WWII donations made to university

Jordan Gorsuch, Reporter

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Saint Francis became home to assorted World War II memorabilia this past Veteran’s Day. Items from two separate donations were made in conjunction with the day set aside to honor those who served in the U.S. military. The donated items will be available for public observation in the near future.

The donations came from Joseph Keirn, a retired Command Sergeant Major, and from the family of Saint Francis graduate Renalto Ferretti.

Keirn amassed his collection, the larger of the two, over several decades. After 35 years of service to the U.S. Army, he retired and launched a radiator business–Keystone Radiator–in Altoona. He said he was inspired to preserve the stories of his fellow veterans, many of which he learned about during his years of military service.

Tim Whisler, Dean of the School of Arts and Letters, was surprised at the number of items in Keirn’s collection. “I was picturing the ‘typical’ World War II collection–some uniforms and some guns,” said Whisler. “It took hours to look through the collection. I was not prepared for it to be so substantial.”

Keirn shared information about his collection with Pennsylvania Sen. John Eichelberger, who then stopped by the veteran’s home to examine some of the pieces. The state senator encouraged him to share his collection with others.

Keirn decided that Saint Francis would serve as an appropriate venue for his collection and reached out to the University.

“The goal is to tell this national story through the local perspective,” said Rob Young, Assistant Vice President for Government Relations at SFU. “I’ve been to a lot of museums, but I’ve never been to one that captures the essence of a time period like Joe has.”

One of the goals of the project is to issue grants to help organize and preserve this collection. The hope is to get students involved and have them interview families and veterans, to help record the local flavor of this time period.

The second part of the Veterans Day donation to SFU came in the form of Renalto Ferretti’s personal collection. A graduate of SFU, Ferretti continued his education at Lehigh University, where he was selected to join the Chicago Team of the Manhattan Project. The team designed the first atomic bomb, which would ultimately be dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Ferretti successfully researched the effects of radiation on the human body.

“According to Ferretti’s family, (Robert) Oppenheimer went around, asking the scientists (working on the project) whether they should drop the bomb on Japan,” said Whisler. “Ferretti voted yes because he feared for his brother, who was part of the first Marine divisions set to invade Japan.”

Ferretti’s niece, Julie, and her husband, Charles, made the donation, which included the officer’s Army uniform, some of his research and SFU memorabilia.

The University is currently conducting an inventory of the donated items and will eventually place them on permanent display for scholarly research and public viewing.

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