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SUNY Canton will celebrate WWII vets with oral history presentation

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CANTON — Area World War II veterans will recount their stories in their own words during a SUNY Canton presentation of an oral history of the war on Friday.

Michael T. Magilligan, an assistant librarian at the college, started recording the stories of north country World War II veterans in June.

Mr. Magilligan has long had an interest in the soldiers who came home from the war to be the mechanics, Little League coaches and other men from his parents’ generation he knew growing up.

With so many of these veterans dying of old age, Mr. Magilligan said, it is now more important than ever to learn about their first-hand experiences.

“Now’s the time to collect these stories,” he said.

So far he has sat down with 33 area World War II veterans to collect and record their stories. Some are from Canton, others from Watertown, Plattsburgh, Massena and Ogdensburg.

He said he wasn’t expecting his subjects to be as forthcoming as many of them were.

“I’m surprised that a lot of guys have never really talked about this before, but they talk about it to me for some reason,” he said.

One soldier remembered hiding from German troops in the brush during the Battle of the Bulge, wounded and clutching his last grenade.

A Navy gunner recalled shooting into the sun to take down Japanese fighter planes in numerous battles before learning that his brother had died at Normandy.

A Marine told of long nights in a foxhole at Iwo Jima, surrounded by Japanese soldiers shouting death threats.

“The common thread with these guys is their humility and dignity and integrity,” Mr. Magilligan said. “They all made sacrifices, but they always see the guy next to them as making even bigger sacrifices.”

Mr. Magilligan has condensed his hours of recorded material into a 23-minute highlight reel that will play along with a photo slideshow Friday, at an event held just ahead of Veteran’s Day.

The ceremony, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the Richard W. Miller Campus Center’s Kingston Theater. Many of the veterans interviewed will attend, and the presentation will be immediately followed by a reception.

According to Mr. Magilligan, the ceremony is just the beginning. He will continue to interview north country veterans, of World War II and of other wars. The audio he records will be kept in a database at the college.

He hopes eventually to turn the database into a public website that anyone can access, including historians and researchers.

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