Project will make news clippings available to the public

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By John Barnhart

A new project at the National D-Day Memorial Foundation will make a treasure trove of old newspaper clippings, available to the public.

The collection of clippings were a pleasant surprise for the Foundation. A woman in Franklin County contacted Foundation workers and asked if they would like to have her mother's World War II scrapbooks.

"I thought we were talking six or seven scrapbooks," said Shannon Brooks, the foundation's associate for research and publications.

They received 16.

Brooks noted that these really can't do the public much good stored in boxes. However, getting them into a format that will allow the public access, while still preserving the clippings, posed a challenge. They can't scan them because the scrapbooks are bulky and the clippings are brittle.

The solution is to photograph them. A $1,000 donation from Wal-Mart allowed the foundation to purchase optical character recognition software that will convert photos of the clippings into text. Additional software will index the text so that it will be searchable by word.

Brooks said that the Foundation has hundreds of other documents and this software will make its entire paper archive searchable.

One item the Foundation has is a memento book, sent to a soldier by his church. It consists of hand-written notes from the people back home. This obviously meant a lot to this soldier. He kept it, made his own note in the back and attached his copy General Eisenhower's D-Day order of the day to it.

The 16 scrapbooks are valuable.

"This is one of the most significant gifts we have been given," said Brooks. "It tells day by day what people on the homefront knew. This is what people were being told about the war."

Clippings in early scrapbooks deal with rescues from sunken ships. At the beginning of the war, German submarines were knocking off coastal freighters and tankers within sight of our shores. Later scrapbooks have stories about the D-Day amphibious assault.

One clipping has an AP photo of the Lady of Trevi?s lying in the street amidst debris. A full sized replica of the bronze sculpture now stands at the D-Day Memorial, a gift of the Republic of France. The original, named Le Monument aux Morts, was dedicated to France's World War I dead. A shell fragment blew away part of the statue's face during the D-Day assault and the people of Trevi?s chose not to repair the damage as a reminder of the war.

The scrapbooks were compiled by Mabel Scott Walker, now 90. She had brothers in the service. They were unable to say much, so she depended on newspaper stories to keep up with what was happening.

Walker lived in Newport News at the time as her husband worked at Newport News Shipbuilding, so most of the newspapers came from that part of the state. Her sister who lived in Martinsville brought her papers from that area. These clippings consisted mostly of obituaries and "In the Service" columns.

Walker's daughter, Betty Holt, offered the scrapbooks to the D-Day Memorial Foundation. Holt knew their value. She used them to write reports for high school history classes. The reports amazed her teachers because they were reading reports, by a high school student, based on detailed primary source material.

Holt was wondering what to do with her elderly mother's scrapbooks. She wanted them to go someplace where they would mean something.

"That's where we come in," said Brooks. "Our goal here is to make these things useful for everybody."