© 2023 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kewanee soldier's stories of life and love during World War II are the focus of recent book

Roy Kerr, Jr. was a storyteller. And unlike many World War II veterans, he talked about his wartime experiences.

Author Gary Kerr
Contributed photo
Author Gary Kerr

Springfield attorney Gary Kerr grew up with those stories. Kerr had his late father record many of those tales before he died. The tapes are the basis of Kerr's recent book WWII My Father's Journey: Friendship - War - Romance.

The book is written in the first-person perspective of Roy Kerr, Jr., a Kewanee native who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942. He served in the medical corps of the 5th Army.

"Unlike other World War II books, it doesn't focus on the great battles. It focuses more on people, their personal experiences, their emotions, the stress that they were going through," Gary Kerr said.

Serving in the medical corps wasn't easy, Kerr said.

"They suffer tremendously from the stress of caring for people taking care of people who are wounded and dying and sick. And the horrors of war. The book focuses on on the people, how they adapted to the circumstances they found themselves in," he said.

Roy Kerr spent much of the war serving with his close friend, Lyle. The two men watched each other's backs throughout World War II.

The elder Kerr served both in North Africa and in Italy during the war. He recalled an experience in North Africa where an injured man told him he was saved by a "commanding voice" telling him to flee a foxhole, moments before it was shelled.

The identity of the owner of that commanding voice was never known, but the elder Kerr speculated it may have been God himself telling the man it wasn't his time to die.

It was in Italy where romance enters the picture.

"There's a thread of romance through the whole book. And, you know, through the trials of war, my father found romance, and he found a very, very special person. And that was my mother," Gary Kerr said.

Kerr didn't want to give away the whole story, but he said the story of how his parents met starts with seeking out a place to cook some black market eggs purchased in Florence, Italy during a major food shortage.

"He was a wonderful guy. He was the kind of guy who acted on his own instincts. And he did that not only in the war, but even after he came back as as a businessman," said Kerr. "And if those instincts told him, 'We need to break the rules, in order to better serve the people that we're trying to help,' he would break the rules. And that's not always looked upon favorably by the military, especially during a war."

Kerr will sell and sign copies of his book on Saturday, July 9 at the Peoria Barnes & Noble store from 2-4 p.m.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. You – together with donors across the NPR Network – create a more informed public. Fact by fact, story by story. Please take a moment to donate now and fund the local news our community needs. Your support truly makes a difference.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.