Video Project Shares Veterans’ Memories of WWII

Post a Comment » Written on May 20th, 2009     
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MERCER ISLAND, WA (May 20, 2009) – Bob Mommsen remembers standing on the deck of the ship that had been converted into a troop carrier and waiting his turn to enter the landing craft that would ferry him to the shores of Iwo Jima. The large ocean swells lifted and dropped the small boats, and he had to time his entry just right.

Bob Mommsen

Stan Luce recalls giving a ride to a young man reporting for duty at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale, California. “I was driving in my 1936 Chrysler to get my (vaccine) shots,” he says. “I noticed this GI walking along the street with his crumpled up uniform and crumpled up hat.”

He didn’t recognize the man until he hopped in the car—it was the actor Jimmy Stewart.

Mommsen and Luce are two of a dozen WWII veterans who attend Mercer Island Covenant Church that have had their stories videotaped as part of a congregation project.

The veterans—11 men and one woman—are between the ages of 82 and 93.

The church engaged in the project for two reasons—to capture an oral history and to give families a gift for their children and grandchildren, says Pastor Greg Asimakoupoulos.

The church will present the videos to the veterans and their families this Sunday to commemorate Memorial Day.

The church now wants to offer the service to other WWII veterans in the community.

“We had been hearing about all the casualties….There was a good chance to get wounded or killed.”

Asimakoupoulos explains, “Our new vision statement is ‘To flood our island with the refreshing fragrance, appealing presence, and saving grace of Jesus Christ.’ Offering to do video interviews with WWII vets in our community is definitely flooding our island with kindness in a tangible way.”

Mommsen hopes the video will help his family understand their own history. “I’ve been working on my own genealogy,” he says. “It’s hard to find information.”

Finding time to write down the history also is difficult, and the video project has made it easier for the participants to share their story. Mommsen says it wasn’t painful for him to recall his service, but it was not always easy to remember.

That day off the shores of Iwo Jima still is one of the most vivid memories. Mommsen, a Navy corpsman who served 47 months in the Pacific Theater, was going ashore 10 days after the fighting had started.

“We had been hearing about all the casualties,” he recalls. “There was a good chance to get wounded or killed.”

“I remember thinking I don’t know if I’m going to get through this whole thing,” he adds. “I said, ‘If I do, I will try to do the right thing the rest of my life.’ ”

Stan Luce

Over time that promise would lead to a growing faith, but it also led to a lingering question. “I made a decision to do the right thing, but what was I going to do with myself?” says Mommsen, who adds that his faith was “very thin” before he entered the service.

Years later, in the 1970s, Mommsen would help Mercer Island Covenant welcome refugees from Southeast Asia. The decision was initially difficult for him. “I was prejudiced against them,” he admits.

Eventually he and his wife, Olga, sponsored some of the refugees. Mommsen says his change in attitude was due in large part to the example set by his wife, also a veteran of the war.

Luce served in Italy with the Army Air Corps but did not see combat. He says the video project gave him the chance to share good memories. “I appreciated (the church) doing that.”

Luce shared another encounter with a famous person in California, although he did not know of her renown at the time. Well-known evangelist and founder of Foursquare Church Aimee Semple McPherson baptized him when he was 10 at a Baptist Church in San Jose.

Jack and Sallie Tuttle, deacons of the Senior Adult Ministry at Mercer Island, suggested the idea for the project. Asimakoupoulos was eager to see it happen. His own father, who recently died, was a WWII veteran. He had never discussed his war experiences until the last several years of his life, after he learned he had cancer.

For more information on this video project contact Mercer Island Covenant Church at (206) 232-1015.

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