Friday, July 08, 2005

Granddad blogging: Oral history project

This is a portal to the oral history I recorded with my grandfather. New sections are posted weekly. Go straight to the first post or read more about this project

About this project and my grandfather:
I know I'm not an impartial observer, but my grandfather was an amazing man. He was kind, generous, intellectually curious, funny and ethical. He was eulogised as a great man, not for what he accomplished (which was enough) but for who he was and how he treated everyone he came in contact with, because he was a good man.

He was born in Wilson County, Tennessee in 1917, graduated from the University of Tennessee, taught school, worked for Roosevelt's rural development programs, sold tractors and after he retired sold antiques. He was always busy and thought that we should always be busy, too.

I recorded many hours of oral history with my grandfather several years before he died. He told me about family history, local history, his own views on things and his experiences during WWII.

Like many from our "greatest generation", he never talked about the war. In many ways, I suppose it was something he preferred to forget. In the late 40s and 50s, I'm told it frustrated his wife and children that he kept this part of his life hidden away. But as his grandchildren matured into adulthood (some of us better than others), he began to share the story. His own great-grandmother had lived through the Civil War in occupied Middle Tennessee, and he was frustrated by her reluctance to talk about her experience and imagined all sorts of horrible things. Eventually she told him it wasn't that bad, which he accepted. He told me that he didn't want us to speculate forever about his war experiences, and wanted us to know they weren't that bad. (They were bad enough) So he told me his war experiences which I transcribed and shared with the rest of the family.

My grandfather held truth-telling almost above all other things, but he would occasionally withold some of the details. His war stories nearly always play down his own part, he seems to wander through the war as a detached observer, and maybe that's what it felt like. He describes his fear and never covers himself in glory, though surviving in some of the bloodiest battles of the war as a replacement infantryman must have required bravery and skill.

I have started with the WWII transcripts, because that's where we started recording, but I will also share other stories, some of which cover aspects of Tennessee history that I have not seen recorded. I had promised my grandfather that I would give the recordings and transcripts to the University of Tennessee, which I haven't done (yet), but in the meantime, I am publishing them here.

Posts will be added weekly, on Tuesdays.

WWII posts
Start at the beginning with the first post.
Shipped to war 20 Sept 2005
To the front 27 Sept 2005
First Germans 4 Oct 2005
Under fire 11 Oct 2005
On the move 18 Oct 2005
Into Germany 25 Oct 2005
Taking Prisoners 1 Nov 2005
Tiger Tanks 8 Nov 2005

Tennessee boyhood posts
Horsewhipped 21 Mar 2006
Rooked 28 Mar 2006
Tough Love 11 Apr 2006
Chopping wood 18 Apr 2006
Cleaning up: 9 May 2006
Huntin' and choppin' 16 May 2006

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