Saturday, June 27, 2015

An Interview With Charles Dulin

On 6/18/15 I interviewed Charles Dulin, a WWII vet born in 1923.  I always like to say that 1923 was an unlucky year to be born.  If you were born in 1923, you would have been 18 in 1941; the year when Japan attacked the US and when Germany attacked the USSR.  While WWII technically started earlier, it was 1941 when things got really big.  Charles was in both the luckiest and unluckiest position that a soldier born in 1923 could be in.

Unlike other vets, he never left the US.  He was an "Attached Unassigned" which meant that he had no particular assignment.  He served for 3 years and remained a private for all 3 of those years.  He spent his time doing the jobs that nobody else really wanted to do.  He usually worked with planes, refueling and fixing them up.  Sometimes he would fly them/fly in them, but that didn't happen quite as often.

His story was rather interesting to listen to mainly because of how odd it was.  He was originally in training to be a meteorologist, but he was kicked out of meteorology school.  After that, the army never really assigned him to do anything so he remained a private for the rest of his time in the service.  He still performed his service though and he used the GI bill to get a Master's Degree in chemistry, so it wasn't all for nothing though.  Even if his story wasn't quite as exciting, it was still neat to document.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Interviewing Eddie Gillespie

Trials of the First Solo Interview

The road to getting in contact with Mr. Gillespie was a challenge in itself.  It took three individual phone calls to his residence at Autumn lake to get past the caretakers and the front desk.  Finally on the third try I was able to convince them that StoryQuest was a legitimate academic program, and they granted me access to Mr. Gillespie.  Yesterday I took a trip there and made my way to his room, only to find that his was lying in bed asleep.  I went to the nurse who woke him up, much to Mr. Gillespie's chagrin.  Mr. Gillespie unfortunately has a rare disease that away motor function from the waist down, which he is very bitter about.  I had a difficult time breaking the ice, as he did not shake my hand until eight seconds after I reached out.  I rarely get nervous, but interviewing Mr. Gillespie racked my nerves immediately from the second I entered the room.

Mr. Gillespie did not have that much to say.  Whether it was lack of memory or reluctance to dig deep into his past is debatable. I also perceived that Mr. Gillespie was uncomfortable speaking into the microphone, as he would keep back about a foot from it despite my efforts to bring it close.  This made understanding Mr. Gillespie while transcribing more difficult than necessary.

The content of the interview was spotty at best.  I did have two stand out stories other than the usual quips about rationing and patriotism.  The first was about speed limit reduction.  I assumed that the only regulation on cars was on gas intake, but apparently the speed limit was reduced to 35 mph in all areas according to Mr. Gillespie's knowledge.  If somebody was driving by at excess speed it was normal for a law abiding citizen to give some gesture of displeasure like shaking a fist or something to a similar degree.

The second story, and my personal favorite from the interview is his beach story.  Mr. Gillespie and his family went to the beach one summer in the middle of the war.  During any other time the beach would have been beautiful, resplendent with alabaster sand and crawling with wildlife.  This was unfortunately not the case for beach goers during those years.  The pure white sand had been replaced with sticky, pungent, black tar.  Mr. Gillespie explained how disgusting it was, and the sheer quantity of oil that had been washed up from tankers decimated by German U-boats.  This brought to light the ecological effects of the German assault aside from American casualties.

Mr. Gillespie also explained how he found a life raft that washed up on the tar beach.  He could tell that it was unused because all of the supply gear was still inside.  He and his cousin were about to take it with them, but the national guard showed up seemingly out of nowhere and pressured the two boys to leave without taking the life raft with them.  I'm curious what the guard wanted with the raft.  I can't imagine anything critical would have been on there.  The only reason I can think of is that they were trying to piece together what happened in a tanker explosion, and the raft might have had a clue on it.

My interview was suddenly interrupted by a family member that came to visit Mr. Gillespie.  Out of respect I ended the interview to give Mr. Gillespie time with his family.  At that point I had exhausted most of my questions.  The interview was disappointingly only 25 minutes long, but I felt that I had gotten out everything that Mr. Gillespie had to offer.  I'm a little upset that my first solo interview was relatively lackluster compared to others, but I am proud that I managed to handle all of the extra complications and conducted a professional interview all on my own.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ginny Hague: Class of 1941

Ginny Hague Class of 1941 Yearbook Photo
It's not everyday that you get to interview 1 of 4 people left from Washington College's Class of 1941. I was lucky enough to have that honor with interviewing Ginny Nock Hague.

Washington College has always been a close knit community of students, staff, and faculty. Yet for Ginny's class and those before hers, the community was even more tightly knit. On graduation day, President Mead, asked Ginny if he was going to invited to her wedding, which happened to be two short weeks after graduation. President Mead did receive an invite, but sadly, did not show up. She told me a little bit about her days in Reid Hall, where all of the women on campus stayed (no co-ed dorms like today!). Ginny mentioned how the ratio of men to women during her time at school was 2:1. All of her classes were in the same building (William Smith Hall), the dining hall was one room, and the gym had a metal balcony track and stood where our library now stands.

Ginny Hague Today 
Ginny Hague, a sister of Alpha Chi Omega, joined the sorority the first year it went National as well. She and her sisters would host dances, and the war that was going on in Europe was just a far away thing that simply didn't affect those at college during this time.
As Ginny was married two weeks after graduation, she moved to Pittsburgh with her husband Charlie Hague (Class of 1938), who was an electrical engineer. He was not drafted because he was an engineer. While they were living in a city, the company Charlie worked for bought a piece of rural land and allowed all of their workers and families to have a garden. Some gardens did really well, and others not so well. But the Hagues were lucky. Charlie had grown up on a farm (the same farm Ginny now lives on) and was able to maintain a flourishing Victory Garden.
Ginny Hague is a lovely woman, who was just a lot of fun to talk to. Her college years were truly some of the best years of her life. She also allowed me to play with her five kittens that she had sitting on her porch. Needless to say... It was a wonderful interview!

-Sarah Graff

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jack Stenger: WAC After the War

On 6/17/15, Joe and I interviewed Jack Stenger.  I did not handle the audio equipment this time and I think I did a better job as the head questioner than the last time I took on the position.

This interview felt a lot simpler than many of the previous interviews that I've done.  Jack wasn't the kind of person to move from topic to topic without being prompted and the interview was a little shorter than other ones clocking in at roughly 27:00.

One interesting thing that he talked about that hasn't been discussed in other interviews I've been in is the effect of the returning GIs and the postwar environment.  He was a Washington College student and he recalled a lot of older GIs attending college thanks to the GI bill.  He joked about how the older men dominated the dating scene; it was a neat thing to hear about.

He was 16 years old when WWII ended so he didn't serve in the war.  He did serve in the Korean war though where he flew what he called the "BSD" or Big Steel Desk.  He was in the intelligence service.

This interview was different from the other ones.  He didn't have much to say about the Second World War, but he had a lot more experience with the effects it had on the world after it.  It was a pretty interesting thing to hear about and I will admit, I did not see that coming.

--Elijah McGuire-Berk

14-year-old Volunteer Firefighter, Rogers Smith

How would you react if you woke up one day and all of the young men in your town were just gone? What would you do?

Sarah and Rogers.
For Rogers Smith, a 14 year old during WW2, it meant volunteering for the local Fire Department. Smith tells us that whenever he and his other firefighter friends heard the bell at the Fire Station go off while they were in school, they would have to get up during class and run down the street to hop on the Firetruck driven by a local pastor.

The school he went to in Churchill was also affected as one day the Principal of the school didn't show up as he joined the war effort as well! A retired principal from around town came in to hold the place of the principal who was serving overseas. Male teachers who enlisted or were drafted were replaced by retired female teachers, who provided a wonderful education for the students in school.
During this time most of the young men were not here in small towns or big cities, the young and the old would have to take their places. Communities were very tightly knit, and during these war times, everybody would do their best to help each other out.

Rogers is also a Washington College Alumni, class of 1951. He petitioned the school to live on campus when he was 17. He had to do this because he really wanted to live on campus, even though housing on campus was very limited as many GIs were coming back to school. Washington College has always been a small school, so to have such an influx in students coming from all sorts of backgrounds, everyone was really doing whatever they could. From building barrack like housing where Toll now stands, making dorms in the basement of the gym, the college was getting everything ready to keep the bustling college running. Rogers was able to get on campus housing, and lived in West Hall. He enjoyed going to school and loved to talk about Washington College.

-Sarah Graff (duo interview with Nick Coviello)

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Washington College Girl on the Homefront

On June 17, Abby Gordon and I interviewed Peggy Smith, a graduate of the WAC class of 1946 and mother-in-law of the College's own Pat Smith in the Registrar's office. Smith was living in Baltimore when the war started but moved to Chestertown in 1942 to attend the College, spending the rest of the war's duration as a Washington College student.

One of the most interesting stories that Smith gave us was not only humorous, but provided us with a glimpse into how the shortage of male students affected the College and its population. Smith was a member of the sorority Alpha Chi Omega and so they attended the Panhellenic Ball. One year, she and her sorority sisters had a problem: there were no young men around to escort them to the dance. How would they solve this problem? Well, they decided to call over to Dover Air Force Base and wrangle up some men. To their surprise and delight, on the night of the dance, all of the men who came were officers, some of them lieutenants and even a captain. They went to Cain gymnasium with their dapper dates and everyone was stunned, (and very impressed).

We learned about events like these and were able to delve further into a couple of personalities that we have come to know and love over these past few weeks. We learned about Sarah's hero Ms. Doris Bell and we learned about the quirky Dr. Ford, or "Fordy," as Smith called him.

This interview may have provided a lot of interesting stories, but it also posed many questions about the thoughts and feelings of Chestertown residents. Additionally, it makes me even more curious about what Washington College did to support the war effort.


Rodgers Smith: A look at Church Hill and WAC in the 40's

Unlike other interviewees, Mr. Smith's story focused mainly on his home town of Church Hill, about seven miles south of Chestertown.  Church Hill and surrounding towns were very isolated at the time.  There was no Bay Bridge, and it was a difficult trip to get to Annapolis, and incredibly arduous to get to Baltimore.  Because of this the community was tight knit, and became even closer during the war.  Mr. Smith like many agreed that things were simpler back then.  There were a couple of grocer stores in town and a movie theater and a drug store.  Other than that there were not any business's in town.  This is not to say that Church Hill was a dead town in any way.  There were plenty of tourists coming through either to see the town, or stopping by on the way to another destination.

The war changed the town considerably.  Mr.  Smith's strongest memory of the war was his realization one morning that all the men in town were gone.  He claimed it felt like it was overnight.  His teachers and principals were replaced by women or older teachers who were retired.  Young boy's including himself replaced spots in the fire department, and were deployed sometimes during school to put out a fire.  Sacrifices had to be made, and if it meant missing school to save a burning home 7 miles away it had to be done.  

Mr. Smith was too young for the war to be drafted, so he went to Washington College after high school.  He insisted that he live on campus, despite the fact that he only lived 7 miles away.  His wish was granted and he ended up living in West during his college career.  The dorms were organized differently during the 40's, with bathrooms and showers only on the 1st floor.  Mr. Smith recalled hearing his friends on the top floor complaining about the inconvenience.  Today we complain about having to share showers.  At least now we don't have to run up and down 4 flights of stairs just to take a poop.

The GI bill meant that most men on campus were at least in there mid 20's.  Mr. Smith was often outclassed on the dating front compared to the mature seasoned veterans.  He did claim that the advice and leadership of the veterans was crucial in his journey to maturity, as it was for many of the other young men at the school.  Although he did grow up fast at college, he still loved it, and remains in the loop on current college events and athletics

The most impressive thing about Mr. Smith was his patriotism.  He stated his pride for his country when the boy's came back to Church Hill at the end of the war.  He misses the cohesive American community fostered during WWII.  During his interview he became sentimental while talking about the boy's who did not make it back home.  The more I conduct these interview's the more I can see how clearly that generation valued the American way.  Mr. Rodgers Smith was no exception.