'Not letting the memories fade away': Veterans tell war stories as part of project

World War II veteran Louis Demers relays stories of his military service to Jamie Friye, assistant state's attorney, as court reporter Jane Borrowman chronicles everything he says as part of the Veterans History Project. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Mar. 27, 2014 8:20 am Updated: Apr. 10, 2014 9:14 am
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Louie Demers wore his Sunday best on Wednesday morning. Wearing a dark blue suit combination and with pins of an American flag and another with “WWII” on his lapel, Demers happily held court inside the Adams County Courthouse.

The 90-year-old veteran of both World World II and the Korean War recounted tales of his days in the Navy, many of which were spent in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He was more than happy to take part in the “Veterans History Project.” Veterans gathered at both the courthouse and the Illinois Veterans Home to tell their tales from their days of service.

“This was kind of exciting,” Demers said after his session. “I’m not bashful, but I don’t like to brag. But I was there, and I did it. That’s what this is all about, keeping the stories going and not letting the memories fade away.”

Demers was one of 15 veterans who made their way to the courthouse throughout the day. Eight interviews were done at the Illinois Veterans Home. Each interview was conducted by a member of the Adams County Bar Association.

Court reporters from the 8th Judicial Circuit, which includes Quincy, volunteered their time to take down the stories, each of which was also videotaped. All of the information will eventually be sent to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and included in Congress’ “Veterans History Project.”

According to the Liberty of Congress’ website, the project “collects, preserves and makes accessible personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”

While Demers was reliving his time in the Pacific on the first floor of the courthouse, 87-year-old Army veteran Raymond Barnes, of Quincy, was recounting his days of being stationed in Germany toward the end of the war. Living on an Iowa farm at the time, Barnes was drafted out of high school to serve in May 1945.

“It made me grow up and be an adult in a hurry,” Barnes said of his time in the armed forces. “I have not regrets about serving my country. I enjoyed my time.”

Barnes recalled being paid $21 a month. He kept $5 of his paycheck each month and sent the rest back home during his 18-month stint in Europe. He told of how soldiers passed the time playing baseball a few times a week. When he wasn’t playing baseball, Barnes said he and his crew would head to a beer hall.

“We would drink a couple of beers and lie to each other,” he said with a laugh.

Barnes dictated his story to his granddaughter, Shannon Niekamp. Barnes said she was instrumental in getting him to share his stories.

“The only reason I’m here is because my granddaughter asked me,” he said. “I would do anything for her.”

Niekamp, who has been studying to be a court reporter, was excited to get to hear her grandfather’s stories.

“I heard stories that I had never heard from him before,” she said. “I learned a lot.”

So did Niekamp’s father, Tom Barnes, who sat in the gallery and listened to his father speak.

“This is awesome,” he said, “just to sit here and listen to Dad tell stories we hadn’t heard about. This is a precious moment for me on both sides, to see (Shannon) working and listen to him tell stories about fighting for his country. It doesn’t get much better than that.”


Wednesday’s “Veterans History Project” is the first of five that will be held at the Adams County Courthouse and Illinois Veterans Home. The next is scheduled for May 28. The other dates are July 30, Sept. 24 and Nov. 19. For more information or to make arrangements for an interview, contact Linda Snyder at 217-277-2123.