“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” Those words, spoken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to the American people would catapult the country into World War II.
Nearly, 75 years after that fateful day, the Robert H. Jackson Center, in collaboration with the United Veterans Council and Chautauqua County Office of Veterans Services, began the “Defenders of Freedom” project to capture, on video, the first-hand experiences of area men and women who served during the war.
Beginning in 2013, Greg Peterson, Robert H. Jackson Center founder, and Phil Zimmer, local author and historian, teamed up to interview and record World War II veterans, saving their experiences for posterity. The project has since expanded to include Korean War veterans, as well.
On Jan. 29, Greg and Phil celebrated a milestone by completing their 100th video interview with Fletcher Schulz. The U.S. Army drafted him on June 16, 1944 and he was assigned to ‘A’ Battery of the 659th Field Artillery, stationed initially at Fort Bragg. Prior to this, he was a Golden Glove boxer in the Jamestown area and because of his athletic prowess, his command sought him out to fight other soldiers as “entertainment” for the troops.
Once deployed overseas, Fletcher had several duties, including guarding German prisoners. After the war, he returned to the Jamestown area, bought his grandparents’ farm, and worked as a machinist at Blackstone. A somewhat reluctant soldier (he left a wife and two children behind when drafted), he says, “I made the most of it and gained a lot from my experiences.”
Former Navy SEABEE, Roland Swanson, also learned much as a young man during his wartime stint. In a personal reflection in August 2015, he wrote, “I note that I learned the importance of respect. It is self-respect and respect for other people, especially respect for their ideas and desires, which are the keys to lasting peace – both internal peace and peace between individuals and nations.”
A grant from the Glen W. Snow/World War II Legacy Fund, administered by the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, was instrumental in supporting the “Defenders of Freedom” project. This designated fund was created to support The Robert H. Jackson Center and preserve the memories of those who saw firsthand the conflict that forever changed history. All videos are available for viewing through the Robert H. Jackson Center’s YouTube page.