TRAVERSE CITY — Bill Steffler isn’t your average 90-something.
The World War II veteran volunteers at the Traverse City History Center, and often shares his wartime experiences with students and other groups.
Steffler, 91, left his home in Flint and trained for war in Louisiana, then was was sent to Europe, where he served in the 103rd Infantry Division, 928th Field Artillery.
He was the first member of his outfit to take a German prisoner, and he later saw people freed from concentrations camps.
“You’d begin to realize how rotten the Nazis were. It was beyond belief the way they treated these people in those death camps,” said Steffler.
The History Center of Traverse City is putting on a World War II display to commemorate experiences like Steffler’s. The display shows a variety of memorabilia, uniforms, newspaper clippings and photographs of Traverse City and its residents at the time.
“It started off as a tribute to World War II veterans, and now it’s more of a tribute to World War II and anyone who made an effort,” said Maddie Buteyn, the exhibit and events coordinator for the History Center. “It’s a hodgepodge of World War II.”
Buteyn learned all about the efforts of local Traverse City residents to help the war. The windows on Front Street, instead of advertising cherries, promoted the war effort, war bonds and recycling of rubber and paper.
A group of teenagers even collected clothing to send overseas, Buteyn said. She was especially fascinated by a call for people to donate their knives to soldiers overseas.
Buteyn said she was motivated to do the exhibit in part because the museum had a lot of memorabilia from the Spanish-American War and World War I, but not as much from World War II.
“Doing senior programs and realizing everyone around my grandpa’s age are all dying away and they’re not going to be here much longer, so we need to not forget that time,” she said.
The History Center also will host a special veterans’ program Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. about a Coast Guard rescue of two planes that went down over Greenland during the war.
“It attaches to Traverse City history personally,” said Buteyn.
Members of the Coast Guard controlled the boats that dropped Allied soldiers on the shores of Normandy and also saved drowning soldiers who couldn’t swim with their gear, Bueyn said.
The overall exhibit, called “A Salute to World War II Veterans,” will be on display beginning today through Dec. 6.
In the meantime, Steffler and his wife, Vera, will continue to volunteer at the museum.
“Hopefully, in reviewing history you use it to better plan the future,” Steffler said. “The ideal thing would be to look at the artifacts from history and try and design or predict how we can avoid these problems.”