important, both for the generation that shares and for those to come. “It [is] my experience,” he notes, “that combat veterans [will] tell their experiences to another veteran or to their grandchildren, if to no one else.”
Discover more about World War II through the World War II Comes to Williamson County exhibit on display until March of 2015 at the Williamson County Museum at 716 S. Austin Ave. Visit williamsonmuseum.org or call 512-943-1670 for more information.