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.”

George Klare witnessed kindness and heroism in the act of a German guard who dispersed an angry crowd of German citizens in the city of Fulda and led Allied prisoners to safety. The guard, a Luftwaffe captain, had lost his own family in the Allied bombing of Germany. “I owe my life to him,” said Klare, distinguished professor emeritus of psychology and a navigator who was shot down over Germany. “He was the bravest man I ever saw.”

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 today’s 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.”

The war left a lifelong impression on Cole, but it didn’t bridle his spirit. “Having seen the worst of life at a young age, it helped me set my priorities, be thankful for my blessings and live a happy, productive life,” said Cole, who was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the raid over Tokyo.

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 crew chief.

“I was never afraid of anything back then, and I’m 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.

“It matured us very quickly,” he said. “All at once, you’re in a situation where you’re completely on your own and you have to stand in there and be your own person. From what I saw, everyone measured up and did their jobs. I think the present generation would do the same thing under similar circumstances.”

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 didn’t know what freedom was because I didn’t know what it wasn’t. When you’re 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 weren’t lost on their audience, said ROTC student Justin Coffman.

“I was impressed by the sheer power of hearing them talk,” Coffman said. “I can’t 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

A letter from Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, reassuring Richard Cole’s mother that her son was homesick but OK, is among the World War II memorabilia donated to Alden Library’s Archives and Special Collections Department by alumnus Richard Cole of Comfort, Texas.

Cole was Doolittle’s co-pilot when he led 16 B-25 bombers in a raid over Tokyo on April 18, 1942. The Richard Cole Collection offers a glimpse of Cole’s exploits during the daring raid and his service throughout the war.

Among the items, which have been donated over the past two years, is a photo of Cole and Doolittle with some of the Chinese civilians and government officials who rescued them after they bailed out over China following the raid. The collection also includes a lithograph of a B-25 bomber, which is signed by survivors of the raid.

When Cole parachuted from the plane, he tugged his ripcord so hard he gave himself a black eye. That ripcord is among the donated items.


Richard Cole (center in the top photo) stands to the left of Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle in a photo taken in China after the raid on Tokyo.


George Klare


Gifford Doxsee, an Ohio University professor emeritus of history, was taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge. (Hold your mouse over this image to see his military photograph.)


Samuel Williams


John Jones completed 50 combat missions during the war. (Hold your mouse over this image to see his military photograph.)


James Drumwright


Richard Cole was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the raid over Tokyo. (Hold your mouse over this image to see his military photograph.)



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