Photo from Western Maryland's Historical Library, with permission from David Verdier
Hagerstown, Md., resident David Verdier began documenting the stories of World War II veterans in 2004 as a hobby. Word got around and soon veterans and their families were bringing their stories to him.
It's how a couple at his church - the Shaws - picked him as the person they would share a town treasure with, a scrapbook that had been collecting dust. The book filled with clippings of Washington County, Md., heroes.
Ragan and Ecile Shaw had almost thrown the thing away several times. Collecting and arranging the clippings had been a hobby of Ecile's late aunt, Veda Carbaugh.
As a military history buff, Verdier realized it was unique, and ought to be shared.
"This scrapbook is really a walk through World War II history," Verdier said. "If anything happened anywhere around the world ... someone from Washington County, Md., was there, and it's in the scrapbook."
The names of men from the area are intertwined to names copied into thousands of history books: Merrill's Marauders, "Terrible" Terry Allen, even Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Verdier said. Three men from the area served with the Flying Tigers in China. One had survived the Bataan Death March, another the attack on Pearl Harbor. Men from Washington County served on fighter pilots, on bombers, in submarines, on the ground.
Lighter stories sprinkle the scrapbook, too. One servicemember posed with boxer Jack Dempsey. Another collected an autograph from actress Marilyn Maxwell. Three groups of six brothers all served in the war and all returned.
"I was just so overwhelmed with the contents. I just could not put this scrapbook aside and not let the contents be revealed," Verdier said.
So he began promoting it. He contacted local media outlets to no avail, and decided he'd have to personally make sure the book was seen.
After talking to Charlie Batt, a friend from church and commander of American Legion Post 211 in Funkstown, Md., Verdier offered to donate copies of the scrapbook to local Legion posts.
When Batt saw it, he agreed.
"You have clippings in there where the parents received the message their son was missing. Then the next page they either found him or he was killed in action - all that stuff about the war and the tragedies for families. ..."
These yellowed pages moved Batt.
"It gave me cold chills really. As you get older and you see things like that, it brings back in your mind all the sacrifices and all the fellas that died. It points that out because it's all about those that died and those that were captured and those that were wounded," Batt said.
He arranged a ceremony for Verdier to present them to all present commanders from the eight Legion posts in the county at a meeting in January.
At Post 211, Batt said they keep a copy in the office, making sure members know it's available to anyone who wants to look at it.
Since Verdier donated the copies to the posts back in January, Batt said the response has been positive, and sometimes serendipitous.
"It's been really interesting the guys in the legion would say, 'Oh my Lord, there's my uncle.' They didn't realize they had an uncle missing in action during the war," Batt said. Or, someone would find a father who received a silver star. Batt's own cousin asked, on an off-chance, whether the scrapbook had a story about a relative who lost a leg in Europe.
"By George, it was in there," he said.
Washington County has a population of about 149,000--more than double what it was in 1940 and the WWII-era. But the connections to these stories persist.
"As the years go by, time heals. And as the years go by, we forget about things, about what these fellas went through during the war," Batt said. "It's hard to believe how it touched so many families in our little community."
"It brings back their memories, what was happening. It makes people think about it again, whereas time goes along and we just forget all those things. We don’t try to, but we just forget about things in the past."
Batt said he's thankful for Verdier's initiative in saving and sharing these veterans' stories. He emphasized the Legion posts' role as a home for history.
"It's important to preserve the history of the wars because it lets [younger generations] realize what the country had to do. The most important thing is if you don’t try to preserve history, if you don’t, it goes by the wayside... like the old cliche: You can learn from history. You make a better country and better people by knowing what has happened in the past, what we stood for and what we have today."
Not only are physical copies available at the Legion posts, but they can also be accessed online. To view the scrapbook from home, check out the digital archives at Western Maryland's Historical Library: http://digital.whilbr.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16715coll10