Utah WWII Stories: Untold Stories" isn't a high-gloss, highly produced documentary. What it boils down to is members of the "greatest generation" sitting in front of a camera, telling us their stories.
And yet producer Elizabeth Searles and her team have once again handled this project practically perfectly. This is important history presented in a way that's thoroughly compelling.
These are stories prompted by the success of the four-part "Utah World War II Stories" that aired in 2005-06 — additional stories that were shared by Utahns who saw that fine documentary series.
And some of these previously "Untold Stories" are shattering. Like the one shared by Jack Tueller, who piloted a P-47 against German tanks.
"At a thousand feet looking through the gunsight, I saw a French mother and her three children. She was trying to cover their bodies with hers. They were being held up there as human shields. And every tank had these on. Innocent civilians," he says.
He didn't open fire but was ordered to return and carry out his mission — civilians or no civilians.
"So for 65 years ago this last June, I live with that image," Tueller says. "I think that's what breaks my heart more than anything."
Not all the stories are tragic. Mark L. Heyrend tells a funny story about his first encounter with Gen. George S. Patton. Stanley Boyd Nance recalls his service in the "ghost army" — inflating rubber tanks to deceive the Germans.
Not all the stories are what you might consider traditional war stories. Roberta Windchief recalls Native Americans who served in the armed forces. Nell (Mickey) Stevenson Bright recalls her service in the WASPS.
Werner Sommerfeld, a "young Mormon boy" who lived in Hamburg, recalls being pressed into service in the Hitler Youth and training with boys as young as 12 as live ammo flew over them.
"Some, they got up and got shot and some got killed. And some cried for their mother," he says.
Tosh Kano, who was in his mother's womb at the time, tells of how she survived despite being only 800 yards from the epicenter of the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
Charles Edwards tells of jumping out of foxhole after foxhole, narrowly avoiding death by grenades while others died.
After the fourth time, "I guess I felt like I'd had it, and I started to cry. I don't know how long that lasted, but it was probably good for me. But I was so unnerved at that point that I just couldn't help myself."
The "Untold Stories" are accompanied by period photos and stock footage of combat, but it's the voices that count. And they count more because even the best writer can't capture in print the tone, timbre and emotion of those voices.
And, nearly 65 years after World War II ended, we're quickly running out of time to hear those voices — so KUED has done a great service in preserving them for us.
It's hard not to wonder how many stories we haven't heard because we didn't know to ask. Like the one shared by former Deseret News managing editor J Malan Heslop.
I met Heslop a quarter of a century ago when I was a young reporter and never had any idea that he was a combat photographer in World War II. That he was there taking pictures when the Ebensee concentration camp in Austria was liberated. Or that those photos are in the Holocaust Museum.
"As I remember, I photographed it rather matter-of-factly. I'm here doing a job," Heslop says. "It wasn't until sometime later that I really felt the impact of those people."
And you don't feel the real impact of that declaration unless you hear him in "Untold Stories."
On the web: www.kued.org/productions/worldwar2