Abington Patch corresponded with Tom Brennan, World War II Lecture Series Institute Abington coordinator, about his thoughts on the long-running lecture series.
How would you describe the mission of the World War II Lecture Institute?
- We started out to serve vets by them telling their story. We were a place where vets could gather, have fellowship and a bit of food and drink together. Originally we taped the stories and some went to the National Archives so they would not be lost/forgotten. As time passed, we had to end that as we lost the people who made the tapes to age, so now it is a fellowship and educational endeavor.
Could you describe the collection, and your personal interest in WWII?
- I have a large collection of enemy artifacts. It is a lifetime collection with strengths in uniforms, medals and a good collection of Holocaust items, which I have used to tell the story of the Third Reich and its terrible legacy, which was the Holocaust. I also own four military vehicles from WWII, which I use to carry veterans in parades, and I own the set jeep from the TV series "M*A*S*H," which I use for the same purpose. Strangely enough, I am not a vet myself as I had physical problems which kept me from service in Vietnam. I do, however, really respect the service our vets have provided to our country and endeavor that their experiences are not forgotten.
Knowing that the institute started at Abington Library in 1997, what would you say is the reason for its longevity as a lecture series?
- Started by Don Lee, the Lecture series had a strong leader and many vets, who by then wanted to tell their story. Over time many have died or become infirm. Many times, under Don, the room was filled to capacity (100 people) but we have tailed off from that number. It is getting increasingly hard to find speakers. We started as a WWII Lecture Institute. Today we would gladly invite a vet from any of America's wars to speak, but mostly our speakers have remained World War II vets. Thirty-two in the afternoon was a good turn out as generally we have 22-25 on a normal afternoon program with 15-20 in the evening. This is just a shadow of the numbers we used to have, but age has taken its toll. Still, vets come out because they enjoy our program. We have had students on occasion, especially home-school ones come out for special programs, such as when I did a show-and-tell on the Holocaust.
How are programs chosen for the lecture series?
- We have had programs including the Tuskeegee airmen, an interned Japanese American, wartime experiences of 8th airforce vets, infantry vets, a Jewish American soldier saved by a German doctor; a woman who, as a girl, lived through a number of bombing attacks in Holland; a Czeck who was drafted into the German paratroopers; a former member of the German Luftwaffe, and many others. More modern period speakers included people who were returned vets from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Who are welcomed to the World War II Lecture Series?
- We are gladly open to anyone with an interest in this field of knowledge and would GREATLY appreciate anyone who would like to tell their story. There is so much to know, and as our WWII vets pass on, much of their personal stories pass on with them. We try to let them pass on their heritage of service to others.
For more information about the WWII Lecture Institute, visit the website at www.wwiilectureinstitute.com.