Attendees enjoy food and light refreshments, at the reception for Veterans featured in the recently completed book, “Recollections of World War II: Veterans from the Woodstock Area.” Stephen McKay photo
By Stephen McKay
Special To The Standard
The book is an oral history of World War II veterans from the local area. Attending the reception were not only those who worked on the project, but several of the veterans whose history is documented in the book.
“It was a huge collaboration to collect and share that history and it took the work of a lot of volunteers,” said Jeannie Shurtleff Assistant Director of the Woodstock Historical Society. “Holding this event is our way to say thank you.”
Following food and light refreshments the gathering met to view a slide show. The show included brief narrations of several veterans war-time experiences as told in their own words. The presentation ended by remembering the many local residents who went to war and never came back.
In order to complete the project more than 40 interviews were conducted. The interviews were recorded and then painstakingly transcribed by Loie Havill. Three editors, Becky Talcott, Jane McDill Smith and Shurtleff, were then engaged in reviewing the transcripts to boil the vast source material down to size. Extensive research then followed to find photo’s and maps to go along with each soldiers story. Tim Sink did the layout for the book.
Talcott, the Office Administrator of the Historical Society, spoke briefly of her father whose story is one of those documented in the book. Robert Talcott served in the U.S. Navy. Talcott served aboard his ship at the Battle of Iwo Jima – one of the war’s most remembered and horrific battles.
The raising of the American flag on Iwo’s Mt. Suribachi, as captured by Associated Press Photographer Joe Rosenthal, is one of the most iconic photo’s ever taken.
“This was a project that was in the works for more than 10 years and it couldn’t have been completed without the help of a lot of people,” said Woodstock Historical Society Director Jack Anderson to the gathering.
Anderson thanked a number of people by name including the American Legion. The local Legion post donated $1,000 toward the project.
World War II was the deadliest war in human history resulting in the deaths of more than 60 million people. More than 400,000 of those killed were Americans. For the sacrifices it made at home and abroad is why journalist Tom Brokaw coined the term, “The Greatest Generation.”
Among those of the greatest generation in attendance was army veteran Floyd Van Alstyne. The war plucked him from the relative comfort of serene Vermont to Southampton Island near the Arctic Circle in Canada and then to battlefields in Europe.
In February, 1943 Van Alstyne was shipped to North Africa in ports around Algiers. He was later attached to the 36th Division during the invasion of Italy. But for a helmet, Van Alstyne may have been included in the war’s ugly statistics.
“A piece of shrapnel from an exploding shell hit me in the head at Anzio,” Van Alstyne said. “I always kept my helmet on good and tight after that.”
Another veteran Ruth Ekberg – who does a lot of volunteer work for the Historical Society – was another in attendance whose wartime experiences were documented. Ekberg served her country on the home front and entered the Navy as a Pharmacist’s Mate.
“It’s what they would call now a corpsman,” said Ekberg.
Since she was too young when war broke out after Pearl Harbor Ekberg had to wait until 1943 to enlist. After boot camp and training at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, Ekberg served out the war as a Naval Secretary at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital.
“Just because the book has been completed doesn’t mean the project is over,” said Shurtleff. “Our oral history program is ongoing and we would welcome anyone with a story to tell about any aspect of our local history to contact us.”
This article first appeared in the March 3rd edition of the Vermont Standard.