AUBURN — Author Kayleen Reusser whose writings compile interviews with World War II veterans, highlighted her recent trip to Europe during a special Father’s Day luncheon at the Heimach Center Wednesday.
The patriotic celebration not only honored fathers, but recognized veterans, Flag Day and the 75th anniversary of D-Day last week.
Approximately 75 people attended the program, which followed a meal provided by the DeKalb County Council on Aging’s Ways and Means Committee.
Reusser’s interest in interviewing veterans came almost by accident when a reader suggested that the former writer for the small Ossian Sunriser newspaper write a column about a local veteran.
She set out to interview an area man who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific theater. Since then, she has interviewed some 250 World War II veterans, most from Indiana due to proximity. Of those, only about a dozen were Marines, she added.
Reusser said she always had an interest in writing full-time and realized she needed a wider audience for her interviews. She then reached out to Adams- and Huntington-county veterans and later statewide.
Reusser’s husband, John, is an Air Force retiree, and their son serves in the Air Force. Neither of their parents were in the military, so they had no direct link to veterans and their stories, she said. Since then, Reusser has learned that children of veterans don’t always get to hear their stories, anyway.
“Writing military stories is what I do to support the military,” she said. “Every story has an adventure. I learn something new,” she said of the hundreds of veterans, both men and women, who not only took part in the fighting, but also those who cooked, were medics or handled laundry and other support areas.
in her latest book, “D-Day: Soldiers Sailors and Airmen Tell about Normandy,” she interviewed 17 veterans who took part on D-Day in June 1944, most from Indiana. Some landed on the first day, others the second, and some within a few weeks, she added. The landing included troops from England and Canada on the 50-mile shore.
Two years ago, Reusser and her husband, also a World War II enthusiast, checked going on a WWII tour of Europe off their bucket list, with stops at the D-Day landing site in Normandy to remaining foxholes from the Battle of the Bulge where Allies stalled the German blitzkrieg into the Western Front in Belgium, France and Luxembourg; various cities and towns where Nazis had dug in over the years; cemeteries; the Cathedral of Notre Dame; Hitler’s Berchtesgaden getaway in the Bavarian Alps; the courtroom at Nuremberg where military trials were held; and to concentration and death camps, including Dachau.
Reusser commented on the various stops, noting the Allies had to dig their foxholes in the frozen ground, each about 6-by-6 feet and about 18 inches deep, large enough for two soldiers to hide. They slept with their helmets on to avoid gunfire, she added.
Reusser noted Nuremberg was the site for Hitler’s rallies and pointed out the irony that the war trials took place at the same site. While not all Nazi leaders were put to death, Reusser said many had lengthy prison terms.
During their tour of Europe, Reusser met with various Allies from England and Scotland along the way, some with whom she has kept in contact for future interviews.
Reusser pointed out the cemeteries in France where thousands of GI’s lie are all on donated land and that each gravesite is adopted by a French national to care for through their generation, then carried on to the next. Most French nationals are bilingual, as many foreigners come by to pay respect to the fallen soldiers.
Of her three World War II Legacies Series books, one includes an interview with Auburn native Don Lee, who was not able to attend the gathering Wednesday. Both Reusser and her husband have chaperoned World War II veterans on recent Honor Flights out of Fort Wayne, as well.
Helen Wappes of Auburn stood in line to meet Reusser at the conclusion of Wednesday’s program. Wappes shared that her own father, John Hitchcock, died at the Battle of the Bulge when she was only 4 and recalled a messenger boy on a bicycle coming to her grandparent’s home to deliver the news of his death. Wappes, who lived with her grandparents in Gainesville, Georgia, while her mother worked at war factory at another Georgia town, said they had to wait for someone who was able to read to learn of her father’s death.
More information about Reusser and her books may be found online at kayleen reusser.com.