The Veterans Oral History project

Check out the American Folklife Center’s Veterans Oral History project website: The Veterans Oral History project.

The Maine Folklife Center joined with the American Folklife Center at the Smithsonian Institution as a partner in collecting the stories of veterans in our state. We concentrated on collecting reminiscences from women veterans in Maine. Pauleena MacDougall and Davida Kellogg joined forces in acquiring funding from the Women in Curriculum Program at the University of Maine to conduct oral history interviews with women veterans.

In our society, military service is generally taken on as an obligation or prerogative of men. But, as Miriam Cooke observed, “some women, like some men, are opposed to war and the military, some avoid both whenever possible, and some embrace both.” We propose to examine the motivations, experiences, and reflections of local women who made the unorthodox choice of military service in our country’s wars from WWII to our current involvement in Iraq, through the medium of oral history. For the interviewees, the taping and accessioning of their oral histories serves the purpose of validating and preserving the truth of their experience, not as reporters perceived it and civilian academics presented it, but as they remember living it. This has been a matter of concern for many of the Vietnam veterans already interviewed by Kellogg. One man complained bitterly of the popular perception that marines in his area of operation had been met by “dancing girls,” when in fact his unit had come ashore under fire; another, himself a military historian, mentioned the unreality of television reportage of an action he had just been in. For the historian, oral history has the virtue of capturing experiential details about what it was like to serve on a daily basis in a particular capacity with a particular unit in a particular theater of operations at a particular juncture in a particular war, which fly beneath the radar, so to speak, of more traditional historiography. For women veterans, misperceptions and neglect of their personal experience of war is even more pervasive. This proposal is for an independent series of about 15 tape-recorded interviews with women veterans of WWII, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, the Gulf War, and Bosnia. However, the questions to be asked will be compatible with those prescribed for a larger oral history for the Library of Congress, to which we will be contributing; with questions already asked of female veterans by students in last fall’s Women and War seminar; and with those asked in Kellogg’s on-going independent survey of predominantly male Vietnam vets, so that cross-gender, -cultural, -occupational, and -generational comparisons may be made.

“Most history has been characterized as the history of men going to war,” according to Gila Safran Naveh, Professor of Judaic Studies and comparative literature at the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Safran asserts, “if we learn about women, we learn from the men. So women’s voice is distorted or silenced.” But from the American Revolution (in which “Molly Pitcher” first served water to Continental troops on the battlefield and then stayed to serve her husband’s cannon after he was wounded), to the Civil War (in which Clara Barton tended her patients at the Battle of Antietam stopping only to wring their blood from the hem of her skirt), to WWII (in which women put on the uniforms of their country’s armed services in order to free men from secretarial and other rear echelon jobs for combat duty), to the Gulf War (in which women pilots flew Army helicopters), women have always actively shared in the authorship of American military history. If we are unfamiliar with the chapters of that history that they wrote, it can only be because we do not think to ask them.

We conducted an independent series of tape recorded oral histories of women veterans of WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts, the Gulf War, and Bosnia in parallel with interviews already planned for the Veterans Oral History Project sponsored by the Library of Congress. There are some 8,000 women veterans living in Maine according to Donna Loring, former Director of the state’s Commission of Women Veterans. A large number of these women served in WWII and Korea, and were reaching their elderly years. This made reaching them a timely project.

As an instrument for shedding light on women’s roles in American military history, oral history has the special advantage of being able to encompass both the technical historical questions of strategy, tactics, and operations that are presented in more traditional histories, and the deeply personal question of what wartime service was really like that standard histories either elide or fail to do justice.

Questions we to addressed include:

  • Who are these women, who (since we have never drafted women) self-selected themselves for military service?
  • Where do they come from?
  • What are the familial and societal influences affecting their non-traditional choice?
  • Do the same factors that motivate their brothers-in-arms to join up motivate them? (From Kellogg’s interviews with male Vietnam veterans, it appears that their fathers’ approval was among the most compelling, if not the single most influential factor in these men’s decision to enlist; Miriam Cooke suggests that desire for full first-class citizenship may be a driving force in women’s choice of military careers).
  • What were their experiences in training? (In basic training camps, OCS, and, since 1980, in our military academies [see, for instance, “In the Men’s House” by a member of the first class of women to graduate from West Point]).
  • Which military occupational specialties were open to them and which closed? (Only the Coast Guard puts no restrictions on the jobs women can do and women in combat remains a subject of intense debate [see recent articles in Parameters, the journal of the US Army War College);
  • What was their leadership like and how did they lead?
  • What was their experience of combat? (Some nurses, for instance, found themselves in medical facilities that were being overrun by the enemy).
  • How do they react to ethical issues presented by warfare? (One of Kellogg’s female interviewees recounted being pressured to attend parties with higher ranking male officers in order to obtain needed supplies for her surgical facility).
  • How did their attitudes towards themselves, their comrades, and their nation change through exposure to warfare? (see Mary Reynolds Powell’s recent book and her interview with Kellogg).
  • How well do they integrate themselves back into civilian society?
  • Are women soldiers as vulnerable to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as men, and do they experience PTSD in the same ways as men do? (“Home Before Morning,” an Army nurse’s memoir of the Vietnam Conflict by Lynda Van Devanter, for instance, reveals many striking similarities between male and female vets in this regard).
  • Are any differences related to gender rather than occupation, rank, or other factors affecting their experience of military service? (See LG Claudia Kennedy’s Generally Speaking).

This latter question can be answered by comparing responses of male and female interviewees to sample interview questions we plan to use in our larger contribution to the Library of Congress Veteran’s History Project. In addition, Kellogg has asked similar questions of male interviewees in her oral history of Vietnam vets, which has been on going over the past 13 years. Her collection of taped interviews is by now fairly extensive (on the order of thirty to forty ninety minute or longer interviews), and a number of them are already transcribed and accessioned by the Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History. Conversations with Mazie Hough have confirmed that many of these questions are the same as, or interchangeable with, those asked by her and Carol Toner’s students this past fall in their Women and Warfare course at the University of Maine. We completed some interviews with women veterans in Kellogg’s collection, and additional interviews done by students in Toner and Hough’s course. MacDougall and Kellogg’s intention was to interview an additional three women per conflict (a total of approximately fifteen additional interviews) for this study, and to analyze them for commonalities both with each other and with men in our other interview samples who served in the same theaters of operation, as well as cultural, generational, gender, and occupational differences.

Dr. MacDougall was Associate Director of the Folklife Center and has extensive experience in oral history; Dr. Kellogg taught military history and ethics for Army ROTC, has presented papers on the Vietnam experience at conferences on the history of the Vietnam Conflict and the Popular Culture Association. She has been doing oral histories of Vietnam Veterans since 1989, during which time she has established a wide network of contacts within the local and national veterans’ communities. As mentioned above, we already had access to a body of interviews with women veterans and another with mostly men, and we expected analysis of these to inform the proposed additional interviews with women veterans.

Interviews recorded for this project and transcripts were accessioned by the Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History and made available for scholarly research within the limits of any restrictions individual interviewees may have placed on dissemination of their tapes. These interviews also form part of the larger Library of Congress oral history to which MacDougall and Kellogg contributed other interviews. For Kellogg, these interviews to resulted in several papers on ethics and leadership and informed her lectures on military ethics and military history for Army ROTC. MacDougall developed additional public programming from the materials generated by the project for the Maine Folklife Center.

Interviews by Davida Kellogg held by the Maine Folklife Center

NA2057 Kellogg, Davida. Spring 1989. Maine: Orono. 16 pp. Tape: 1/2 hr. w/ trans. Interview with Prof. John Battick about his childhood recollections of life as the son of a career enlisted man in the U.S. Navy, particularly his memories of December 7, 1941. C579

NA2063 Kellogg, Davida. Spring 1989. Maine: Orono. 61 pp. Tape: 1 1/2 hrs. w/trans. Interview with Michael Doherty in which he talks about his experiences as a weapons crew chief during the Viet Nam War. RESTRICTED. C583

NA2064 Kellogg, Davida. Spring 1989. Maine: Orono. 53 pp. Tapes: 1 1/2 hrs. approx. w/ trans. Interview with Alex McLean, who taught English to Vietnamese Air Force personnel as part of the Defense Department’s Language Institute. He discusses his experiences during the war including daily life in Saigon, attitudes towards the Vietnamese, war mythology, the black market. RESTRICTED. C584.1, C584.2

NA2065 Kellogg, Davida. Spring 1989. Maine: Orono. 43 pp. Tape: 1 1/4 hrs. approx. w/ trans. Interview with Professor Robert Whalen about his experiences as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Airborne Rangers during two tours of duty in Vietnam. RESTRICTED. C585

NA2070 Kellogg, Davida. Spring 1989. Maine: Orono. 31 pp. Tape: 1 1/2 hr. w/ trans. Interview with Dr. Greg White, Director of Land and Water Resources at the University of Maine, Orono, talks about his experiences in the Vietnam War. Also includes xerox of a map entitled South Vietnam Administrative Divisions and Military Districts and one hand drawn diagram showing vietcong trail markings. RESTRICTED. C593

NA2071 Kellogg, Davida. Summer 1989. Maine: Orono. 16 pp. Tape: 1 hr. w/trans. Interview with Commander Thomas Dewey Meeter of the University of Me. NROTC discusses his Vietnam experiences. Also includes one xeroxed map of S. Vietnam entitled “Vietnam”, one handrawn diagram showing Navy “linebacker Strikes”. RESTRICTED. C594

NA2345 Kellogg, Davida. June 1992. New York: West Point. 23pp. Tape: 1 w/transcript. Interview with Colonel Kenneth E. Hamburger, Department of History, US Military Academy, West Point. He talks about his military training and his service in Vietnam in the 1960’s as a helicopter pilot with the 229th of the 1st Air Cavalry. RESTRICTED: For scholarly use only. The director must clear use. C1364

NA2346 Kellogg, Davida. December 1989. Maine: Orono. 40pp. Tape: 1 w/ transcript. Interview with Col. William R. Porter, Professor of Military Science at the University of Maine talking about his experiences in the UN and teaching at the University of Maine.
RESTRICTED: For scholarly use only, must be cleared by the director. C1365

NA2347 Kellogg, Davida. June 1992. New York: West Point. 36pp. Tape: 1 w/ transcript. Interview with James Ahrens talking about his experiences in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War working in the Army’s Civil Affairs division.
RESTRICTED: For scholarly use only, use must be cleared by the director. C1366

NA2348 Kellogg, Davida. September 1990. Maine: Orono. 38pp. Tape: 1 w/ transcript. Interview with Col. Jerome Palanunk, Commanding Officer of the Air Force ROTC unit at the University of Maine talking about his Air Force career and experiences as a B-52 crew member in the UN.
RESTRICTED: For scholarly use only, use must be cleared by the director. C1367

NA2349 Kellogg, Davida. December 1989. Maine: Belgrade. 33pp. Tape: 1 w/ transcript. Interview with Steve Bentley, head of Vets Incorporated, an employment agency for Veterans in Portland, Maine talking about his experiences in the UN and the physical, psychological and emotional troubles Vietnam Vets have had after Vietnam. RESTRICTED: For scholarly use only, use must be cleared by the director. C1368

NA2350 Kellogg, Davida. July 1989. Maine: Orono. 47pp. Tape: 1 w/ transcript. Interview with Thomas “Tank” Meehan, chief of security at the University of Maine talking about his experiences as a pilot in Vietnam in the late 1960s. RESTRICTED: For scholarly use only, use must be cleared by the director. C1369

NA2361 Kellogg, Davida. July 1990. Maine: Orono. 31pp. Tape: 1 w/ transcript. Interview with Mary Beth Parks regarding her experiences as a US Army Nurse in the Vietnam War in 1966-67. C1407

NA2995 Sandra L. Smith, interviewed by Davida Kellogg, August 16, 2002. 34 page transcript. Smith discusses her career in the Navy; boot camp; women in the military; Navy aircraft; Gulf War in 1990; serving in Saudi Arabia; Vincennes incident; military recognition systems and electronic instrumentation; being a social worker and counselor for the Veteran’s Administration; Veteran’s Centers in Maine; Persian Gulf syndrome; patriotism; sense of connection with comrades; psychological stresses of military life; and veteran’s reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. C 2035

NA2996 Major Brenda Childs Jordan, interviewed by Davida Kellogg, August 15, 2002. 36 page transcript. Jordan talks about her experiences as a cadet at West Point, 1984-1987; women at West Point; relationships between men and women in the Army and at West Point; discrimination issues; family reaction to her career choice; experience as an officer in a “jumping unit” of the Signal Corps; paratrooper training; working with ROTC in Maine; ROTC cadets; sexual harrassment; and women as snipers. C 2036

NA2997 William V. Braniff, interviewed by Davida Kellogg, June 21, 2002. 50 page transcript. Braniff talks about his family history in the Canadian Army; his service in the Canadian Army; deciding to join U. S. Army to fight in Vietnam; basic training; experiences at Fort Dix in New Jersey; being a game warden at Fort Dix; getting his assignment for Vietnam; experience of the Tet offensive; infantry life in Vietnam; combat experiences; body counts; tunnel rats; returning to the U. S.; returning to Canada with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; and infiltrating Communist organizations for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. C 2037 – C 2038

NA2998 Mary Cady, interviewed by Davida Kellogg, June 25, 2002. 19 page transcript. Cady discusses her career in the Army, 1970-1990, in the reserves after 1974; decision to join; women in the military; relationships with male officers and enlisted men; women in combat; and her experience with having children while in the reserves. C 2039

NA2999 James E. Crinter, interviewed by Davida Kellogg, June 10, 2002. 17 page transcript. Criner talks about his childhood; joining the Civilian Conservation Corps; joining the Army in 1935; enlisting in the Navy in 1939; his career in the Navy; convoy duty during World War Two; his duties as a radioman; on a water distilling ship in the Pacific; on-shore assignments; radar; teaching at the Naval Academy; year in Vietnam; and retiring. C 2040

NA3000 Carol Estabrooke Dowling, interviewed by Davida Kellogg, August 31, 1991. Dowling talks about her career in the Air Force; basic training; going to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War; childcare; conditions at the airstrip in the desert; food supply; recreation; other assignments; women in the military; loading bombs onto airplanes; and combining family life with dual careers in the Air Force. C 2041