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‘Words of War’ offer inspiration

“Just Two North End Boys,” a poem by Gary Banker, is one of four poems featured in a new exhibit, “Words of War,” at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Heritage Center. (Maria Lockwood)

A new exhibit at the Richard I. Bong Veterans Heritage Center speaks for itself. “Words on War” features a quartet of poems about World War II, two by Superior men.

“While a factual account of an event enables a person to see what was transpiring, a poem enables that same individual to feel what was occurring,” said Gary Banker of Superior, whose poem is featured in the exhibit. “It reaches behind what we see and takes us deeper into the human heart.”

The four-sided kiosk was added to the lobby last week. Executive Director Bob Fuhrman said he hopes the exhibit offers visitors an emotional impact and, just maybe, inspires them to write poetry of their own.

“I think it’s another way of preserving their stories,” Fuhrman said.

“Just Two North End Boys” by Banker shares the story of two Superior men, “unknown neighbors, these two,” whose paths cross on a beach in Normandy. Later, the men’s children would meet and fall in love, weaving the two families together. Supplementing the text are photos picked out by those children — Banker and his wife, Carol.

“Their stories are those of the Greatest Generation — stories of sacrifice and heroism as well as fear and uncertainty,” Banker said. “The poem allows for their voices to still be heard even though both are no longer with us.”

Readers can ride along with a taxi driver delivering life-shattering telegrams during World War II in “We Regret to Inform.” Robert Abrahamson of Superior was inspired to write the piece after watching the movie “We Were Soldiers.”

“Those telegrams were handed out to thousands of families,” Abrahamson said, informing them of a loved one’s death. “I’ve never seen a lot of poems about what it was like.”

The piece that triggered the idea for the exhibit is a poem titled “An escort of P-38’s.” A center volunteer brought it to Fuhrman’s attention. His interest was hooked by the poem’s focus on P-38 Lightning fighter planes, the same plane flown by the center’s namesake, Maj. Richard I. Bong. Written by Technical Sgt. Robert H. Bryson, it sheds light on the esteem bomber crews held for their escorts. They were more beautiful than Hedy Lamarr, Madeleine Carroll or even a glass of champagne.

“Just reserve me those cuties, American beauties … an escort of P-38s,” wrote Bryson, a B-17 crew member. His poem made it to the pages of “Star” magazine in 1943. But Bryson did not survive the war. He was killed Oct. 29, 1943, during a bombing raid in Italy.

“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” a 1945 piece by Randall Jarrell, rounds out the exhibit. Jarrell’s brief piece struck a chord with Fuhrman when he first read it in middle school. Although it was short and to the point, he said, the imagery created a lasting impression.

“When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose,” reads the final line.

Jarrell would go on to be named the U.S. Poet Laureate in 1956.

“Words of War” doesn’t include a lot of technical detail, except where diagrams of a ball turret have been added. The exhibit offers brief biographies, a few pictures, and leaves the rest to the reader.

“If you write something that moves you, hopefully it touches people,” said Abrahamson, who has also written poems on the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Mataafa.

Just as the center displays oral histories to encourage others to record their own, the poetry kiosk is an invitation for visitors to express themselves.

“Even if one out of 100 says ‘That’s something that speaks to me, I might do it myself,’” Fuhrman said.

The center, 305 Harbor View Parkway, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.