WAYLAND — Steuben County decided to do History Awareness Week for the first time, and focused all of it on World War One and World War Two.
Wayland Area Historical Society worked with Wayland American Legion on bringing that history to the area museum on Oct. 1. The artifacts will be on display until Nov. 11.
Two local war heroes are being honored in this display — Theodore Van Tassel, World War One; and Paul Gerling, World War Two.
Mike McCauley, Wayland American Legion historian, purchased a lot of the items you see in the display, and has always had a love for military history. McCauley had been stationed in Berlin in the 1980s, and as he was there he dug up some of the artifacts.
“I dug up these up in Berlin that had been buried for 40 years,” he said. “They used to shove all of this stuff in a hole and bury it. I was also in the crowd when President Reagan said tear down this wall.”
“Theodore Van Tassel was the first son of Wayland we lost in World War One, and the tradition was to name the legion posts after the first soldier that was killed in combat,” he said. “He joined the military in 1917 when he was just 17 years old. He was referred to as the Fighting Dutchman. He was assigned to the machine gun company.”
Van Tassel was sent to France in November 1917 and died there on June 13, 1918.
Gerling had his own claim to fame war story that had been documented several years ago.
Just after the landing of their 25th mission the members of E-Z Goin were lucky to be alive. Gerling was 19 years old at the time. Germans used similar scary tactics to the Japanese at the end of World War Two to attack the enemy. They were known as the Rammkommando Elbe. On April 7, 1945 the Dansville native Gerling was a B-17 tail gunner who found this all out the hard way. As the tail gunner Gerling was at the very part of the plane that was badly hit by enemy fire, and he was able to hit the enemy German ME-109 fighter plane. Although that B-17 had been blown to hell the members of E-Z Goin made it back.
MaCauley had purchased a lot of Trench Art form both wars. In that time frame the military would make just about anything out of what they could find. They made lamps, ashtrays, model planes, and other things. You will find a large variety of Trench Art from World War Two, because they had a lot more to work with.
Van Tassel lost his life in the Battle of Belleau Wood, which is documented as the soldiers time in hell. Van Tassel had been present to hear a famous saying from his commander “Come on you (explicit) you want to live forever” during this battle.
“I am fascinated by military history,” McCauley said. “This is a huge part of our legion and it blends in with history week.”
On Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. the Wayland churches will ring their bells to honor the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. Afterwards the Veterans Day Parade will take place on North Main Street. The Wayland Area Historical Society will have a program on Theodore Van Tassel at 2 p.m.