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Thursday, November 06, 2003
In the words of warriors
JOSEPH B. NADEAU , Staff Writer 11/06/2003
Former State Sen. Alphonse F. Auclair took a moment Wednesday to enjoy the success of getting a job done.
Auclair, 78, a Marine Corps veteran of fighting in the Pacific, joined Lt. Gov. Charles J. Fogarty and a group of other World War II vets under the State House rotunda to celebrate the completion of the "Voices of Freedom" oral history program.
The effort has preserved Auclair’s memories of the war along with those of 26 other Rhode Island participants in World War II on videotape and digital media.
"It becomes much more alive, particularly to our students, when you have the opportunity to hear firsthand about the momentous events of World War II," Fogarty said.
The interviews, prepared by Cox Communications and Glen Laxton, a former Rhode Island National Guard member and television reporter for WPRI-TV, will be presented by Cox in a six-part series airing on cable Channel 3 beginning Nov. 16 at 8 a.m. The segments will also air on Tuesdays after Nov. 16 at 7 p.m.
The project was a timely one because the state’s 28,000 remaining World War II veterans are slowly dying away with their stories being lost for all time, Fogarty said.
The 27 veterans recorded in the Cox programs "all have a story to tell," he said, "and all with an important viewpoint."
Auclair’s own health has declined since the project started two years ago, and he now uses a wheelchair to get around to events.
But as he spoke to the gathering on the landing of the rotunda stairs, Auclair said something important had been accomplished through "Voices of Freedom." The veterans participated, Auclair said, to "let people in future generations know what they went through. They are very proud of their accomplishments."
While credited by Fogarty with getting the program off the ground, Auclair also pointed to his two "good buddies," Eugene Peloquin of North Smithfield, a veteran of the Navy, and Roger Petit of Woonsocket, a veteran of the Army, with helping out.
Auclair also named Fogarty as the person carrying the program to completion and getting the veterans stories preserved with the help of Cox Communications and Laxton.
"I want to thank the lieutenant governor very, very much for what you did for all of us. I think people will appreciate it very much in the future."
The group then watched a short clip of Auclair’s interview in the series in which he talks about his parents not wanting him to go off to war at 17 and how he went anyway at 18 when he didn’t need their signature.
That step took him through Marine Corps training and then on to the beaches of Pacific islands held by the Japanese.
Auclair participated in the invasions of Guam and Iwo Jima as the war ended in 1945.
Also participating in the oral histories were former Gov. Bruce Sundlun, 83, a B-17 bomber pilot shot down over Nazi-occupied Europe during the war and former Pawtucket Rep. George T. Panichas of Lincoln, a B-17 tail gunner.
"This was a very important project and it should be preserved in the Library of Congress," Panichas, a veteran of 50 bombing missions over Europe and Germany, said of the 27 interviews prepared for the "Voices of Freedom" programs.
Sundlun said the program shows the important role Rhode Islanders played in winning World War II.
"The United States’ contribution to World War II was decisive and without it the Allies would not have won," Sundlun said.
Sundlun himself avoided capture after being shot down and made his way across occupied France with the help of the French people and the French underground.
The program will be useful to students in particular, Sundlun said, because few schools in the state teach specific courses on Rhode Island history.
"I think it’s an important project and the lieutenant governor deserves much credit for assuming responsibility and carrying it out," Sundlun said.
Cox Communications Vice President John Wolfe said his company plans to distribute DVD copies of the programs to schools and libraries around the state.
"It’s a wonderful to tell all the kids about the sacrifices made by their grandparents during World War II," he said.
©The Call 2003
GLOBE and ANCHOR
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By R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)