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Auburn seniors' World War II memories rekindled, recorded

New program provides chance for seniors to share wartime memories
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The memories flowed like water over weathered rocks.

Participants in a new program open to the public at Emeritus at Emerald Hills senior living facility told of experiences near the start of World War II.

Some were vivid. Others funny. All were from the heart.

Wayne Larson, 88, recounted his voyages and battles in the Pacific as a Navy radio operator on a destroyer. He took part in six major battles, watched the ship sink a Japanese sub and kamikazes attempt to damage his vessel. Larson remembered being there when Gen. Douglas MacArthur famously returned to the Philippines.

“Freedom is not free,” was the message on Larson’s shirt and, like the others around a table recording their stories for posterity, the war years had not come without a price. For many, it was silence.

“I didn’t want to talk about the war in the Pacific,” Larson said “I saw people jumping off cliffs rather than being captured.”

But, over the years, that dark veil has lifted somewhat and Larson felt free to speak.

“I get the feeling now that I did play an important part in the war,” Larson said. 

Larson is part of a contingent of seniors over 80 – some are Emerald Hills residents, some are not – who gather weekly to talk about their wartime experiences. Rebecca Partridge, life-enrichment director at Emerald Hills, started the program in March and plans to keep it open to residents and community members for at least a year.

The words of Larson and other participants are digitally recorded and transcribed, with copies being made available free of charge. Partridge’s own experience inspired the once-a-week sessions.

“A few years ago, my grandfather, who had never talked about his experiences much, wrote a short biography as a gift to his family,” Partridge said. “It was such a wonderful gift.”

In December, on Pearl Harbor Day, Partridge encouraged residents to talk about where they were at and what they were doing.

“They pulled my heart cords,” Partridge said. “Now all they have to do is talk and get it recorded. The physical act of writing is difficult for some. Thank goodness for technology. Volunteer typists take it from there.”

So far, the group has talked about the beginning of the war, with plans to move through later periods in the months to come.

Community members interested in taking part can contact Partridge at (530) 906-2005. Participants don’t have to have been in military, she said.

Emeritus at Emerald Hills is located at 11550 Education Street in North Auburn. The program runs from 3:15 p.m. to 4 pm. every Wednesday. Partridge said people are invited to stay afterward for conversation during the facility’s happy hour.