World War II was a global conflict of immeasurable proportions, told and retold in a half century of history books, documentaries and movies. Yet for the men and women who lived it, the war was a very personal experience, one that revealed the best and worst sides of human nature.
Gifford Doxsee saw hatred personified in Junior, a member of the Hitler Youth who stood guard over the American GI and others captured in the Battle of the Bulge. Junior took special pleasure in tormenting Kurt Vonnegut, prodding the future Slaughterhouse-Five author with a bayonet as he cleared rubble following Allied bombings of Dresden. Kurt demonstrated nerves of steel, said Doxsee, an Ohio University professor emeritus of history. Had he even once so much as uttered a whisper of protest, he knew it would cost him his life.
James Drumwright learned that preparation and faith can overcome fear when he stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day against a hail of German gunfire. We trained nearly two years for that moment, and all we did was an extension of that training, said Drumwright, BFA 49. I felt, and I still feel, there is a hand on my shoulder guiding me through moments like that.
These men were among six former Ohio University students and faculty members who shared their World War II experiences some for the first time during a panel discussion on campus this past fall. An overflow crowd of 125 spectators listened intently as cameras rolled, capturing the event for broadcast in November on Ohio University Public Television. Distinguished Professor of History Alonzo Hamby served as moderator.
The discussion evolved from conversations Ohio University President
Robert Glidden has had with alumni over the years. I have repeatedly
heard about war heroes from the University, Glidden said, and
this forum offered an opportunity for some of them to share their stories
with current students.
The veterans, who were of college age when called to duty, had sage
advice for todays students.
Take advantage of every opportunity to achieve your goals, said alumnus Richard Cole, who left Ohio University in 1941 to join the service. Be aggressive in doing so, but not at the expense of others.
As a young man in the Virginia National Guard, Samuel Williams was
contemplating his discharge when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He
went on to fly 35 combat missions over Germany and Russia as a B-17
I was never afraid of anything back then, and Im still not afraid of anything, said Williams, BSIE 48. I had a knife strapped to one leg and a pistol strapped to the other. If I was going to go down, I was going down fighting.
Like the others, the war provided a proving ground for John Jones, BSCO 49, who completed 50 combat missions as a command officer and trained with the late actor Jimmy Stewart to instruct B-24 pilots.
The sacrifice, the veterans said, was worth the price.
War is mean, cruel, dirty, heartless and unforgiving, Cole said, but there are times when freedom is at stake, and it must be resorted to.
Added Klare: I didnt know what freedom was because I didnt know what it wasnt. When youre locked in a cell and everything is done at the whim of a guard with a gun, you learn to appreciate freedom.
The veterans lessons werent lost on their audience, said ROTC student Justin Coffman.
I was impressed by the sheer power of hearing them talk, Coffman said. I cant imagine the fright they must have felt. But, somehow, they found something deep inside that allowed them to go on, and I admire that. It makes you want to do more for your country and for other individuals.
Jack Jeffery is a media specialist with Ohio University Media Services.
Pieces of history