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Veterans recount WWII events for national record

By Ed Brock

During World War II Vernon Darley was simply too light to serve.

In 1945 the military tried to call him up for duty yet again after drafting him twice before and sending him home as unfit for duty. This time his boss called the local draft board.

"He said but this fellow still doesn't weigh but 92 pounds," Darley said.

However, by the time the Korean War rolled around, Darley, now 80 and living in Morrow, had put on just enough weight.

"I weighed 103 pounds when I went into the service on Aug. 6, 1948," Darley said.

Darley went to officer training school and spent the war flying, often combat support flights on a T-47 transport from South Korea to Japan.

"I went in an underweight Georgia cotton picker. When I retired I was an Air Force colonel."

Darley's story is one of 18 set down by Bellsouth Pioneers member Juanita Hunt of Forest Park and sent to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Those interviews were with veterans of past wars from World War II to the Gulf War, some of them captured on video tape.

Hunt's interviews, along with over 300 others from the Georgia, have been placed on a Web site as part of the Library's Folklife Center's Veterans History Project.

"Their stories will forever be recorded, they will be part of history," Hunt said.

The past president of the Atlanta Chapter of the Bellsouth Pioneers, an organization of volunteers made up mostly of retired Bellsouth employees, began the project. Chapter President Amber Jaynes started the project in 2003 but Hunt started her participation near the end of the project.

When Hunt, along with her husband, Bellsouth Pioneers Southside Council President Aubrey Hunt, first started the interviews last October they quickly grew addicted.

"Once we got started we just couldn't wait to do the next one," Hunt said.

Barbara Crane told the story of her mother, Maria Laskaris, who served in the South Pacific with the Army Nurse Corps during World War II. Laskaris was with the 161st Army Station Hospital in New Guinea and the Phillipines and was one of the first nursed to go into occupied Japan.

"It was kind of like the precursor of a MASH unit," Crane said about her mother's unit.

Crane, 55, said it was the Army that brought her Pennsylvania-born mother together with her Georgia-native father Len S. Crane. She is extremely happy that her mother's story is now part of official history.

"Outside of giving birth and her marriage my mother's most outstanding pride was her service in the military," Crane said.

Laskaris loved to go to reunions of her old unit and to tell her grandchildren stories of her days in the Army.

"I know now that some day her great grandchildren see that (Web site)," Crane said. "That's important to me that those memories will live on."

Elizabeth Davis' husband Bruce Davis told his story to Hunt as well. Bruce Davis, a World War II veteran who was shot down over Germany and spent 19 months as a prisoner of war, never told his wife about the interview.

"He was so modest," Elizabeth Davis said.

Davis' daughter Kathy Toreno, a teacher at Union Grove Middle School, said she still isn't ready to see the interview with her father.

"However I always had Dad come to my school and talk about his war experiences. My students would sit enthralled listening to Dad," Toreno said. "I am so glad this part of history is being given its honors, I grew up with a wonderful man who served his country then lived his life accordingly. I was always brought up to be thankful for my freedom and all that it encompasses."

Not all the stories include wartime daring-do but are nonetheless interesting.

Morrow native Ernest Duffey, now 77 and living in Fayetteville, was drafted into the Army in April 1946 and sent to the Phillipines as the United States was still consolidating its occupation of Japan. His job was to compose photo maps.

"When we got the photos we had to develop them into maps," Duffey said. "They were mostly of Japan."

It was a process that apparently began as part of plans for an invasion and continued after the surrender, perhaps in case the occupation went south.

"The scariest it got was when our ship conked out in the middle of the Pacific," Duffey said.

Oddly enough, Duffey's camp near Manilla was also on Highway 54.

For Wilber Tanner, 58, of Stockbridge his inclusion in the project was a long overdue honor. He served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam for most of the war there maintaining radar units in DaNang

"I think the way Vietnam was treated regarding veterans was pretty bad," Tanner said.