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Her Career is a Tribute to Her Great Uncle, A D-Day Hero

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 7, 2023 3:02 am

Her Career is a Tribute to Her Great Uncle, A D-Day Hero

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 7, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Heather McPherson is the Curator of History at the South Carolina Military Museum. Here's her story about how she came to be at the museum in the first place.

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Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there. And we continue with our American stories. And on this show, we consider it a privilege to honor those who have given their lives in combat for others. And so does Heather MacPherson, who is the curator of history at the South Carolina Military Museum.

In fact, it's the reason she's at the museum in the first place. Here's Heather to tell us more. So when I was growing up, my mom had photos on our piano of her uncle's. And I was always interested in this one, like, I want to know his story. His name was Ralph Ferguson. And he served in the 29th Division during World War Two, and landed on Omaha Beach first wave and made it to June 12th before he was killed in action.

It was about 12 miles in near the L River. So I grew up kind of hearing bits and pieces of that story. And, you know, throughout, you know, teenage, you get other priorities when you're a teenager and everything. But you know, I loved history class and stuff like that. But I was kind of, you know, every once in a while, I dig into his story a little bit.

And then, you know, after college, I really dove into it. There's so much more available on the internet and getting in contact with people and just kind of made it like a side mission of mine to figure out his story. And I just kind of found some sense of purpose trying to tell his story. The family didn't really talk about it. Brothers didn't want to mention him, the mother. And so my grandma grew up not knowing a lot about what happened to him. And same with his widow, didn't really know a lot. So me being able to piece together his few days in country and what he might have gone through and, you know, even finding mentions of him in books and stuff, it was just really incredible journey and just got me more interested in other aspects of World War II and then eventually other military in general.

Yeah, I actually found a mention of him in one of Stephen Ambrose's books. One of the soldiers under his command, he was the second lieutenant in the 29th Division. He was talking like he always felt sorry for him because he had to read his soldiers mail and censor it. And he knew that he was getting really close to these men after having to censor their mail and that he didn't want to lose any of them. And he kind of reminded me of him taking care of his younger brothers and his younger sisters, always being the man of the house because he actually lost his father a year before he got deployed. So he was like, I'm torn. I want to take care of my men, but I know my family needs me at home.

And it's just, you know, World War II was just an era where so many people stepped up and did what they needed to do. He's writing letters back home, like, you know, his mother's learning how to drive for the first time because she doesn't have someone to do that for. And, you know, talking to my grandmother like, well, haven't you learned how to drive yet, Bertha?

And help mother, you know, fill the car with gas. And I could just sense, you know, this pull of him wanting to be in two places at once. And there's no telling what he went through on the beaches of Omaha, along with so many other of our brave men getting separated from where they were supposed to land and just so much going on. And then leading his men across the El River.

I've heard a couple little excerpts of, he was probably one of the first ones to kind of go ahead. That's what leaders did. They wanted to keep their men out of harm's way.

And, you know, they took the point. Not sure how he got killed. It could have been artillery, could have been a sniper, but it's one of those things where I started kind of talking about him and my grandmother started sharing stories I'd never heard before. It almost like kind of clicks her memory and like, oh yeah, well, he used to, he worked at a drug store, so he came home smelling like coal pills. I don't know what they were putting in those pills, but he had these little black pills and they smelled like coal.

And I was like, well, it is West Virginia, so everything smells like coal. But yeah, it's just these little stories that she didn't even, knew she remembered. It's definitely been a journey when you spend that many years researching and really getting to know the person that you've never met. Even my mom said, you know, I never really met him, but you've almost brought him to life for me.

And finally made the pilgrimage, if you will, to Normandy in 2019 and got to see his grave and going to see his grave site. I was like, why am I getting so emotional about someone I've never met? But it's like, I did know him.

And being able to share that with everyone that I was part of the tour with, went with the 29th division association. I was trying to like, I'll just go by myself, but the tour group was going there. So I'm like, well, then I can't just go and not go see the grave site. So I was like, okay, so all these people are now watching this moment that I've been looking forward to for a while.

And, you know, they actually have an attendee come with you and you can actually rub sand in the engraved part of the cross. So the letters really pop and that actually signifies, you know, someone who knew this person has come to visit it. So I've got one person standing behind me in this little tour group looking on. I'm like, oh, this is awkward. But it was, it just felt like the circle was complete. And I eventually had time just to go back by myself and kind of say, hey, Ralph, how are you doing? You know, it's, it's, it really is like, I know him.

And I think it didn't hit me to like, maybe a little bit later, like, okay, yes, takes pictures, just make sure. And, you know, I was here, I visited and tell everybody like, oh, this is his story. But then later on, I was like, okay, that was a, that was a moment.

And yeah, it kind of weighs on you after it a little bit, but yeah, that was, that was incredible. I think I was even more impacted when I went to that, the actual river where he passed away, because it was on June 6th, we had laid some roses down at one of the memorials. So I'd taken that rose, I was like, I'm going to spread some of the petals in the river. I don't know what I was thinking, but it just seemed like the right thing to do.

So I did that. And, you know, we were just kind of looking around the river a little bit more and let's head down, down a little bit. And those rose petals were there circling. And I was like, well, okay, that's, that's so weird. So we stood there for a little bit and I was like, all right, I guess time to go. And then the rose petals left right when I left.

And I was like, okay, that's something, something's going on here. I don't, I haven't had really any more experiences like that, but to see those rose petals, like waiting on me almost and then leaving as I left, it was almost like Ralph, like, thanks for, for keeping my story alive. I've stayed in a bed and breakfast that was literally like two miles from where he was killed. And now that family who runs the bed and breakfast, he also has a tour group. And my great uncle's story gets to be told multiple times throughout the year.

And his picture is right on the roadside. And it's, it's just incredible how it, how it all turned out. My voice is cracking because of it, but I'm trying not to. It's hard. I mean, it's hard.

And I think that's what it's it was hard. And I think that's why I love working here is because I know how it feels. And so, you know, even yesterday I was talking to one of our donors, we're going to be showcasing his family at one of our displays. And he's like, I'm just so thankful that you're doing this for us because, you know, they have the story, but it's almost like they do want to share it. And it's not just for them.

Like I want to share what these people did. It's like, they want to keep that memory alive. And the more people you tell about it, the more it feels like, you know, well, that person's gonna remember that story.

It just keeps trickling on. These people who are no longer with us have connected so many other people and, you know, from different States, but also from the United States to France, it's like the the people I stayed with were, one was British, one was Dutch, but now they take care of a marker where my grand uncle died from, you know, West Virginia. So it's like these stories bring the whole world together and it's out of something so horrible, but out of it comes something so great as you connect people and keep these memories alive of good sons and daughters making the ultimate sacrifice.

And it just connects everyone in the world. So you almost forget when you're reading stories that these are people and they had families and a lot of people forget about families even serving today that they were serving just alongside, you know, their men and women in uniform. So that's what pulls me in is the stories and keeping them alive because almost like the more stories I keep alive in the museum, that's one more kind of check mark for Ralph going good job, you know, keeping that story alive. And a special thanks to Robbie for doing that story, producing it, bringing it to us. And a special thanks to Heather McPherson for telling the story.

She's a curator of history at the South Carolina Military Museum. And telling stories is what she does. And telling stories of those who've paid, well, a real price so that we can enjoy the inheritance we have here in this country. And it's an inheritance, folks.

And we didn't do anything for it, so many of us. And my goodness, what a story she told about her great uncle. And all triggered by those pictures on the top of a piano. Who are those people, she thought, that curiosity drove her. And she got to know Ralph Ferguson, really got to know him. Never met him, but she really got to know him. The 29th Division in World War II, he stormed Omaha Beach. What a beautiful story about memory and the power of stories.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-07 04:40:51 / 2023-04-07 04:46:44 / 6

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