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Iowans stage WWII stories in A Grateful Nation

BY CLAIRE DIETZ | NOVEMBER 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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Rick Williams’ father served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Ron Clark’s uncle was stationed in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked in 1941. Still, the two Iowans grew up hearing very little about the war, which inspired them to bring local stories to light.

Williams and Clark will open their World War II play A Grateful Nation at the Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert St., at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Nov. 16. The play will feature firsthand accounts of people from Columbus Junction, Iowa — the writers’ hometown — who served in the war or the home front.

The two were born two years after the war ended; as they grew up, no one in their town of almost 2,000 people talked about what had happened in the war, sparking their curiosity.

Professor Lisa Ossian — a history teacher at the Des Moines Area Community college and the author of The Home Fronts of Iowa 1939-1945 — said this postwar silence was not uncommon during the time period.

“World War II veterans returned to a country that had not been devastated by war, unlike Europe and Asia.  The United States had, in fact, physically and economically prospered from the war years,” Ossian said. “Still, it had not been ‘the good war’ with so much grief from all the deaths and remorse over all the destruction … Veterans almost always didn’t offer much information about their service, creating a society of silence for many decades.”

Hoping to combat this “society of silence,” Williams decided to construct a play using local newspaper clippings from the the Columbus Gazette during the war years and stories and photos of soldiers.

“I would literally be moved to tears by some of these stories,” Clark said. “You realize that they really were heroes, they saved the world … I would be caught breathless, thinking ‘My God, this was an amazing undertaking.’ ”

In fact, Clark said, he and Williams encountered so many intriguing stories that they had trouble choosing which would be included in the play.

“My biggest concern was that there was so much great stuff, and if we hadn’t edited anything out, it would have been really long,” Clark said. “Because you fall in love with these stories — there are so many great things Rick uncovered, and he is such a good historian — it felt wrong to delete things.”

The play consists of four actors and no background setting, but the show will feature contributed photos projected on a screen and background music from the World War II era. Clark said A Grateful Nation could be easily adapted into a radio play, with the four actors standing at lecterns.

The playwrights said they hope to educate the younger generations about the sacrifices made both during the war in Europe and on the home front, as well as the years following the war.

“One of things I wanted [college] age, or older, to be able to do was put themselves in the shoes of their parents, or grandparents, or their great grandparents to know what they went through,” Williams said. “Because it affected everybody: it wasn’t just the guys in the war; it was the people at home too.”


THEATER
A Grateful Nation
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Nov. 16
Where: Riverside Theater, 213 N. Gilbert
Admission: $20 for all ages, $15 for Riverdogs


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