We are losing the stories of the men and women who served this country during World War II. But thanks to the generous donation of two brothers, one story will be memorialized at Mississippi State University's Mitchell Memorial Library. And the MSU Libraries, and the brothers, hope their gift will inspire others like it.
Walter L. Wallace, Sr., was a native of Laurel, and a graduate of Mississippi State University, then known as Mississippi State College. Like many other students and graduates of Mississippi State College, he served in World War II. But his time and service in the war were not something he often talked about. At least not with his sons, Walter L. Wallace, Jr. and Steve L. Wallace.
As the brothers uncovered their father's unique story, they knew it needed to be shared.
"A lot of men came home and did not tell their stories," Steve, a retired dentist living in Birmingham said. "We are losing those stories. That is why we thought it was important to share dad's ... but we know there are so many others. Even the two MSU graduates who were at Normandy when dad was there – they have stories, but we could not find more about them. Yet we know each had something unique."
The two men Steve Wallace is referring to are Mississippi natives George Hammer and Kenneth "K.O." Wise. Along with their father, Hammer and Wise played a key role in World War II. It is this shared story that led to the creation of "The Walter L. Wallace, Sr. WWII Collection, Bulldogs in Action: How Three Young Men of State Cleared the Way to Victory," which will be dedicated at 11 am, Tuesday, June 6 – the 79th anniversary of D Day.
Walter L. Wallace, Jr., said several reasons led to the brothers' decision to display their father's collection with the MSU Libraries. But sharing the story with future MSU graduates was key among them.
"D Day (June 6, 1944) was the largest amphibious invasion ever," Walter Wallace said. "It was called Operation Overlord."
Of course, many people know that significant historical event. What they may not know is that three Mississippi State College graduates had a major impact on the operation.
"This is the unique piece – it was not just one MSU graduate, there were three, who were involved (in this way)," Walter said. "Dad memorializes that fact in a letter. He is a graduate of 1939, as is Kenny Wise. And George Hammer is a 1940 graduate. And all three were involved in Operation Overlord.
"As my brother and I talked, we believe it was not just dad, but the two others involved in clearing the beaches of Omaha and Utah beach. We do not know for sure but believe they were also at Utah – 'sweeping Utah beach,'" he added.
Wallace Sr., Hammer and Wise each commanded minesweeping ships charged with protecting the U.S.S. Augusta, the command ship for the entire D-Day operation. The Augusta was responsible for carrying numerous senior military officers, including General Omar Bradley. Their efforts helped clear the way for what came next.
Walter said the concept of having MSU Libraries commemorate all three State graduates grew when talking with Stephen Cunetto, Associate Dean for Community Relations, and Strategic Initiatives, and Trish Cunetto, Development Officer for the MSU Libraries.
The brothers wanted others to know of the contributions these three men made to their country and to Mississippi.
"There were 5,000 vessels and 160,000 troops that crossed the English Channel in one invasion," Walter said. "The actual orders, which are a part of this exhibit, were to start sweeping on June 5 (ahead of the actual invasion). Dad, and these other two State graduates, were integral to this effort."
Both Steve and Walter Jr., feel it is critical to study history, so we do not repeat.
"It is a failure now days that people don't know history," Steve said. "Everyone should know history, otherwise patterns come back and repeat."
Walter, who is a writer and historian, added, "I believe history is the basis for not making the same mistake we've made in the past. History can be an excellent guide for diplomacy in a world today that is struggling to make sense out of the reordering of the world. History is a way of looking into the window of the future."
Like their father, both Walter Jr., and Steve graduated from Mississippi State. And both are looking forward to returning to campus June 6 to unveil the exhibit honoring their father and fellow servicemen. And they are grateful to know his story.
"I was glad to learn more about what my dad did," Steve said. "He never talked about it much. He told me some, talked to Walter some. Then we found the letter and were able to start to put the story together. We hope this will inspire others to do the same."
For more information on the MSU Libraries, visit library.msstate.edu.
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