The ranks of the people who fought in, and personally remember World War II, the people journalist Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” are rapidly thinning. My mother, who heard the announcement over a Zenith radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, is now in her 90’s. My father, who served in Europe during World War II, died in 1987. Many families share similar histories. Virtually every American family was touched in some way by World War II. Many lost loved ones in the conflict. But with the war over 60 years in the past, personal memories of the war are fading.
Those memories and the recollections of those who fought are vividly alive in Abilene, Texas, at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum. Recently, the museum was awarded part of a USDA Distance Learning Grant. That grant will be used to provide materials to explain the War and its aftermath to future generations.
The two-story building downtown is a repository for information concerning the men who trained in Abilene, fought their way across Europe, liberated a Nazi concentration camp, assisted in the liberation of four others and stopped two Nazi “death trains.” They took bridges, held territory, took terrible losses and suffered in the bitter winter weather. In addition to equipment, the museum is filled with letters, manuscripts and 300 oral history interviews conducted with veterans.
Using grant funds, the museum is developing media materials explaining how the Allies won World War II. They are also creating a video presentation about the Holocaust and a video about the effect of World War II on American society. Women adapted to new roles outside the home during the war. Many of them never went back. Dale Cartee, Chairman of the museum’s board of directors told me that excerpts will be lifted from original materials and narration and reenactments will make the materials come alive to future generations. Six programs, three at the 11th grade level and three at the 5th grade level will be produced.
The museum is partnering with three Texas school districts, one school district in New York State and Cisco College to provide interactive courses to area students. Participating rural schools will link to the College and students will receive courses, including vocational instruction. Training will also be provided through the grant to rural community medical providers.
This summer, if you find yourself near Abilene, the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum is well worth touring. You might even have a discussion with a World War II vet ( Four are on the board) or you can learn more from the materials about the incredible sacrifice made by Americans of all walks of life to keep our nation free.