War Stories: WWII vet captivates audience at Waveland PRCC campus
By Dwayne Bremer
Mar 7, 2014, 20:35
Pearl River Community College Waveland Campus Director Raymunda Barnes on Wednesday welcomed a crowd of students and residents who turned out to see a special presentation by the National WWII Museum. The presentation included stories from former Marine Bert Stolier, above, and an interactive slide show.
Bert Stolier was stranded in the placid waters of the Pacific Ocean for three days and three nights in December 1942 after his ship, the U.S.S. Northampton, was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine during the Battle of Tassafaronga.
With no food, no water, and little hope, all Stolier could do is reminisce about his family and home in New Orleans and sing every song he could remember.
Then, Stolier said, a miracle happened.
"The tide pushed me between two islands and I saw a ship," he said. "As I got a little closer, I saw, with apologies to my future wife, the most beautiful sight of my life."
What Stolier saw that cold December morning was the Stars and Stripes flying on the deck of an American ship.
Unable to move, Stolier cried out "Any of you sailors want to give a marine a hand?"
A few minutes later, Stolier was rescued.
More than 70 years later, Stolier retold his story to a group of Pearl River Community College students on Wednesday as part of the National World War II Museum's traveling lecture series.
Students were given extra credit for attending the lecture, but the event was also open to the public and several community members came out to hear Stolier's story.
"It is our goal to continue to bring quality lectures to Hancock County," PRCC Waveland Campus Director Raymunda Barnes said.
"These are the kind of lectures you would find on major college campuses. The 70th Anniversary of D-Day will be remembered by Pearl River Community College by hosting this lecture. In cooperation with the National WW II Museum, PRCC is proud to be able to give Hancock County residents an opportunity to hear some of the experiences of two WW II veterans."
Wednesday's event consisted of a 90-minute interactive presentation with WWII Museum Volunteer Ronnie Abboud acting as moderator and Stolier answering questions and telling tales about the war.
A slide show and period equipment also added visual effects to the presentation.
Abboud said the biggest lesson of WWII is how the war affected the world in which we live in and the people we have become.
"We have plenty of stuff, but this is about you and your family," Abboud said. "Everyone here today has a relative or knows someone who lived in that period.
“What was done 70 years ago by that generation was nothing short of remarkable."
Stolier, now in his 90s, served in the Marine Corps during the Pacific theatre and fought in battles such as Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, and Iwo Jima.
He said he joined the Marines before the war to help his poor family.
"I made $21 a month and sent $10 a month home," Stolier said.
Prior to WWII, the United States had the 18th largest military in the world with only 650,000 service members, compared to nearly 7 million in the German army.
By the end of the war, the United States had built a 16-million man army. The entire nation had been a part of the war effort, Abboud said.
One of the most important civilian corporations was the Louisiana- based Higgins Industry, which created more than 20,000 landing craft during the war.
The Higgins factory in New Orleans employed 30,000 people and became a sign of things to come in America, Abboud said.
"Women worked there," Abboud said. "Black people worked along side white people there. There was a saying 'we are all in this together.' It was the beginning of the country we see today."
The riveting presentation drew several rounds of applause and reduced some to tears.
Afterwards, the audience gave Stolier a standing ovation and many wanted to personally thank him.
"I just wanted to get a picture and give this man a hug for everything he has done for us," Jessica Fisher of Waveland said.
The WWII museum, located in New Orleans, opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum. It was later designated by Congress as America's National WWII museum.
The museum offers daily tours, speeches and lectures, special events and more.
For more information on the museum, go to its website at nationalww2museum.org.