During WW II, Ralph Fisher spent thirty-one months overseas, serving in North Africa, Sicily, France, and Germany. Immediately after basic training he was placed in the Army’s 402nd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, with “not much training,” he says—a fact that might have had dire consequences for the entire war effort. One night in Marseilles, France, Ralph spotted an unidentifiable plane bearing down on the city. No lights. No markings. Was it friend or foe coming into range of his big, twin barreled “Ack Ack” gun? He put his sights on target.
Not sure about what he should do, Ralph decided to err on the side of caution, lest he shoot down one of our own planes, he thought. The hell with training and orders; it was a gut decision. Later he learned that the stealthy plane that landed in somewhere in the city was carrying Winston Churchill.
We frequently get the opportunity to record our veterans’ interviews at the venerable Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. Situated in the busy Oakland section of Pittsburgh, the great Hall is a central landmark that sits high above 5th Avenue, like a citadel.
Yet, despite its urban location for a hundred years, many residents still don’t know much about the museum. As if hidden in plain sight, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum is the nation’s only military museum dedicated to honoring the men and women of all branches of service.
That mission complements our own commitment to preserve the stories of local veterans from all branches of service and eras—including the often forgotten Cold War. Of course, because time is running out we prioritize working with the WW II generation, as was the case during this recording session; seven of the eight veterans we interviewed served during WW II.
Over two days (November 21st and 22nd) we welcomed our participating veterans to the museum’s grand Gettysburg Room, where we set up our mobile recording studio. It’s a popular recording space, often seen in local documentaries; the History Channel likes to record here as well.
Again this year the recording project was joined by the 354th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, a communications unit in the Army Reserve located in Coraopolis, Pa. The mission of the 354th is to publicize the Army and its history.
“In addition to our own interviews,” said director Todd DePastino of the Veterans Breakfast Club, “each year we arrange for the 354th MPAD to interview Army veterans. It’s a wonderful experience for our WW II vets to talk with today’s uniformed soldiers, and I think the Reservists feel the same way.”
We were also joined by Nick Wells of Mt. Lebanon, an active member of our volunteer creative team. Nick was instrumental in helping us greet veterans and prepare them for their interviews.