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Veteran's carving found after 70 years

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Italian author discovers local veteran's carving from 1944

By Calen McKinney

 

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It all started in Italy.

Italian researcher and author Giovanni Caruso was in Tremensuoli doing research for a book he wanted to write.

While traveling around the town, Caruso walked down an alley and noticed something carved into a stone wall. The carving said "M.A. Webb, C-ville KY. 1944 March 30."

Days later, the phone rang at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. It was Caruso wanting to talk to Dr. Doug Boyd, director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

Boyd said Caruso asked what the center knew about Marshall Webb, a soldier from Campbellsville who served in World War II. Boyd told Caruso that, as a part of a project to interview as many World War II veterans as possible, Webb had spoken about his war experiences in 1986 and that interview is a part of the center's archives. Caruso then told Boyd about the carving.

Since then, Boyd and Webb's wife, Opal, who lives in Campbellsville, and her two children, Marsha and Roger, have worked to bring her husband's story to life.

And now, Boyd has created a video detailing the discovery of the carving. Webb can be heard in the background reading one of many poems he wrote about the war.

Webb died in 2004, but his wife and family have kept photos, poems and journal entries that detail his account of the war.

After learning about the carving, Boyd came to Campbellsville to find out more about Webb and archive the family's collection of materials for the world to see.

The Webbs also had a daughter, Eva Pappas, who served in the Georgia National Guard before she died after battling cancer. The Webbs grandson, Aaron, is a member of the local National Guard. Several other grandchildren live in other states.

Webb said she and her husband met in Illinois in 1947, after Webb had served in World War II, at her brother's wedding. The two lived in Illinois but moved to Campbellsville, where Mr. Webb is originally from, after he wanted to come back home when his health began to decline. Webb had moved to Illinois to find work after the war.

"He always loved Kentucky," Webb said.

She said her husband's three older brothers were already serving in the war when he was drafted.

"And they got to see each other," she said.

Webb said she was surprised when Boyd contacted her about wanting information about her family. She said she never thought something her husband carved would be found so many years later.

"So Doug was excited like a little boy at a carnival," she said.

Boyd said the center has archives of more than 9,000 interviews with veterans. When Caruso contacted him, Boyd said, he was simply wondering who M.A. Webb was.

"He sent us the picture and it just blew us away," Boyd said. "I don't think it is an overstatement to say it was a magical moment."

Webb said she had no idea her husband had carved his initials into a wall, but wasn't surprised to hear it. His initials, she said, are all over Pikes Ridge, the area in which he lived throughout his childhood.

Webb said her husband also liked to write poetry and in journals.

"He always wrote poetry," she said.

She has two books of his poems, which are now archived at the center.

Marsha Webb said her father talked openly about his war experiences. He served in the 339th infantry and was a staff sergeant.

"He loved talking about anything," Marsha said. "I think all of us said Dad would have been so proud."

While Webb says her husband didn't like the horrors of war, he did like to travel and see the world. Webb was part of the unit that entered Dachau Concentration Camp in the hours following liberation, and he discussed this during his interview filmed in 1986.

Webb was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze and Silver stars for his service, which now hang in a frame on a wall at his wife's home. He was injured when he was hit on the face with shrapnel.

Marsha says she likes knowing that her father's thoughts about the war are now archived forever.

"And it sounds like he's sitting right in the room with you," she said.

Webb said her husband would be so proud to know that his carving has been found, and it sparked interest in his life story.

"He was always proud of what he did," she said. "He would be so excited. He loved nothing better than to sit and talk to anybody who would listen to him."

Marsha said she believes her father had a lot of down time during the war, and he took the time to write what he was feeling.

"He wrote all the time," she said. "He put his name on everything."

Webb said her husband always had a notebook in his pocket, just in case something came to mind that he wanted to remember.

One of the books he wrote in during the war begins with a dedication to his buddies who served alongside him.

Webb said her husband was a Kentucky Colonel, a mason for 40 years, a deacon at the churches he attended and a member of the now defunct CB Disaster Club.

Boyd said he has worked in preserving oral histories his entire life and believes it's very important to make them part of historical records. He said finding the carving and that leading to finding Webb's family and learning so much about his history has been wonderful.

"Before, all we knew about him was from that interview," he said.

The most touching moment of the experience, Boyd said, came when he found an entry in Webb's journal in which he wrote that he had finally remembered the answer to a question he was asked in the 1986 interview. The entry was dated in 1994.

"This story is probably the most powerful experience in my lifetime," Boyd said.

Seeing something her father wrote so many years ago, Marsha said, was very unexpected and special.

"Dad would think he's a movie star," she said.

To hear Webb's interview, visit www.kentuckyoralhistory.org/interviews/21342.

To read about Webb's carving and about his experiences in World War II, visit uknow.uky.edu/content/wwii-oral-history-discovery-shows-how-nunn-center-technology-gives-history-new-life.