World War II Education Center Provides a Chance to 'Believe in Heroes'

WWII Education Center K-Ration
In this June 22, 2018 photo, filmmaker Tim Gray holds a U.S. Army dinner unit, or K-ration, from World War II. (AP Photo/Jennifer McDermott)

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. -- Filmmaker Tim Gray created the World War II Foundation Global Education Center as a way of connecting the stories of the soldiers who fought in the war with this and future generations.

"This new facility is designed to educate, honor and inspire future generations through the stories of those who saved the world," said Gray, who has made 21 documentaries about World War II.

"We all want to believe in heroes," he said. "We all want to believe America can achieve great things. We want to believe that we can overcome obstacles."

On Saturday, Gray was joined by friends, supporters and about a dozen World War II veterans to officially dedicate the new education center, which is located in a storefront on Main Street in Wakefield.

The center is open only to school groups for now and Gray plans to open up to the general public on Saturdays starting in January.

The items on display are part of Gray's own collection, objects he's found over four decades in Europe and Asia. There are Nazi flags and Japanese helmets, rifles, uniforms and maps, snapshots and letters. Information placards set up around the center give background on those who fought in the war, such as the Seabees, and key events, including the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Gray's interest in World War II goes back to his early childhood. His father was in the war, as was an uncle. Another uncle worked on the Manhattan Project, the research to produce the first nuclear weapons.

"What really hooked me were the personal stories of the men who fought," he said.

He hopes the education center can communicate some of those stories so young people today can get an insight into the war.

"We don't want to lose them in the whole scope of World War II at the 30,000-foot level," Gray said.

The center was created with the support of private donations and grants from foundations.

"It has to be people who believe in what we're trying to do, to preserve this part of history that is so important," Gray said.

They are people like Kara Sundlun, whose father, the late former Rhode Island Gov. Bruce Sundlun, was an Air Force pilot in the war whose story was the subject of one of Gray's films.

"We're making sure that ... we're not forgetting all of the wonderful and difficult sacrifices that the true heroes in this room made for us," she said. "If my father were here, he'd be so proud of this."

Among the guests at the dedication were Domenic Giarrusso, of Cranston, and Benjamin Carbone, of Providence, both Air Force veterans who served in Italy at the same time, but didn't get to know each other until recently.

"It's very, very interesting," Giarrusso said of the center. "It took a lot of effort, I'm sure. It's nicely done."

"I'm really impressed with it," said Carbone.

Giarrusso said that events like Saturday's help strengthen the connections between veterans, some of whom he had only met for the first time that day.

"I feel like I've known these guys forever," he said.

This article is written by Alex Kuffner from The Providence Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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