Editorial: Important to share war stories with new audience
We are fortunate to still have so many among us who are willing -- and able -- to remind us first hand of the horrific circumstances leading to the United States of America's involvement in World War II.
Holocaust survivor Mira Kimmelman, 85, said during a recent presentation at Oak Ridge High School in Tennessee that telling her story is hard, but she tells it anyway. Born Mira Ryczke in Poland during the early 1920s and a resident of Oak Ridge for the past 45 years, Kimmelman said her life was very peaceful and happy "until Hitler came to power."
Forced from her school and eventually forced from her hometown because she was Jewish, Kimmelman spent five and a half years in ghettos and labor and concentration camps in Germany and Poland. She and her father were the only two members of her immediate family -- 18 total -- who survived the Nazi death camps.
"They wanted to reduce us to subhumans," Kimmelman said. "We had no way of fighting physically, (so) we defied them with our spirits."
In January 1945, Auschwitz was evacuated before the Russian army came, and the 21-year-old Kimmelman survived the evacuation from that camp to be liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp three months later.
Roane State Community College's Oak Ridge campus recently hosted a forum titled "Warriors Among Us: Voices of East Tennessee Veterans," and 88-year-old World War II veteran Clinton Riddle of Sweetwater recalled his time in the Army from Dec. 10, 1942, through Sept. 19, 1945.
"Mine's not just a war story, it's an experience," said Riddle, who discussed the 33 months he spent in Europe -- dressed during his presentation in the same uniform originally issued to him 65 years ago.
Riddle served with the 325th Glider Regiment in the North Africa campaign and fought battles in Sicily, Salerno, Normandy, Holland and Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. He discussed at least two crash landings he survived (one in Normandy and the other in Holland) before going to France.
"I've got two Purple Hearts and metal in my hands," the WWII veteran told those gathered for the program.
"I even had my coattails shot off!"
Riddle, who to this day carries shrapnel in his body and still has to deal with the permanent damage to his hands and feet caused by frostbite during the war, said he has talked about his experiences with several groups and completed many interviews, including one in 2002 for the Veterans Oral History Project conducted by the University of Tennessee's History Department.
While we are certainly appreciative to educators and personnel who provide the opportunity for contemporary heroes such as Kimmelman and Riddle to speak about what certainly must be horrific recollections to our citizens both young and old, we salute in particular the speakers themselves — and those they represent — "lest we forget" as a community and as a nation.
The Oak Ridger