By Gordon Anderson
The scrapbook, even at first glance, is obviously very old.
While the black cover is in decent shape, the laminated pages wobble in and out, precariously held together by twisty metal bindings. Improperly cared for, the book could easily fall apart.
Even that old and on the verge of losing its structural integrity, the book tells an important story. Not a linear one, exactly, but important nevertheless.
“Lee Boy Is Commended For Share In Air Attack,” one page offers, going on to tell the story of Sergeant Eugene McNeill of Broadway’s actions in bombing a Nazi military target in France. “Sgt. Fowler Loses Life,” indicates another, recounting the combat death of H.E. Fowler. “Screen Actress Helps Sanford Boy,” yet another reads. “Lee Boy Gets Air Medal.” “Cumnock Boy Loses LIfe Overseas.” And on and on and on.
The book — which is one of a kind — tells Lee County’s story as it pertains to World War II. Page after page of newspaper clippings from the 1940s recount the combat successes, the captures, the promotions, and the deaths of those from Lee County who fought for the Allied Forces.
“My dad was a big history buff,” explained Barry Gunter of Sanford, who had seen the book growing up and located it among his father Luke’s things after his death in 2017. “He had a long time employee, Lizette Budd, who kept the books. From what I understand, she had a relative who wasn’t able to go to World War II, so he kept that book to keep track of all his friends.”
Jimmy Haire, a photographer and member of the Sanford City Council who has an affinity for local history, said the story of Lee County and World War II is a deep one.
“The population of Lee County in 1940 was 18,000, and the average household had four people. So that’s 4,500 households,” he said. “We sent 1,300 to World War II, so that’s one of every four houses roughly.”
Gunter isn’t old enough to have gone to the war, but he recognizes the book’s importance. Now, he’s concerned about it being properly cared for.
“If it needs to go to the Railroad House or to the library, that would be nice,” he said. “It needs to go somewhere.”
Anyone wishing to discuss the book with Gunter can email firstname.lastname@example.org.