Note: Friday night, Lexington will get its first look at Our Part: Lexington's Greatest Generation, a documentary about Lexingtonians during World War II, produced by the Lexington Public Library. There will be a free showing of the film at the Central Library on Main Street, followed by a USO dance. This story will be in tomorrow's Weekender section, but it seemed like a good idea to give you a heads up:
Thurman Wagoner got off a boat in New York City, fresh from serving in Europe during World War II. He wanted a hot dog. A few steps off the boat, he couldn’t stand the wait anymore, so he broke ranks and ran to get four hot dogs. When he turned around, there was Harry Truman.
The President asked Wagoner where he was from.
“Kentucky,” Wagner replied.
Truman said, “That’s a damn good place to be from.”
Wagoner (photo, left, courtesy of the Lexington Public Library) has a bunch of stories like this, including one about how a few bottles of wine got him out of trouble for leaving his unit for a week after serving on D-Day. But he had never told them to anyone outside his family until a camera crew from the Lexington Public Library came along.
Our Part: Lexington’s Greatest Generation is a new documentary from Thom Southerland and Thai Emmerich of the Library Channel (Channel 20 on Lexington Insight cable system). The movie will premiere Friday night at the Central Library, followed by a “USO dance.” It will show for the next month on the Library Channel.
The film was made in conjunction with the Library’s One Book One Lexington project, an initiative to encourage residents to read a book together. This year’s book is Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation.
“We’re not trying to compete with Ken Burns or anything,” Southerland said, referring to the documentary filmmaker whose The War was a hit on PBS last fall. “We wanted to be as local and specific as possible.”
Southerland and Emmerich’s aim was to tell the story of the war front and the home front during the war. Among the recurring themes was how slowly news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor filtered out in the early 1940s, when the news media were nowhere near as pervasive as they are today.
At a gas station in Shelbyville, a man came out and told them that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. He also told them there were Japanese soldiers right down the street.
“They thought that the Japanese had penetrated all the way into Kentucky,” Southerland says.
He also says that the filmmakers heard the story of an assembly at Lafayette High School on Dec. 8, 1941, to hear President Franklin D. Roosevelt declare war.
“We couldn’t find out how many,” Southerland says, “but a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old boys, with their parents’ permission, signed up to serve that day. They didn’t actually go until after they turned 18, but that was the kind of patriotism you saw back then.”
Southerland says that with members of the World War II generation quickly aging into their 80s and 90s, it’s important to document people telling their stories.
“A lot of them have already passed away,” he says. “I don’t know how many more chances we’ll get.”