70th Anniversary Celebration of Hannah Block Historic USO

World War II Wilmington history presentations by New Hanover County school students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels will highlight the 70th anniversary evening celebration of the Hannah Block Historic USO on Friday, December 16, 2011.

Through their music, drama, dance, and decorative skills, students from Forest Hills Global Elementary School, Murray Middle School, and Ashley, Laney, and New Hanover High Schools, along with school children from the Community Boys and Girls Club, will interpret the theme “Christmas 1944 at the Wilmington USO.”

Lobby activities begin at 5:30 p.m. The auditorium program begins at 6:30 p.m. and concludes at about 7:45. The public is invited, and admission is free. Complimentary refreshments will be served.

The City-owned building, located at Second and Orange Streets in downtown Wilmington and also known as the Community Arts Center, opened in December 1941 at the outset of World War II. The federal government built it for the United Service Organizations as a recreation center for the thousands of military personnel stationed in the region. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is the hub of regional WWII preservation activities and a popular theater, artists’, and public activity venue.

As a successful public-private venture, the renovated and restored building was rededicated in July 2008 as an historical and cultural jewel with a lobby museum of the WWII home front, and expanded and improved facilities for the visual and performing arts.

In 2006 the City Council renamed the building for Hannah Block, “Mrs. World War II Wilmington” and a longtime civic leader. The piano she played to entertain the troops is on display.

“This is a momentous event in preserving the meaning of this wonderful building in the rich WWII history of Southeastern North Carolina, as we pay tribute to both those in uniform who fought for our freedom, and those who served in the home-front war effort,” said retired Navy Captain Wilbur Jones, chairman of the sponsoring WWII Wilmington Home Front Heritage Coalition, and a member of the City’s HBHUSO/CAC Advisory Board.

“That our children are participating so enthusiastically in perpetuating this history bodes well for their education and our country’s future,” he added.

Jones relishes many memories of this USO while growing up here during wartime. His father was on the building’s dedication committee, and in 1943 his sister met her soldier husband of nearly 60 years through this USO.

The Coalition is an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to identify, preserve, and interpret the region’s WWII legacy.

Coincidentally, two skits will mark the 67th anniversary to the day of historic events in the war in Europe that impacted local men.

The celebration will include:

– Wartime and Christmas-season music by keyboardist Jack Krupicka and vocalist Julie Rehder resounding throughout the lobby;

– A skit by three WWII Army veterans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, dreaming on the front lines about being home for Christmas (the Battle began this day 67 years ago). They are: Clayton “Chris” Christensen, 324th Engineer Combat Battalion, 99th Infantry Division, in Belgium; Bob Bradicich, 110th Regimental Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, in Luxembourg; and Gale Wendle, 376th Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division, of Patton’s Third Army in France about to be sent north into Belgium;

– Forest Hills Christmas tree decorating in the lobby, using homemade wartime decorations, and “wax museum” interpretations of life on the Wilmington home front;

– A Laney trio singing wartime Duke Ellington songs, and swing numbers by New Hanover’s jazz band;

– A skit by Murray students as reporters from the wartime Stars and Stripes, the Army’s overseas newssheet, honoring the WWII Congressional Medal of Honor action of the late Colonel Charles P. Murray, Jr., New Hanover High 1938, which occurred on this day 67 years ago in Kaysersberg, Alsace, France;

– A jazz group and dance and jitterbug routine by the Community Boys and Girls Club, which is located on the 9th and Nixon Streets site of New Hanover County’s only black wartime USO;

– Color guard by the Ashley Navy Junior ROTC unit;

– Wartime numbers by the “Andrews Sisters,” a vocal group consisting of Rehder, Katherine Rudeseal, Rebecca Rocco, and Jennifer Coxe;

– Lobby exhibits of the 9th & Nixon USO by the local African-American History Commission and Community Boys and Girls Club; Dr. Everard Smith’s wartime USO memorabilia; and more.

Local radio and television personality Donn Ansell will emcee.

Because during wartime the building also observed the Jewish Hannukah, or Festival of Lights, its upcoming season of December 20-28 will be acknowledged.

The evening concludes with the audience singing the popular 1944 song, “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”

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For additional information, contact Wilbur Jones at 910-793-6393, 910-612-4749 or JonesWD@aol.com.