by Kalie Ammons
Gerald W. Pankop, Private First Class, Army Veteran, WWII, Belgium, European Theater will be immortalized in National Geographic’s video archives in the months to come.
Mr. Pankop travels to Wabash County high schools to talk about his experiences at the Battle of Bulge in Belgium, where he earned his Purple Heart and Bronze Star the day before his nineteenth birthday.
Before giving his speech at Southwood Jr.-Sr. High School, where his daughter Rita Griffith works as a teacher, Pankop was asked by Tara Ulmer, a social studies teacher, if he would mind if she recorded him. He was more than willing, thinking that he might be able to save some trips to the school.
“But I didn’t know at the time that when she’s not teaching school, she works for National Geographic in Washington, D.C. and she said that she’s going to take my video and put it in the archives, and she said it’ll be in the National Geographic archives until the building falls down! Which I think would be nice,” Pankop excitedly told ‘The Paper.’
As impressive as the recognition from National Geographic is, Pankop was just as thrilled for the next idea Ulmer had for his speech:
“And she said when she got done pulling strings together at National Geographic, that she was going to put it on Youtube! And that goes all over Wabash County, and Germany and France and Spain and the world, you know? And I thought how neat that would be.”
Pankop spoke about how this would help get his story out to everyone who is interested in the Second World War. He wishes he could give his speech everywhere he is asked, but is already overwhelmed.
“I do it, not for myself so much, but for the young people, like at the high schools. …It just throws me to pieces, because people in Wabash County, whoever’s interested in WWII, can see my talk.”
In his speech, Pankop avoids gory details about the killing in war and focuses more on the life of the soldiers. He talks about sleeping in snowdrifts to keep warm, eating only three hot meals during his entire time in Belgium and wearing the same clothes for a month until he was hit with a mortar shell that shattered his leg “like a jigsaw puzzle.”
Pankop leaves students with encouraging words about ability and necessity:
“I say, you think you could do that? And everybody’s going ‘no way!’ And I say yes you can, if you had to, you could do it. They don’t realize that.”