Veterans Day panelists recount war experience

by Sarah Koulogeorge | 11/12/12 11:00pm

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World War II survivors and contributors to
by Maggie Rowland / The Dartmouth

The panel featured World War II veterans Robert Christie and Clinton Gardner '44, as well as Mary Jenkins, the wife of an Air Force pilot during the war. All of the panelists contributed to "World War II Remembered: The Impact of War Then and Now," a memoir whose 56 collaborators all live at the Kendal at Hanover retirement community.

Jenkins described the war's ability to bring the country together in an unprecedented way.

"It was a great time of unity in our country," Jenkins said. "Our one goal was to win this war. It was very uplifting."

Gardner said he was one of the few men briefed on the invasion of Normandy and landed on Omaha beach on D-Day as a first lieutenant in the army.

"I wasn't really feeling anything," he said. "I wasn't scared. I know that's stupid because we knew that 10 percent of us would not make it back, but the Army had trained us to think this way."

Gardner was shot through his helmet at Normandy and said he had to "live moment to moment" thinking of nothing but survival. The hole in Gardner's helmet, which he demonstrated to the audience, was declared to be the largest hole in any helmet belonging to a surviving veteran of either of the two world wars.

Physically wounded twice once at Normandy and once at the Battle of the Bulge Gardner said his most traumatic experience was his involvement in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany.

"I suffered no shell shock from my physical wounds, but Buchenwald left me with scars," Gardner said.

Christie, who also fought in the Battle of the Bulge and participated in the liberation of a concentration camp, received a bronze star for his heroic efforts.

Over 50 years after his return home, while walking his Border Collie in a field, Christie experienced the sudden urge to write about his war experience, he said.

"I hadn't thought about the war in 55 years, and I had never thought of writing poetry before, it just came out of me," Christie said. "It just poured out, unedited. It just came out that way."

His poem, titled "Hunter," serves as the epilogue to the collection of memoirs.

Jenkins said the atmosphere on the home front immediately changed following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"I was a sophomore in college when Pearl Harbor happened," she said. "The atmosphere became considerably more serious. That young sense of immortality, that our lives would last forever, disappeared as news of fallen friends reached us."

The group of contributors to "World War II Remembered" all felt the need to share their experiences with younger generations, she said.

"We have a set of experiences that no one else has had, and pretty soon, we will be gone," Jenkins said.

Jaclyn Kimball '16, who attended the panel, said she enjoyed learning of the veterans' experiences liberating concentration camps.

"I found it interesting that those were their most wounding experiences," she said.

Other events held this week in honor of Veterans Day included a formal flag ceremony, a Veterans Day banquet and a remembrance breakfast.

Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said the week's events offered an opportunity for the College to remember those who risked their lives for the United States.

"It is a time to honor the heroes and a time to say thank you," Johnson said.

Hanover Police officer Al Patterson said he believes in the importance of Veterans Day as a vehicle to honor those who support others' freedom.

Facilitator of this week's Veterans Day program and officer candidate in the Marines Jack Boger '13 said his favorite part of the festivities was the Veterans Day banquet on Friday night, during which General Burke Whitman '78 and Trustee and veteran Nathaniel Fick '99 delivered inspiring speeches and reaffirmed his decision to commit to the Marines, he said.