Answering the Call: Experiences of North Carolina’s Military Veterans

North Carolina news

Beginning April 6, the North Carolina Museum of History will unveil a new military exhibit, called Answering the Call, Experiences of North Carolina’s Military Veterans, 1898–1945.

Complimentary educational lectures and a commemorative service are also planned to accompany this initiative. The exhibit powerfully educates the public about early 20th century wars by recounting the story of the war through the lens of North Carolinians who bravely served.

Click here for more on Answering the Call 

Answering the Call is a semi-immersive/environmental exhibit with trenches and foxholes, dioramas, and sound effects. It presents the stories of North Carolinians from all walks of life during the war and is arranged both chronologically and thematically.

Various videos and interactives are interspersed throughout the exhibit to show how the war affected North Carolinians. Often these were people plucked straight from civilian life and thrown into the war. From the WWII section, these riveting stories emerge:

•  Jarvis Outland of Murfreesboro, NC, a sailor killed at Pearl Harbor;

• Col. David Hardee of Granville Co., NC, who survived the Bataan Death March;

• Col. Robert Morgan, of Asheville, NC, pilot of the B-17 “Memphis Belle;”

• Col. Vernon Haywood, a Tuskegee Airman from Raleigh;

• Col. Westray Battle Boyce of Rocky Mount, NC, director of the Women’s Army Corps;

• Robert Summerlin of Pinetops, NC, a dancer with Irving Berlin’s “This is the Army” touring troupe;

• Gizella Gross Abramson, a young Jewish girl who worked as a spy for the Polish resistance and settled in Raleigh after the war;

• Noted bluegrass banjo player Don Reno of Haywood Co., NC, who served with Merrill’s Marauders;

• Floyd McKissick of Asheville, NC, an artilleryman who became a major player in the NAACP and civil rights movement;

• Maj. Gen. William Lee of Dunn, NC, “Father of the Airborne;”

• Evelyn Whitlow of Leasburg, NC, an Army nurse who survived Japanese imprisonment;

• Maj. George Preddy of Greensboro, NC, the top P-51 ace of the war;

• And two MIAs: Pete Lynn of Kings Mountain, NC, and Benjamin Robertson of Plymouth, NC.

Units highlighted in the WWII section include the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion – the Army’s first all-Black airborne unit, which trained at Fort Bragg; the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion – the only all-Black, all-female battalion overseas during WWII; the 527th Ordinance Company – a support unit recruited from among employees of the North Carolina Highways Department, USS Raleigh, and USS North Carolina.

  • A recreation of the trench warfare of WWI, complete with a German bunker machine gun that “fires” on visitors when they least expect it.
  • A diorama of a medic in the Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor.
  • A pack howitzer from the 82nd Airborne Museum that forms the centerpiece of a dioramic depiction of Iwo Jima.

Some of the “do not miss” elements of the exhibit include:

In addition to the exhibit, the museum has a special event tentatively planned for fall 2021 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. While details are still being firmed up, this event will be modeled on the museum’s block-buster WWI event. The event will begin with dignitaries laying a wreath at the WWII section of the war memorial on the State Capitol grounds, accompanied by the North Carolina National Guard honor guard, WWII re-enactors, and members of the North Carolina National Guard Band. Afterwards attendees can cross the street to the museum to attend the WWII event which will likely include:

• Meeting World War I and World War II military re-enactors;

• Discovering the efforts of state organizations and veterans’ groups to preserve North Carolina’s military legacy;

• Taking a curator tour of Answering the Call;

• Learning about the harrowing experiences of American POWs during WWII;

• Seeing period military vehicles;

•  And watching historical films and documentaries.

Many of the state’s veterans and military groups will be invited to be part of the commemoration. Military museums will likely include the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, the North Carolina Aviation Museum and Hall of Fame, the Carolina Military Vehicle Museum, the 82nd Airborne Division Museum, the Battleship North Carolina, the JFK Special Warfare Museum, the Montford Point Marine Museum, and the North Carolina National Guard Museum. Organizations and non-profits being invited include the Preddy Memorial Foundation, the USO of North Carolina, the North Carolina Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the Wake County Veterans Services, the American Red Cross, the Women Veterans Historical Project, the Military and Veterans Services from North Carolina State University, the North Carolina State Archives, and NOAA through its Valor in the Atlantic Project.

Finally, the museum will host a series of four lectures, one a month beginning in March and running through June 2021. The proposed topics include:

1. The Forgotten First: B-1 and the Integration of the Modern Navy*

Speaker: Alex Albright, author, editor, playwright, and professor

Albright will speak about the infamous World War II 45-piece regimental Navy band called the B-1. Comprised of black students attending North Carolina A&T, the men became the first African Americans to serve in the Navy at a rank higher than mess man. The bandmembers were frontline pioneers in breaking the Navy’s color barriers at a time when racial unrest prevailed.

There is a surviving member of the B-1 band living in Greensboro whom the museum would invite to participate as well.

2. The WASP Program and Fort Fisher

Speaker: Either author and historian Krystal Lee or Assistant Site Manager John Moseley

During World War II, the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, were the first women trained to fly the military’s frontline arsenal. In July 1943, the first 25 specially selected women arrived at the Camp Davis Army Airfield with orders to provide targets for the Anti-Aircraft training happening in the area. The lecture will unveil the WASP’s unique story and its connection to Fort Fisher’s role in WWII history.

3. Nazi POWs in the Tar Heel State, 1942-1946

Speaker: Robert Billinger, Jr., Ph.D. and author

More than 10,000 German prisoners of war were interned in 18 camps in North Carolina during World War II. Yet apart from the guards, civilian workers, and FBI and local police who tracked escapees, most people were—and remain—unaware of their presence. This lecture will reveal this little-known aspect of North Carolina’s WWII history.

4. North Carolina’s U-Boats

Jim Bunch, former oceanographer and leading authority on U-boats

From January through July of 1942, approximately 50 German U-boats operated off North Carolina’s coast. During this six-month period, German submarines took a tremendous toll on American ships. The U-boats sank at least 80 freighters and tankers, sending the boats to the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” The attacks during this time also resulted in many military and civilian casualties.

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