Doug Culver, a native of Oregon who’s lived in Canton for nine years, has been teaching people about World War II by using his “What they Carried” presentations to display uniforms, weapons and related gear used by the armed forces. During his presentations, he runs a slideshow of historical information on the war and assists audience members in trying on the gear and holding the sometimes-heavy weapons used by our WWII veterans.

Doug Culver, right, helps an audience member put on an Army Air Corps gunner flak vest, with assistance from another member of the audience at one of Culver’s presentations on World War II. Submitted photo

Name: Doug Culver

Age: 68

Hometown: Canton, but moved to Canton from Oregon in 2010

Occupation:  Retired criminal investigator, after 34 years in the criminal justice system

How did you first become interested in collecting World War II artifacts? When I was a junior in high school and taking a U.S. history class, the teacher brought in some of his collection of WWII uniforms and equipment to display as part of his sessions on the war. His program that week made the history of WWII vivid and sparked my interest in studying and collecting WWII items. Later, in my early 30s, when my collection grew large enough, I began doing displays and presentations at high school history classes in the same way, so the students could see and feel the equipment first-hand. I hoped to spark their interest in studying the history of WW II as well.

When I was younger just about every man in my community was a WWII veteran, including the police chief, the postman and the gas station attendant, as well as our firemen and teachers. I had learned of their accomplishments and I wanted to keep the memory of their service alive by passing it along to others. Many of the uniforms in my display were given to me by those veterans for use in my presentations. They wanted their stories told. The did not want their efforts to be forgotten, especially by the younger generations.

Doug Culver talks to an audience about the Army Air Corps and the equipment worn in aircraft during World War II at a Veterans Day presentation. Submitted photo.

What are your “What They Carried” presentations about and what do you do during the presentations? I discuss and demonstrate American, German and Japanese uniforms, weapons and equipment. While doing so, I tell the personal stories of men who served, and give an outline of WWII history. During the program, I select different audience members to try on equipment, such as a parachute or flak vest, so I can demonstrate how the equipment operates and the challenges of the men who used them. After the program, I encourage others to try on those items as well, with my assistance. Everyone is always surprised by the weight and how difficult it must have been for the men to do their jobs. Firearms and other ordnance are part of the display. All weapons have been rendered safe for viewing by the public, and I hold a valid federal firearms license. I encourage members of the audience, with my assistance, to handle selected items and to experience first-hand the feel of the various objects.

How were the Allied Forces able to penetrate the “Atlantic Wall” of German defenses in one day, June 6, 1944? One of the main reasons for the success of D-Day was the (fake) Allied Ghost Army that was set up to appear ready (to launch) an attack from England across the channel to the area of Calais. This was a considerable distance from the actual invasion site of Normandy. The commander of the Ghost Army was America’s most visible and outspoken general who the Germans feared the most, General George Patton Jr.

The Ghost Army consisted of a small unit of soldiers who had been artists, sound engineers and other civilian occupations that all came together to create the illusion of a real army ready to attack. Most of the trucks, tanks, artillery, airplanes and landing craft were made of a rubber substance that would be filled with air using small portable air compressors. With these rubber dummies, any German spy or German aircraft would think these were real and part of the invasion. So, with General Patton as commander and an entire army poised to attack, the Germans, especially Hitler, believed the deception. Hitler ordered several German Army divisions to stay in the area of Calais; those divisions should have been in Normandy.

How were pigeons used during WWII? War pigeons have been used by armies for centuries to deliver messages, the same is true during WWII. Carrier (homing) pigeons by nature, and some training, will return to their home coop when released a distance away.

Strapped to their leg was a small vial where a written coded message can be placed by a soldier in a combat zone. The pigeon is then released and will arrive at his coop at headquarters delivering the message. This may be hundreds of miles away.

Most of the pigeon handlers were in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, but many were paratroopers that carried pigeons into combat, either in an individual pigeon harness attached to the parachute, or in a cage of eight pigeons with its own parachute.

Doug Culver poses with a U.S Army soldier private mannequin at his D-Day presentation at the Canton Historical Society in June. Rumford Falls Times photo by Marianne Hutchinson

In the back of a standard WWII message book, there are several pages of very thin tissue paper (called) “Pigeon Paper” that was used to write the messages on. The lightweight paper made the flight of the pigeon easier.

Of course, the Germans knew the Allies were using pigeons to send messages, so they were on the lookout to shoot down any pigeons they saw. Many Allied pigeons were awarded medals of valor for delivering messages successfully under difficult conditions.

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