Veterans Day has special meaning for historianby Mona Prufer
For Rod Gragg, spending hours and hours interviewing veterans, then turning out documentary films, is a labor of love. It combines the two areas that are most meaningful to him – history and veterans. It also reminds him of his father, the late L.W. “Skip” Gragg, who served in the U.S. Army as a military police officer in World War II.
“I can’t say enough about the American people in uniform who served our country,” says Gragg, who is a historian, an author, and director of CCU's Center for Military and Veterans Studies. He is also an adjunct professor of history at Coastal Carolina University. Through the center, he records and preserves veterans’ memories, documents and photographs for archival purposes.
“It’s special for me to focus on them,” says Gragg, referring to his father’s generation of soldiers, also known as the “Greatest Generation” after a book by journalist Tom Brokaw. “I grew up in awe of those men and women.”
Gragg traveled to Belgium this year – with Dennis Reed and David Parker of CCU’s Media Services – to interview and film veterans of the Battle of the Bulge for “Salute To American Veterans,” this year’s documentary to be shown at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Wheelwright Auditorium. The event is sponsored annually by Goldfinch Funeral Services, HTC, J. Joseph Sanders Dentistry and Coastal Carolina University.
“The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle in the European Theater of World War II,” says Gragg, who has written 15 books on American history. “It’s difficult to ignore its significance. American forces repulsed a massive, desperate counterattack by German forces in the Ardennes region of Belgium.”
The battle, which began in December of 1944, resulted in more American casualties than any other engagement in the European Theater of World War II. “Season of Valor: The Battle of the Bulge” was shot on site at Bastogne and other areas of the Belgium Ardennes region, and features on-camera commentary by South Carolina World War II veterans.
It’s the seventh film Gragg has produced for the series, with Reed and Parker as co-producers.
“Salute to American Veterans,” which usually fills Wheelwright Auditorium every year, includes performances of patriotic music, a color guard presentation, public recognition of American veterans, and the premiere of the documentary. While seating is free for the “Salute to American Veterans,” advance tickets are encouraged for the Nov. 8 event. Tickets are available at the Wheelwright Box Office, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. A nearby overflow room will provide a live large-screen television broadcast of the event if the supply of tickets is exhausted.