On May 25, 1945 Marilyn Kersting, who was just 8 years old at the time, was driving with her family to Dodge City when they saw a airplane doing circles in the sky. Upon their arrival in Dodge the family was informed that a plane had recently crashed near Windthorst. As more details emerged, it turned out the plane had crashed into her uncle's farm. The family rushed back as fast as they could, but there were already many people on the farm trying to help and find out what exactly happened.
"My uncle was up on the barn at the time," Kersting recalled, "and when the plane came down, it just barely missed him. He didn't think he'd make it to see another day."
World War II was still being fought when the plane went down, and many Americans were distrustful of the Japanese, because of Pearl Harbor, so when a mysterious plane fell out of the sky in western Kansas, rumors begain to circulate that it was another Japanese attack.
"My uncle never thought it was an enemy plane," Kersting said, "but several people, mostly younger children, were terrified."
The essay has several mentions of children running and hiding under their beds, or telling their parents "the Japs are coming!"
Curious and terrified residents flocked to the field where the crash occurred and tried their best to lend a hand.
It soon became clear that this wasn't in fact the enemy attacking, it was an American B-24 Liberator from the Liberal Army Air Field. The pilot and four crew members had managed to parachute to safety several miles away.
What was thought to be part of an invasion of Japanese kamikaze pilots turned out to be a simple crash due to a motor problem.
But, as the essay concludes; "... the mention of this incident will elicit tales and recollections from those who were around at the time 'when the war came to Kansas.'"
Turning history into a story
Kersting and her family's experiences on that May day was something that was told and retold in her family for years to come. She wrote something for family members to share, but it used very casual language, and it talked about family members personally. So, when her son Kenton heard about a Kansas Historical Foundation story contest, he decided to turn the family story into something that could be shared with others.
Kenton did some research and added more details and submitted an essay for the contest in October 2012.
Just a few weeks ago Kenton and his mother were notified that their essay, "A Pearl Harbor 'Scare' in the Heart of Kansas", had received first place in the contest.
"It was really a nice honor when I found out we had won," Kersting said. "Of course, it was also a huge surprise because I had no idea that Kenton had done anything with my story."
Page 2 of 2 - The Kerstings were invited to the Native Sons and Daughters Banquet where their essay was recognized.
"The banquet was very exciting," Kersting said, "this is also where they named the Kansans of the Year, so there were several important people there."
The essay was featured in the program for the evening, along with the runners up, and winners in other categories. Kersting and her son were both called up during the banquet to be recognized for their work.
Kersting doesn't have any plans to write any other stories in the future, but she said maybe her son will.
"I told him, I'll give him the idea, and he can write the story," she said. "He's really a much better writer than I am anyway."
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