Quaint town honors WWII G.I.s with 'Memories of the 1940s'
A half-pint in stature but with a giant of a heart inside, 22-year-old Vincent B. DeNardo arrived in Granville on July 4, 1943, one of a thousand G.I.s who trained in the area for World War II. Affectionately nicknamed "Little Moe," the Philly native returned for more than 20 autumns once the war was over. He brought his camera, and by the time he stopped snapping, he had taken more than 1,000 photos of the quaint Jackson County village that nestled beside the Cumberland River.
Those pictures proved to be the nucleus for what became the Granville Museum.
"They're street scenes that start in 1949 and go to the 1970s. Moe's pictures are what really got us going in 1999 when we started the Granville Museum to present the history of Granville," said Randall Clemons, president of the Granville Museum Board of Directors and a Granville native who now lives in Lebanon.
To honor DeNardo and the more than 850,000 military personnel who trained from 1941 to 1944 in Tennessee during seven separate maneuvers across 22 counties, Historic Granville holds the grand opening of "1940s A Decade of Change -- Thanks for the Memories" on Saturday.
A major theme of the day will be "Maneuvers: They Came as Strangers and Left as Friends," and there will be re-enactments of WWII and the Maneuvers at noon and 1:30 p.m. Other activities include music by the Freedom Belles and the Lynn Beal Jazz Band, an antique car show and parade, the Upper Cumberland Wine Festival and opening of the Tennessee State Museum exhibit, "The Slaves & Slaveholders of Wessyngton Plantation."
(For those who may miss the big day, DeNardo's photographs are available for viewing in the Granville Museum 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. And the Sutton Homestead's "Maneuvers" exhibit is open noon-3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, and noon- 5 p.m. Saturdays. The homestead is decorated to tell the story of how the families took in the soldiers, fed them and rented rooms to their wives or girlfriends.)
"Moe got here July 4, 1943. He was part of the 551st Engineer Battalion from Camp Gordon, Georgia," said Clemons. "About 1,000 soldiers stayed in four camps near Granville in Jackson County.
"I don't know how exactly how many pictures he made while he was here. He started coming back after the war was over and came back in September for two weeks from 1949 into the 1970s. I remember seeing him as a boy on Sundays when we came out of church. He was making pictures with a 35-millimeter camera. He became one of us."
Seven large-scale maneuvers, also referred to as exercises, operations and problems, were held in Tennessee during the Second World War, as thousands of G.I.s used the roads, towns, farms, fields, hills, woods and rivers as a practice ground for combat.
The logistics of feeding, transporting and caring for the needs of the young men were overwhelming. There were rules for soldiers and civilians alike, but some of these rules were made to be broken.
Civilians were instructed to not give directions, food or shelter to the soldiers as the exercises were meant to toughen them for combat. While they were ordered to camp in the woods, the men often would find a better bunk on porches and in corn cribs and barns.
And many a soldier from other regions of the U.S. got their first sampling of Southern-fried chicken, biscuits and gravy from tender-hearted country cooks who fed "the boys" in their kitchens and in their yards, boys just like Little Moe.
Little Moe DeNardo was befriended, among others, by Guy Grisham and the Arthur Fields family. Beginning in 1949, he began making annual treks each September to Granville.
Kaye Fields Loftis, daughter of Dois and Kerry Fields, has vivid memories of DeNardo's annual vacations in her hometown, recalling, "He stayed with my great-uncle Arthur and his wife, Snowie, for a time. When my Aunt Snowie passed, he continued to come, and after Uncle Arthur remarried he began staying with us, from 1962 till about 1975.
"I called him Uncle Moe. He was about 5 feet tall and always wore a white T-shirt," said Loftis, who serves on the Historic Granville board of directors and volunteers once a month at Sutton's Store.
She described the WWII veteran, saying, "He was always so jovial and happy. He was Italian and Catholic. He always brought things. I have a collection of comic books he brought me. He brought me a rosary one time. I didn't know what it was.
"While he was here for the two weeks, he would catch a ride and spend a day at Gainesboro and take pictures there. He took that camera with him everywhere and was always taking pictures. He took lots of pictures of my family. He gave my mom all the albums."
Loftis noted, "Everybody liked him. He got to know all these people, and they looked forward to his visits. They embraced him. He loved Granville so much. I think it was because of the people's hearts. They opened their homes and gave them [the soldiers] food. I think it was the way people are in Granville, the way they have been all my life, just so kind and willing to help."
Clemons said about DeNardo, who married late in life, "He was a real friendly person. He was real outdoing and involved in the community. He sat on store porches with the guys. He left over 1,000 photos to Dois and Kerry in 35 to 40 books. Dois's sister, Mrs. Helen Reynolds, took the pictures and put them in order by years into three albums."
DeNardo died June 13, 2013, in Manayunk, the working-class neighborhood where he was born in northwest Philadelphia. He was 92. He served in the Army from 1942 through 1946 and earned the Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and two Bronze Stars.
As a civilian he worked as a machine operator at the Blankin Woolen Mill in Manayunk for many years and spent the last 15 years of his career caring for the grounds of West Laurel Hill Cemetery.
As for what the beloved soldier's legacy means to the townsfolk here, Clemons said, "He enabled us to tell the story of Granville from the '40s to the '70s. He left us pictures to show the times and life scenes and gave us the images to make a picture-history book, titled 'Granville.' using 300 of those images."
Grand goings-on in Granville
The grand opening of "1940s A Decade of Change -- Thanks for the Memories" begins at 9 a.m. Saturday. It will feature re-enactments of WWII and the maneuvers at noon and 1:30 p.m.; performances of "I'll Be Seeing You" by the Freedom Belles at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; an antique car show (1950s and older vehicles) from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. with a parade at 3 p.m.; the fifth annual Genealogy Festival, honoring the black families of the community and the Ragland family; performances by the Lynn Beal Jazz Band from noon-3 p.m.; the second Upper Cumberland Wine Festival; the ninth anniversary of Sutton General Store and "Sutton Old Time Music Hour"; and the opening of the Tennessee State Museum exhibit, "The Slaves & Slaveholders of Wessyngton Plantation."
The Sutton Homestead's "Maneuvers: They Came as Strangers and Left as Friends" exhibit, the museum and shops are open noon-3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, and noon- 5 p.m. Saturdays.
Upcoming events include a 1940s Vintage Fashion Show on April 22, a Cornbread and Moonshine Festival on May 6, and the 19th Granville Heritage Day on May 27. Sutton General Store is open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday. For more details go online to granvilletn.com or call (931) 653-4151.