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Man chronicles history through veterans' stories

Phil Turner says the stories of America's World War II veterans are worth protecting, and he has recorded more than 80 interviews with that goal in mind.

The Harlem marketing consultant brought his stories and his campaign to the Thomson Rotary Club on Feb. 10.

"I learned early on, just let them talk and what comes forth is history," Mr. Turner said.

His interest in veterans' stories was kindled at a young age. His father, L.J. Turner, was one among the Americans who fired the green flares to launch the D-Day invasion of France. L.J. Turner was with the Army Air Corps during the war. He later moved to Harlem, where he died about 14 years ago.

Turner said he began his interview process informally.

"I soon recognized that I was standing in a gold mine," he said. "The stories and their explanation of war are something that should not be lost to history."

The interviews can last from 10 minutes to more than an hour.

"They don't have to lie because what they have to say is unbelievable," he said.

He told of Joe Miles of Harlem, who flew more than 100 combat missions in Korea. He told of Bill Menger of North Augusta, who was a bombardier on 49 missions over Germany. The plane was never hit, Mr. Turner said.

"I finally figured out his miracle was that he's alive, that he came back," Mr. Turner said.

He told of Theodore "Dutch" Van Kirk, the navigator of the Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb. Mr. Turner played his taped interview of Mr. Van Kirk for the Rotary audience.

Mr. Turner told The McDuffie Mirror that he plans to play that tape as a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project, which he supports financially. Arrangements are incomplete, but he said the fundraiser will be in the Augusta area in March.

Mr. Turner brought a combat jacket to the Rotary program. The jacket art was painted by "Skip" Shelton of Greenwood, S.C. Mr. Shelton painted airplane art for the Army Air Corps and flew a B-24 during World War II. He also painted portraits of many of the celebrities on the commercial flights he flew for 50 years after the war.

He recently painted the nose art for a plane at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Savannah, Ga.

Mr. Turner is president of Turner Marketing Consultants in Harlem. He lives in Harlem with his wife, Jeanne. He serves as chairman of the Harlem Housing Authority and Historic Preservation Commission. He also is a member of the McDuffie Arts Council and has poetry and photography on display at the MAC on Main.

Web posted on Thursday, February 17, 2011

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