World War II veterans share two sides of history at CSU

Peyton Dailey

Students, faculty, veterans and community members alike gathered to hear the first-hand accounts of World War II veterans.  

Leila Morrison, 96, listens as Win Schendel, 87, discusses his life as a Nazi youth. When asked about the rise in self-proclaimed Neo-Nazis, Schendel thinks “it’s a lack of education in this country.” He believes that “history will repeat itself. We have a tendency to do this. It’s very scary. We have to wake up from within.” (AJ Frankson | Collegian)

The Colorado State University History Department hosted 96-year-old Lt. Leila Morrison of United States Army Air Corps and former Hitler Youth 85-year-old Win Schendel in the Lory Student Center North Ballroom Nov. 14, in honor of Veteran’s Day.

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The event was organized with the help of junior marketing and communication double major Landon Schmidt, who said he has always been interested in history and veterans, and met Morrison in the eighth grade through her son.  

“In 10 years, none of these World War II vets will be around,” Schmidt said.  “I mainly organized this for students, and quite frankly, college students need to hear this more than anyone as history tends to repeat itself.”  

History professor Mike Mansfield interviewed Morrison and Schendel, opening with “I teach history, but they were history.”

Originally from Harpstedt, Germany, Schendel became part of the Hitler Youth at 8 years old, mandatory for all “Aryan” boys at the time.  

“It has its good sides and its bad sides,” Schendel said.  “We could build toys for other kids, but on the other hand, we had to learn how to fight.”

Schendel recounted meeting Adolf Hitler at 11 years old at a conference.  

“Hitler walks up to the stand and my mother said ‘Why don’t you go meet the guy?’ And, I did,” Schendel said.  “He stepped on my foot and the thing is, I shook his hand and I still remember looking at him. There was a glimmer of fear and I went off and that was it.  Later on, Hitler killed my father because he didn’t agree with the system.”

You don’t get very many opportunities like this now days, because soon we aren’t going to have opportunities like this to learn from.”  – Jessi Campbell, junior biology major and US Marine

Being drafted at 13 years old, Schendel said he is thankful that he is here today.

“It was a brainwashing situation, thank goodness it only lasted 12 years,” Schendel said.  “I don’t know where I would be if it didn’t.”

Schendel told the crowd how after World War II, he moved to the United States in 1952 and gained his citizenship with his mother in Texas in 1956.

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 “It wasn’t easy at first to come to a place like this,” Schendel said. “It’s a privilege to be an American and we have to honor that.”

Part of the purpose of the event was to hear from both sides, Schmidt said, because we don’t do too often. 

Leila Morrison’s WWII uniform rests on a table, along with her medals from the war. After the war was over and the prisoners were liberated, Morrison went to a concentration camp to help Jews who were in need of help as a part of the United States Army Air Corp. “It was horrible,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. It changed my life forever.” (AJ Frankson | Collegian)

Originally from Blue Ridge, Georgia, Morrison recounted her experience as an American nurse, on the opposite side of World War II from Schendel. At 22 years old, Morrison joined the USAAC.

“I just knew I was born to be a nurse,” Morrison said. “We had to learn a lot of the things the soldiers did — march, salute. Of course once we went overseas there was no time for that anymore.”

Morrison described how, as she traveled over to England, nine women shared a room meant for one woman on the Queen Elizabeth ship.  

Morrison was a firsthand observer of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Morrison said, during the war, she treated both American and German soldiers.

“A lot of fellas lost their arms and legs from frostbite, and there were a lot of casualties,” Morrison said. “There were so many Germans, they got everybody they could, the fellas said they had boys 13 or 14 years old and even grandpas … It was a little difficult, but we cared for them just like we did our own boys.”

Morrison detailed her experience as a witness of the liberation of the Jewish people imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp, one of the first and largest Nazi concentration camps in Germany. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Buchenwald closed in 1945. Morrison described the emerging inhabitants as “bones with a little bit of skin.”

With her fellow nurses, Morrison saw the camp’s crematory.

“They had a whole wall there full of ashes, full of bottles of ashes, and I don’t know why they kept them,” Morrison said.  “I’d seen too much already. That was something that changed your life.”

Jessi Campbell, a junior biology major and U.S. Marine veteran who attended the event, said she is fascinated with history and with World War II, and that the event was a great opportunity. 

“You don’t get very many opportunities like this now days, because soon we aren’t going to have opportunities like this to learn from,” Campbell said. 

In the future, the CSU History Department plans to host similar events, Schmidt said, with Morrison and Schendel as speakers alongside others. 

Both Morrison and Schendel closed the event with an interactive question and answer session. 

In his closing remarks, Schendel said so many people in America have died because of our freedom, cautioning students that “this is what we could face here if we don’t get involved with our government.”

In a similar vein, Morrison advised younger generations to “be thankful to be an American today.”

“I just took America for granted like everybody else,” Morrison said.  “I think you have to be out of it before you really appreciate it.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Jessi Campbell as “he” instead of “she.” This article has updated this article to reflect Campbell’s correct pronouns.

Peyton Dailey can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @peyton_dailey_.