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Documentary chronicles pre-World War II training in Tennessee

<i>WSMV</i><br/>Tennessee’s role in training hundreds of thousands of Americans to fight in World War II is being chronicled in a new documentary slated to be released in 2025.
Tennessee’s role in training hundreds of thousands of Americans to fight in World War II is being chronicled in a new documentary slated to be released in 2025.

By Lauren Lowrey

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    NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WSMV) — Tennessee’s role in training hundreds of thousands of American boys to fight in World War II is being chronicled in a new documentary slated to be released in 2025.

Kelly Magill, the owner of video production company KGV Studios, has been working since 2017 to capture personal stories from veterans who participated in war games and maneuvers in Tennessee between 1941 and 1944.

During that time, 21 counties in Middle Tennessee were used to train 850,000 soldiers who had just completed Basic Training and were slated to be deployed for D-Day and into other parts of Europe.

“[Soldiers] were doing their training in Middle Tennessee where we have the hills and the rivers,” says Magill. “Hundreds of thousands of soldiers trained in people’s backyards.”

War games were considered the safest way to simulate combat training in an environment that allowed for on-the-spot changing of procedures that would eventually save lives in combat. For eight weeks at a time, soldiers lived on Tennessee’s rural farmland and maneuvered as units in preparation for war.

“I’ve known about the maneuvers since I was a teenager when my grandmother wrote her memoirs,” recalls Magill who first learned about maneuvers in the 1980s.

One paragraph in the memoirs caught Magill’s attention. It reads:

“Army maneuvers seem to take over the farm. They brought in their tanks, jeeps and trucks. They didn’t have any regard for a fence. They just pushed them down and went on their way.’”

“So I stopped [reading] and said ‘Granny what is this?’”

Magill was intensely interested in the forgotten history and has since come to believe the stories were never recorded because the training was overshadowed by actual warfare.

“People believed it was their patriotic duty as part of the war effort,” says Magill.

In the years that followed, Magill established a sought-after video production company, but always kept her historical interests in the back of her mind. After reading a book that chronicled the history of war training in Tennessee, Magill realized she had acquired the skillset through her production company that would allow her to bring Tennessee’s history to life.

“I realized nobody had talked about this blending of 850,000 soldiers on millions of acres on rural property,” says Magill.

Magill began seeking out soldiers, historians and farm families to feature in this documentary. She has interviewed 80 people, to date, and has since amassed the largest body of recorded, first-hand accounts of how Tennessee prepared American boys for war.

Magill has since interviewed people like Charles McKinney, an 83-year-old farmer in Gordonsville, Tennessee, who was part of the group that found an airplane propeller from a downed P-39 that crashed in 1943. The plane was on a training mission out of Chattanooga. According to the military’s report, it was flying too low in a dogfight and with one wrong move, the plane went nose down and the pilot died on impact.

While the accident was cleaned up immediately, the propeller wasn’t discovered in a Gordonsville farm field until 2017.

“You can imagine how fast [the propeller] was turning when it hit the ground,” says McKinney. “I just don’t know how it survived.”

While Magill has a plethora of recorded interviews already, she still wants to conduct more. She’s particularly interested in capturing stories from any person who was living in the cities – like Nashville and Murfreesboro – at the time of the training (between 1941 and 1944).

She’s also interested in speaking with anyone in the African-American community who remembers the segregated events of that time.

“The youngest person I think I can interview is 88,” says Magill. “So it’s anyone who was born before 1935.”

If you or someone you know fits that description and has memories of that era, email Kelly Magill.

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