History is about stories. Carol Fowler, Assistant Curator and Veterans Oral History Director of the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey in Sea Girt, knows that well. And sometimes the Internet can provide a surprising missing link.
"So many other stories in the past have gone untold," Fowler said. "The Internet has the ability to span years and miles."
World War II veteran John Knox of Montclair, NJ came to Fowler's attention through a 2004 Memorial Day article in the Star Ledger newspaper. She thought his story should be preserved, so she arranged an interview with him as part of the Library of Congress Veterans Oral History Program.
Knox was a company first sergeant in the 559th Quartermaster Battalion, a racially segregated unit that initially trained in the Mojave Desert. The 559th mobilized to Europe after D-Day and built stockades for the German POWs they would later guard. Assigned to General George Patton's Third Army, the 559th then served in the Battle of the Bulge, where, as Knox noted, "everyone -- clerk, cook and truck driver -- became a rifleman."
Then, in 2007, California resident Jon Merksamer was searching for information on his late father's World War II unit, and the search led him to the museum's website. There, summaries of oral history interviews are posted, and thus led Merksamer to the story of John Knox.
In email correspondence with Fowler, Merksamer recalled that his father, who was a white officer in the otherwise all-black unit, "spoke little about the war but...spoke very highly of his NCO and how efficiently he ran things." That NCO was John Knox. Fowler sent Merksamer a copy of the interview of Knox along with Knox's contact information.
Merksamer soon discovered that Knox had numerous memories of his father. In 2013, Merksamer became involved with the PBS documentary film "Sands of War", about Mojave Desert training during World War II. During the course of the production the film crew visited Knox in New Jersey and filmed his story - and Assistant Curator Fowler, who began to tell that story, was noted in the film credits. Merksamer later wrote to Fowler that: "I really owe it all to you and that article online......so once again, thank you!!!!!!"
Merksamer concluded his message with:"As time passes and each generation becomes a bit more removed from WWII, I fear the memory of these men and women will fade......you are certainly doing noble work in making sure that doesn't happen."
The Center for U.S. War Veterans Oral Histories is located at the National Guard Militia Museum in Sea Girt, NJ. For more information, or to schedule an interview, please contact Carol Fowler at (732) 974-5966. Veterans of all ages and from all conflicts are encouraged to share their stories to be recorded at the museum and archived at the Library of Congress Veterans Oral History Program.
Summaries of the interviews are made publicly available. The summary of Knox's story is here: http://www.nj.gov/military/museum/summaries/wwii/knox.html
The PBS documentary film "Sands of War", which John Knox was featured in, is available for viewing here: