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Local film project captures WWII memories of Greene County veterans

Oct 06, 2009 4:12 pm
A free public screening of the film WWII oral history project “They Answered the Call” will be held 5-9 p.m. November 7, 2009, at the Washington Irving Senior Center in Catskill

The NYS Division of Veterans’ Affairs estimates that there were 315 Greene County WWII veterans older than 85 years at the time of the 2000 census. Project Coordinator Cindy Putorti of Catskill initiated this effort in 2007 after a conversation with WWII veteran Dr. DuBois Jenkins (retired longtime Catskill veterinarian). “He casually mentioned that he had worked on a secret chemical research project during WWII,” said Putorti. "I was astounded when he described a joint effort between the American and Canadian militaries in which anthrax was one of the chemical agents being developed at his installation.” Putorti thought that there must be other such stories to uncover in Greene County.

Putorti contacted local independent filmmakers Lisa Thomas and Margo Pelletier of Thin Edge Films in Catskill who agreed to provide the technical equipment, expertise, and mentoring to capture the wartime stories of Greene County veterans. Student filmmakers volunteered from the Catskill, Coxsackie-Athens, and Cairo-Durham school districts. “We also have a SUNY Binghamton film student participating,” said Putorti

Putorti applied for a Decentralization Program grant from the Greene County Council on the Arts and was awarded a small grant to support the effort. The project was also supported by the Catskill Community Center, the Catskill Senior Center, The Fortnightly Club and private individual contributions.

Six Greene County World War II veterans volunteered to share their wartime stories with the student interviewers. “In addition to Dr. Jenkins, we also interviewed Robert Darling who served in an anti-tank unit in Europe. Jack Rivituso was a courier in the Signal Corps in Europe and the Philippines. Stanley Maltzman served as a signal man on the USS Centaurus in the Pacific theater. Irving Hendricks served in an engineer battalion in Europe. Coleman Duncan, a B-24 bombardier, was a Prisoner of War in the Stalag III prison camp, the one depicted in the film ‘The Great Escape.’ Sadly, Mr. Duncan passed away in June one month after our filming. But shortly before his death, he was able to fulfill his dream to travel to England to view his lost prison camp diary that was recovered by a British serviceman and safely installed in a military museum in England,” said Putorti.

Veterans were allowed to discuss whatever they deemed appropriate to share. “We were sensitive to their reluctance to describe their combat experiences,” said Putorti. “We encouraged them to discuss whatever was important to them to share.” In addition to describing combat experiences, veterans discussed their training, buddies, work, good times enjoyed and hardships endured.

All uncut footage will be submitted to the “Veterans History Project” (VHP) authorized by the U.S. Congress in 2004 and administered by the Library of Congress. The mission of the VHP is to collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.

Students used Apple Computer equipment and Final Cut Pro editing software at the Catskill Community Center (purchased specifically for this project) and the Catskill High School to complete their documentaries. Catskill Middle School teacher and director of the Catskill Independent Film program Bill Maouris volunteered to mentor student filmmakers.

Portions of the six short films of 30-60 minutes each (one for each veteran’s interview) will be presented to the public free of charge at the Washington Irving Senior Center at 5 p.m. on November 7, 2009. Student filmmakers Joey DiStefano, Nicole Lacy, and Emily Sprague of Catskill and John Robert Hammerer of Coxsackie will be available to answer questions. (Robert Handel of Cairo and Sarah Sullivan of Catskill also participated but are now at college and will be unable to attend). Local photographer V. James DiPerna offered his services to create portraits of each veteran. These will also be displayed at the screening as parts of collages of photos and memorabilia of each veteran’s wartime experiences created by Palenville artist Ellen Mahnken. Light refreshments will served.
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