The stories of Delaware's World War II veterans now are available at the Delaware Public Archives.
Many Delaware veterans who fought in World War II say they never thought their stories would be of interest once the war was over.
They were wrong.
With the number of World War II veterans rapidly dwindling, there has been growing interest in making sure their memories are preserved.
That effort took a giant leap forward June 3 with the unveiling of the William J. Kitchell Collection, a gathering of photographs, video interviews and transcripts of interviews with more than 100 Delaware veterans, all assembled under one roof and available now for public use at the Delaware Public Archives in Dover.
The collection is named in honor of U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. William J. Kitchell, who served on the staff of Adm. William F. Halsey, and who led both Fleet Adm. Chester W. Nimitz and General of the Armies Douglas MacArthur to the signing ceremonies aboard the USS Missouri that ended World War II.
Three of Kitchell’s daughters, a grandson and four veterans who served during the war were on hand at the Delaware Public Archives Tuesday to receive the collection, which also includes personal photographs, telegrams and other items belonging to Kitchell, who died in 1973.
“We thought it should go somewhere other than in our houses,” his daughter Peg Stabler said. “It will help make people more aware of those who served our country.”
Grandson William Kitchell McCoy added: “I think it’s important to be able to pass on the legacy and to make people aware of all the good in this world.”
The collection effort began with the work of filmmaker Thomas J. “TJ” Healy II, a Navy veteran who knew Kitchell and was fascinated by his stories.
Taking advantage of his background in professional film and video work, Healy put together a team and set out to interview those who served in World War II, as well as in Korea and Vietnam. While the latter projects still are underway, his completed work, which includes a 90-minute video, “Delaware during WWII,” compiles many of the interviews into a single source.
All of the original, full-length interviews will be stored at the Library of Congress and are currently available at its website, loc.gov. The collection also includes information teachers can use to plan history classes related to the war.
Healy, who personally conducted each interview, said he was amazed at some the stories he heard.
“Some of them knew they would be going in like John Wayne, all gung-ho, while others just knew they were going to be killed,” he said. “One man said he was just worried about who would take care of his mom.
“I was an emotional wreck all the time I was with these guys,” he said.