WWII veterans tell their stories for Missouri Veterans History Project

Sunday, September 18, 2011 | 3:50 p.m. CDT
Charles Whitten, an former Army medic who served in Europe during World War II, is interviewed by Barbara Schneider of the Missouri Veterans History Project on Saturday at Walter Williams Hall at MU. The project interviewed three veterans and plans to send the videos of their stories to the State Historical Society of Missouri and the Library of Congress.

COLUMBIA — George Hage remembered that the mud and rain turned to snow and ice as he rode in a truck hauling his squad and anti-tank guns from Germany to Belgium.

It was one of many memories Hage, 88, a member of the 84th Infantry Division, discussed Saturday morning as part of an interview for the Missouri Veterans History Project.

Earl Malizia, 85, a member of the military police in the Philippines, and Charles Whitten, 88, a combat medic in the Battle of the Bulge, were also interviewed in MU's Walter Williams Hall for the project.

Volunteer Mike Trial, a Vietnam War veteran, interviewed Hage and has done about 40 other similar interviews in the past year.

"It is very satisfying hearing the veterans' stories," he said. "There is a big difference between reading the history books, watching the videos and hearing the actual personal experiences."

The Missouri Veterans History Project is a non-profit organization that launched in 2010. After state lawmakers cut the budget for the Missouri Veteran Stories, a previous effort to record the veterans, the Missouri Veterans History Project was formed in July 2010 and has relied on volunteer efforts to conduct and videotape the interviews.

Tom Highbarger, a Vietnam War veteran and a volunteer with the project, invited Hage, Malizia and Whitten to the interview and thought their stories were wonderful.

"Some of the stories were never told before, including to their families," Highbarger said.

Whitten never talked to his family about the war — until his son-in-law found a copy of his army discharge papers and asked Whitten to write about his experiences for his grandchildren.

He wrote "My Story of World War II — From 11 Point River to Beyond the Rhine" when he was 75 years old.

"The more I continued to write, the more relief I felt, and the less hatred. The process cleansed my soul," Whitten said.

Earl Malizia is happy to share his stories with others. His granddaughter created an album of his army photos and pictures of reunions with other veterans.

"It is wonderful that the veterans in World War II can leave a record," Malizia said. "There aren't too many of us left now."

The DVDs and the transcripts of the interviews will be donated to the State Historical Society of Missouri and sent to the Library of Congress to be preserved.

Barbara Schneider, another volunteer, became interested in the project because her son served twice in Iraq as a Marine.

"It is important to record the stories because we need to learn our history," she said. "We really need to understand what our military has gone through."

Hage said he was very fortunate to be able to survive battles where his squad was under a lot of fire. The rifle companies they supported had a lot more casualties.

"My guardian angels were looking out for me," Hage said.

Whitten said he has had a wonderful life.

"Time and forgiveness had wiped away most of the tears and bad memories from most of us," Whitten wrote. "However, something seemed to linger and become more pronounced as we aged and grew older."

Malizia said he felt lucky he had a home to go back to. He said he honors the men and women who served their country, and he feels sorry for those people who lost their loved ones.

"I'm sure glad I could serve my country," Malizia said. "I'm happy to get back home."

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