Don Casey has attended every annual reunion of the 238th Combat Engineer Battalion since the first in 1947. He shares stories of the battalion's battles in World War II, including its part in D-Day, the airborne and beach assault on Normandy, France, 70 years ago.
The 238th is staging its annual reunion this weekend in Columbia, and while he was in town, Casey was interviewed by students from Howard Community College on Thursday as part of a project to assemble firsthand accounts from World War II veterans as an online resource.
Casey, a resident of Grifton, N.C., said the HCC history project reinforces a bond he has with the college that reaches back to the war and his then-commanding officer, Maj. Martin Massoglia, who died in 2001.
Massoglia's daughter is HCC professor Mary Ann Massoglia — who has orchestrated the initiative.
Along with one-on-one interviews, veterans are scheduled to participate Friday in a panel discussion and question-and-answer session at the school's Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center. The event, "Bridges to Freedom: 70th D-Day Anniversary WWII Panel Discussion," will be held from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
The discussions, interviews, images and footage will be included in the online collection.
Fred Campbell, chairman of the college's Historical and Political Sciences department, said the online project will prove to be a valuable resource — and a way to honor those who served.
He recalled that years ago his grandfather, who served on the USS Nevada, often came to speak to his classes. He has since died, Campbell said.
"Once this generation is gone, we can't ask it any more questions," he said. "We should ask them as many questions as we can now."
"I hope this catalog will be used by other educators. In the immediate sense, somewhat selfishly, [it] would help me teach some of my courses," Campbell said.
Among veterans interviewed this past week was Herbert Sauber, 90, of Woodstock, an Navy dental technician who served on the USS Canberra, a Baltimore-class cruiser. He recalled being aboard he ship when it was torpedoed, as well as the subsequent repairs at sea and how tugboats hauled it from one island to another.
"We were in [more than a dozen] different island battles," Sauber said. "It's quite a history, that ship."
Massoglia said that she hopes the collection will include World War II veterans from the entire college community.
"As I've talked to more people on campus," said Massoglia, "it turns out there are a lot of people on campus that had parents and grandparents [that served]. I'm going to take this further in the fall, sent out emails to find out whose parents are still alive that served in the war."
Among students at the college who conducted interviews were Mike Scanlon, who said as a child he heard World War II accounts from his grandfathers and great-uncles who served overseas.
"World War II has always been a passion of mine, history-wise," Scanlon said. "I feel like that was the war to end all wars — in a sense it was really about American pride and fighting for something that really had value to this country.
"It's stated everywhere that they are the greatest generation," Scanlon said of World War II veterans, "and hearing the individual stories of these people and the experiences they had, it just makes me really proud to be an American, to be a part of a history where there are people willing to give up their lives for our country."
For Casey, participation in the project was a way to return a favor. He said when Howard Community College students and faculty visited World War II sites in France two years ago as part of a program studying abroad, Massoglia and other officials asked him to come along. It was an experience he would not forget.
"I always wanted to go back, and I didn't know whether I would get the chance to go back," Casey said of the return to France. "A lot of folks ask me, 'What was the highlight of the trip?' The highlight was to have my daughter and granddaughter with me, because they had heard so much about it."
If you go
"Bridges to Freedom: 70th D-Day Anniversary WWII Panel Discussion," will be held Friday, July 18, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Howard Community College Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center. Although there is ample open seating, people are encouraged to arrive early to get the best seats and be seated before the event begins.
The event will be followed by a "meet a WWII Vet" informal lobby gathering. Refreshments will be served. Parking is available at the Hickory Ridge Road parking garage located at the HCC entrance off of Hickory Ridge Road.
For details, contact Mary Ann Massoglia at 443-518-4887 or the International Education Office at 443-518-1640.