NEWINGTON -- The program â€śThree Graves to Memorial Dayâ€ť by historian Aaron Elson, which was scheduled for the Lucy Robbins Welles Library, has been moved to the Newington Senior Center, located at 120 Cedar Street, right across Cedar Street (Route 175) from Town Hall. The program begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. For information or directions, call 860-665-8700.
Town Crier Editor Aaron Elson has spent the last 32 years immersed in World War II history, heard directly from the heroes who made it. On May 23 heâ€™s preparing to share a few of those stories at the Lucy Robbins Welles Library in Newington.
â€ś3 Graves to Memorial Dayâ€ť will focus on three of the more than 400,000 American soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice during WWII. The program begins at 6:30 p.m. in the libraryâ€™s community room. Admission is free and registration is suggested.
Elson is the author of seven books and the creator of Oral History Audiobooks, a series excerpted from his 700-plus hours of interviews with WWII veterans, along with, in some cases, their widows and siblings.
His original intent was to learn more about his father. Lieutenant Maurice Elson was a combat veteran in the 712th Tank Battalion who passed away in 1980. It was an invitation to a battalion reunion seven years later that led the younger Elson on a lifelong pursuit of collecting and sharing stories. Along this journey he discovered more than he could have ever imagined.
When heâ€™s not crafting this newspaper, the New York City native is traveling to meet interviewees and attend WWII-related events.
â€śItâ€™s given me a purpose in life,â€ť says Elson, who currently lives in New Britain.
His adventures often lead to surprising parallels and coincidences, forging happenstance connections across the globe - between families, gravestones, battles and boutonnieres.
The very first war tale Elson ever heard was about a man named John Mitchell. It came full circle ten years later, when he met a soldier who rode in the tank Mitchell was driving when he was decapitated by an armor-piercing shell from a German tank. Mitchellâ€™s nephew contacted Elson about a year ago, having read the story in one of his books.
â€śThere are some things that just canâ€™t be explained,â€ť Elson says. â€śIâ€™m not very religious but sometimes I think something is guiding me to the stories Iâ€™ve chronicled. What I do has helped bring closure to many families.â€ť
Take the story of John Daum, a 19-year-old paratrooper killed two days after D-Day in Normandy. Daumâ€™s sister had a son who became fascinated by the story of his uncleâ€™s untimely death. Elson interviewed one of Johnâ€™s fellow paratroopers and has helped him fill in the holes in his uncleâ€™s timeline.
Elson had always wanted to write a book, but after listening to his fatherâ€™s comrades he decided that veterans tell their own stories better than he could. His titles are more or less compilations of all the stories heâ€™s heard the last three decades, intermingled with historical facts and photographs. The very first was â€śTanks for the Memoriesâ€ť and the most recent, â€śThe Hospitality Room.â€ť
With more WWII veterans dying every day and the youngest now in their nineties, Elsonâ€™s responsibility to get their tales told has reached a critical point.
â€śThese stories of what war is really like that veterans have shared with me need to be heard by the younger generation,â€ť he explains. â€śItâ€™s important.â€ť
The upcoming program will focus on the stories of Pfc. John Daum, Lieutenant Ed Forrest and Major Don McCoy.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go:
WHAT: 3 Graves to Memorial Day featuring WWII historian Aaron Elson
WHEN: Thursday, May 23, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Newington Senior Center, 95 Cedar St. Newington
HOW: Admission is free