CALIFORNIA – Even after 74 years, it is painful for Charlotte Glod Simmons to revisit the day her family received the telegram that her brother had been killed in action by German mortar fire while stationed in France during World War II.
Staring at a poster decorated with photographs and a brief biography of her brother on the third floor of California University of Pennsylvania’s Manderino Library, Simmons recounted his gift for writing and acting.
“It’s quite the honor to be the last of my big family to live to see his recognition,” she said, her voice trembling with emotion. “It thrills me to no end, and my family would be thrilled to pieces to see this.”
Sgt. Walter E. Glod, who grew up in Donora and graduated from Cal U. in 1942, is honored in a temporary display at the school, which is part of a traveling exhibit from Senator John Heinz History Center that explores how WWII affected Western Pennsylvania.
To further localize the war’s impact, historical centers in the surrounding community donated artifacts from their collections to the exhibit and asked local WWII veterans and their families to do the same.
The display opened July 30 and will be free to the public until Oct. 5. On Wednesday night, the university invited members of the contributing historical societies and local veterans to visit the exhibit and interact with community members.
Library staff adorned a divider in the center of the space with posters honoring the university’s 25 alumni who, like Glod, had been killed in the war. Other signs celebrate the lives of veterans who are connected in some way to the school.
A handful of these veterans were among the crowd of more than 100 visitors who filtered in and out of the exhibit Wednesday. They proudly showed off artifacts they had contributed to the display and recounted stories from their service.
Curtis Prest, who will be 104 today, loaned his dog tags and other items from his time in the war to the exhibit. His son, the university’s electronic resources librarian, drove Prest to the school from his nearby home.
“It takes you back a ways,” Prest said, looking around at the photographs and artifacts that filled the room. “That’s for sure.”
Before coming to Cal U., the permanent portion of the center’s exhibit traveled to seven historical organizations in the area surrounding Pittsburgh and is set to visit 10 more.
Dan Zyglowicz, a member of the school’s library staff, said Cal U. jumped at the chance to host the display.
“Unfortunately, every day there are less and less World War II veterans, so this is a chance to tell their stories,” said Zyglowicz, who is also the president of the Greater Monessen Historical Society, one of the organizations that contributed artifacts to the display.
Norma Ryan, a member of Brownsville Area Revitalization Corporation who grew up during WWII, also emphasized the importance of sharing stories from the era. She does so with her seven grandchildren, who are encouraging her to write a memoir.
“This history is vital for all of us to remember, but it is especially vital to share with our young people,” she said. “We are really blessed to have the university do this.”
To read more about the exhibit and see a schedule of its hours, visit https://library.calu.edu/WWII/about.