Local efforts aim to preserve memories from World War II

HANCOCK COUNTY — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 372 World War II veterans die every day.

Approximately 16 million Americans served their country during the conflict, which lasted from 1939 to 1945, although America didn’t enter the war until Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, killing about 2,400 Americans.

Of the 16 million Americans who enlisted or were drafted into the war, just 620,000 are still alive, and those numbers are expected to fall drastically during the next decade, according to the department of veterans affairs. About 12,600 World War II veterans are still alive in Indiana.

Comparatively, nearly 1.6 million Korean War (1950-53) veterans are still living, the department reports.

By 2025, fewer than 90,000 World War II veterans are expected to still be alive, department estimates show.

Across the country, organizations and people are fighting to preserve memories and memorabilia from the war before the “Greatest Generation” dies.

Locally, efforts in Hancock County seek to do the same. Here’s a look at ways residents and organizations are keeping World War II and those who fought in the war relevant.

Sharing war stories

As part of a local legacy project honoring Indiana’s bicentennial, local historian Joe Skvarenina and the Hancock County Public Library last year hosted “The Veteran’s History Project,” in which local veterans were invited to share war stories with Skvarenina, who recorded them and sent the stories to the Library of Congress to be included in its collection.

Though all veterans were invited to share their war stories, an emphasis was placed on World War II and Korean War veterans. The project was launched so future generations can hear directly from veterans to better understand wars that have shaped the nation. The Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project includes more than 9,000 interviews with Hoosier veterans. They can be heard by visiting loc.gov/vets/.

Remembering heroes

For decades, shadowboxes hung on a wall in the basement of the Hancock County Memorial Building.

Enclosed in the displays were hundreds of service photos picturing Hancock County’s own World War II veterans.

By 2013, the photos had begun to fade, some past recognition. To preserve the photos, they were taken out of the Memorial Building and placed in a vault in Greenfield’s city hall. One by one, city workers used their free time to scan each photo, making a digital copy that can be long preserved.

Earlier this year, the group scanned the last of the photos — 963 in all — and uploaded them to an online archive, hancockcountyheroes.org.

Eventually, the group would like to restore the original photos so they can be displayed across the county.

According to officials, the photos were originally collected by the local American Legion post during World War II and displayed at the courthouse to honor Hancock County heroes.

Pieces of war

The Hancock County Historical Society’s Chapel in the Park Museum on North Apple Street in Greenfield boasts a World War II display, featuring relics from the war. The display is predominantly filled with items from Pvt. Eugene Driffill who was born in McCordsville in 1924, according to Brigette Cook Jones, a local historian and president of the society.

Driffill enlisted in the Army in August 1944 and was a member of the 36th Infantry Division sent overseas in January 1944. The display includes letters written by Driffill while he was stationed in Germany toward the end of the war as well as an army uniform, though it’s unknown who the uniform belonged to.The display features other memorabilia as well.

The historical society museum is open to the public from April to October from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Special group tours during the off season may be requested by calling 317-462-7780.