Bedford’s Carleton-Willard Residents Remember World War II

February 28, 2012

Remember World War II

Pictured from left to right: Susan Hay, Carleton-Willard Village resident; Frances Smith, Carleton-Willard Village resident; Jan van Steenwijk, president of the Bedford Historical Society; Donna Argon, Carleton-Willard Village resident; Madeleine Altman, Bedford TV executive director; Esther Braun, Carleton-Willard Village resident and Bedford TV Production Manager Greg Dolan.

Wicked Local Bedford

Bedford, Mass.
It all started with a conversation over dinner.

A few Carleton-Willard Village residents were reminiscing, telling each other stories about their lives during World War II. The following day another resident was scheduled to give a talk about his WWII military service and the extensive action he had seen.

Soon the idea of recording those memories on video emerged, and a small group of residents began meeting to figure out how they could make it happen. Esther Braun, Mary Welch and Allan Sloan were the anchors, quickly joined by others. Their idea was to be able to capture what it felt like to live during the war years, not just the facts about dates and battles already so well covered in the history books. They wanted to interview each other so that their personal stories could be told – the rich, funny and often poignant tales that show what it was like to be alive during that extraordinary time.

The project soon generated interest from others at Carleton-Willard. After all, for most of the current residents, World War II was the defining event of their generation. However, the organizers also realized that they would need professional resources to record and edit the many interviews they were planning to conduct.

In a happy coincidence for this group of residents, the Bedford Historical Society was in need of more archival material from the World War II period. Society President Jan van Steenwijk, a professional photographer and videographer, has been volunteering his time to record and edit the interviews. Bedford TV, the local community access station, was also interested in broadcasting oral histories from town residents and has made their studio and professional recording and editing equipment available for the project.

Finding residents interested in participating and hearing their stories has been important to the organizers. According to Carleton-Willard resident Mary Welch, “(The project) puts a face on history. It seemed the perfect way to give my children some insight into World War II.”

Resident Esther Braun pointed out “the population here at Carleton-Willard was young during World War II, but no matter how old you were, your life was affected. You couldn’t lead a normal life.” She stressed the importance of succeeding generations learning about those unique experiences.

Resident Allan Sloan was a child during the war, and believes it is important to hear the stories that don’t appear in the history books, “the little things that happened and the effect they had on lives.”

Since those first conversations in the spring of last year, several individual and two group video interviews have been completed and more are in progress or planned. The Bedford TV station has already begun airing the interviews in its two oral history programming slots on Wednesday and Sunday evenings, and videotaping of residents is expected to continue for much of the remainder of 2012.

Getting involved in the project has been rewarding for van Steenwijk, “It is quite wonderful to work with the enthusiastic group of veterans. “The stories they tell are so important for future audiences. We can all learn from these brave and dedicated people; history must not be forgotten.”