After baseball, jazz, Ken Burns brings viewers ‘The War’

Paige Stonerock

A young nurse enters a closed concentration camp to find the prisoners still inside, left by their liberators who did not know what to do with them. A young soldier watches a friend run back and forth across a battlefield in the daze of shell shock. The people telling these stories in KTWU’s latest independent production are World War II veterans from Topeka, Lawrence and other Kansas towns.

World War II is a war that, by some estimates, claimed 72 million lives worldwide (two-thirds of those were civilians), laid countries to ruin and led to the creation of the United Nations.

The stories of the war are being lost as veterans enter their 80s and 90s. Academy award winner Ken Burns wanted to make sure that World War II was more than a chapter in a history book. In a study cited on “The War’s” Web site, American students know embarrassingly little about a period that brought one of the largest known genocides (eight million people, the population of New York City, were exterminated as part of the Holocaust in Europe), killed more than 400,000 Americans and brought the rise of the modern civil rights movement in the U.S.

In Topeka, producer Jim Kelly created a series called “Remembering Kansans” from audio recordings of interviews with veterans that have been donated to the Kansas State Historical Society and photographs and video footage from the society and the National Archives.

Each three to five minute episode is a collection of stories.

“It is interesting because [here] you have a story of a young Kansan working at a P.O.W. camp in Japan who had Prime Minister Tojo under his command,” said Kelly.

In the same episode, Don Coldsmith, former physician and now historical western writer in Emporia, Kan., talks about encounters with Tokyo Rose and the atomic bomb.

Kelly said there were things he had to take out of the stories because they were too graphic.

“We get this glorified image of war through the media … that really does not give you an accurate picture of war,” said Kelly. “[We want] young people who have not experienced war, hopefully, to know what it is so they are not just learning about it from Hollywood.”

Discussions for the series began last spring but took shape this summer from an interview Kelly did with Elmer Lindell for an episode of “Sunflower Journeys” that was hard to forget.

“I couldn’t tell if he was laughing or crying when talking about fellow soldiers suffering from shell shock,” said Kelly. “It was probably both.”

Kelly said that many veterans never talk about any aspect of their war experience except the funny, trivial things.

“There are a lot of men and women from World War II carrying around burden [they’ve] never talked about ,” said Kelly. “Maybe this is a chance to get it out. And, this is a good way to do that.”

Kelly hopes that this series will encourage veterans to submit their stories in order to preserve them.

“The soldiers’ stories are more important than anything we are doing here,” said Kelly.

“Remembering Kansans” will air at approximately 7:50 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. every Saturday evening through October on KTWU. “The War” premiered on KTWU yesterday.

‘The War’ on KTWU

Episode One: “A Necessary War” December 1941 – December 1942. 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 23

Episode Two: “When Things Get Tough” January 1943 – December 1943. 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 24

Episode Three: “A Deadly Calling” November 1943 – June 1944. 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 25

Episode Four: “Pride of Our Nation” June 1944 – August 1944. 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 26

Episode Five: “FUBAR” September 1944 – December 1944. 7 p.m., Sunday, Sept.. 30

Episode Six: “The Ghost Front” December 1944 – March 1945. 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 1

Episode Seven: “A World Without War” March 1945 – Dec. 1945. 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 2