On this Memorial Day, we look back at episode #615 from May 2019.
Jim Swager of Brookhaven joined the US Army shortly after his 18th birthday, three months before D-day. In this episode, he shares his memories of the journey from Mississippi to the battlefields of France as part of the 103rd Infantry, Cactus Division. Although he weighed a mere 130 lbs. his captain made him a machine gunner and assigned him a BAR. The Browning Automatic Rifle was a 30-caliber light machine gun used extensively by Allied forces during WWII. Swager recalls the challenge of lugging the twenty-pound weapon across Europe.
During the war, Swager always enjoyed meeting other Mississippians and remembers how he and his buddy from Iuka survived a German artillery barrage together. In the chaos of war, soldiers are sometimes mistaken for the enemy by friendly forces and pay the ultimate price. Swager gets emotional when he discusses how another friend was killed doing night reconnaissance.
The Nazi government sent millions of Jews and other so-called undesirables to concentration camps for forced labor and eventual extermination. Swager describes the barbaric conditions of one such camp they helped liberate near the end of the war.
WARNING: This episode contains graphic descriptions of violence and atrocities.
Today, we are look back at Episode #485, which features James Jones of Laurel discussing his time with the 761st Tank Battalion during WWII.
The 761st Tank Battalion was the first armored combat group made up of African American soldiers. Prior to this time, black men rarely served in combat roles in the U.S. Military and were generally relegated to menial labor jobs like stevedores. After being given the opportunity to serve under General George S. Patton in the European Theater, the 761st distinguished themselves as a brave and effective combat force in face of enemy fire.
Joining me for the interview today is Dr. Douglas Bristol.
Douglas Bristol, Jr. is the Buford “Buff” Blount Professor of Military History and a Fellow of the Dale Center for the Study of War and Society at the University of Southern Mississippi. The Smithsonian, Duke University, and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library have awarded him post-doctoral fellowships. He is a member of the Editorial Board for the Quarterly Journal of the Army War College, Parameters. He has published two books: Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom and Integrating the U.S. Military: Race, Gender, and Sexuality since World War II. His current book project is War as Labor: Black GIs in Army Service Forces during World War II. His interviews have been included in the Christian Science Monitor and the New York Times along with the PBS documentary Boss: The Black Experience in Business
Today is Veterans Day and in today's episode, we remember the sacrifices of all of our service men and women by focusing on the experiences of American prisoners of war in Vietnam.
We are joined by noted Vietnam War scholar Dr. Andrew Wiest for a discussion of the infamous Hanoi Hilton and the POW experience in general.
Afterwards, we hear from Hattiesburg native, George R. Hall about his seven years as a POW and readjusting to civilian life upon returning home in this classic MS MO episode from October of 2015.
Welcome to the MS MO Redux Podcast! We will be rolling out format changes in the coming days, but here's the gist: Although Mississippi Moments is not currently in production, we have amassed a huge number of episodes, most of which have never been rebroadcast. So we intend to use this podcast to revisit each episode as its daily spots are being aired statewide on MPB. Many episodes will also contain additional information about the speaker, as well as, interviews with Mississippians involved in the Humanities about upcoming projects and events. More details to follow.
This week's Redux episode was originally aired in 2015 and comes from an interview of Dr. Andrew Wiest conducted that same year about his work documenting the history of Charlie Company and how their time in Vietnam affected their lives.
In 1997, USM professor Andrew Wiest began teaching a class on Vietnam. In this episode, he recalls looking for ways to make history come alive for his students and the unexpected results of those efforts.
After meeting Vietnam veteran John Young, Wiest was inspired to write The Boys of ’67. He details the writing process and the book’s impact on the men of Charlie Company and their families.
In 2014, the National Geographic Channel premiered The Boys of ’67, a documentary based on the book. Wiest explains how the project came about and the challenges it presented.
The documentary received Emmy Award nominations in four categories. In a podcast extra, Wiest discusses the prospect of winning an Emmy and what it means for the men of Charlie Company.
On June 6, 1944, Allied Forces launched the largest amphibious assault in history against Nazi-occupied Europe. In this episode, Rip Bounds of Hattiesburg describes piloting a Utility Landing Ship to the beaches of Normandy.
As Allied Forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, they faced devastating fire-power from the Germans. Bounds recalls how the eighty-eight millimeter artillery shells decimated both men and equipment.
Thousands of American soldiers were wounded or killed as they stormed the beaches on D-Day 1944. Bounds remembers how they bravely worked to save wounded troops from the rising tide. In the weeks that followed D-Day, Bounds and his crew ferried wounded soldiers to awaiting hospital ships for treatment. He recounts how Red Cross workers attempted to give aid and comfort to these men as they lay on the deck of his ship.
WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF WAR AND CARNAGE.
PHOTO: USA Today
After serving in the South Pacific for eighteen months during WWII, Rip Bounds became a naval officer. In this episode, he recalls being sworn-in and attending officer indoctrination schools in Arizona and New York. While at officer training school, Bounds was made platoon leader of a group of former Seabees. He explains why his men resented being treated as new recruits and how an act of insubordination led to a policy change.
As Allied Forces prepared for the invasion of Europe, Bounds was made captain of a Utility Landing Ship. He remembers crossing the Atlantic as German U-Boats attacked their convoy of ships, nightly.
In the weeks leading up to D-Day, Allied Forces performed mock invasions along the coast of England. Bounds describes the day their practice drill turned out to be the real thing.
The United States Naval Construction Battalions, better known as the Navy Seabees, were formed during WWII to build airstrips and other installations vital to the war effort. In this episode, the first of two parts, Rip Bounds of Hattiesburg remembers his decision to join the Seabees in 1942.
After the United States declared war on Japan, the Seabees rushed to build airfields on small islands in the Pacific. Bounds recalls how they built a landing strip in the jungles of Espiritu Santo in just fourteen days. As a Transportation Pool Dispatcher for the Seabees, Bounds oversaw all motor vehicles for their naval base. He discusses using his position to get ice cream and other perks for his men.
Thanks to his hard work, Bounds was soon promoted to Petty Officer First Class. He remembers how an investigation into the disappearance of eighty-seven cases of liquor was dropped after several boxes of the missing booze found their way to the commander’s quarters.
Part Two, where Bounds discusses piloting a Utility Landing Ship during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, will be released in two weeks.
Butch Brown was working at a Hattiesburg jewelry store in 1968 as the war in Vietnam raged on. In this episode, he recalls the day his mother met him at the front door with a draft notice and an airline ticket to Canada.
As a communications man in Vietnam, Brown was responsible for repairing field radios in the jungle. He discusses being the company “scrounger” and how he earned the call sign “Soda Six.” Brown would occasionally go out on patrol with his infantry company as the radio man. He remembers the night they set up a large ambush in the jungle to catch the Vietcong.
As public opinion about the Vietnam War soured, returning soldiers were often greeted with hostility. Butch Brown describes the reception he got in California versus the one he received in Jackson.
Leland native, Mary Allen joined the newly formed Women’s Army Corps in the Summer of 1943. In this episode, she recalls the public’s negative reaction to the WACs and how she gained her father’s approval. As a recruiter for the Women’s Army Corps, Mary Allen signed up young women for service during WWII. She remembers travelling around South Alabama convincing parents to allow their daughters to join.
The Caterpillar Club honors people who have jumped by parachute from a disabled airplane. Allen describes joining that group when the military plane she was riding in crashed. During the final year of WWII, Allen was assigned to a hospital providing support services for soldiers. She discusses riding the hospital trains and the pitiful condition of the returning POWs.
Hattiesburg native Clarence Williams was drafted into the army in the final days of WWII. In this episode, he shares some of his many experiences gained during a decades-long military career. Not many veterans can claim to have served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, but Williams saw service in all three conflicts.
Williams recounts his brief service in Germany and returning to Mississippi afterwards to finish high school. Then while attending college at Tuskegee, he was recalled to active duty for the Korean conflict. Williams remembers how his unit would have to jump into their foxholes when the Chinese attacked.
Clarence Williams served as an Air Force Manpower Survey Officer during the war in Vietnam. He describes his duties in planning for the deployment of supplies and equipment. In a military career spanning over twenty-five years, he visited many countries. Williams expresses gratitude for the opportunities the Air Force provided him and his wife to see the world.
Dr. Joseph Clements, a former USM professor, was drafted into the U.S. Army in the Fall of 1941. In this episode, he shares his memories of the war. Clements remembers hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor while training in Texas and his first assignment in Alaska, where he encountered the “midnight sun.”
During WWII, thousands of allied troops gathered in England in preparation for the invasion of France. Clements recalls fondly the diversity of the people he met while waiting for D-Day.
As allied forces battled their way across the French countryside, livestock was slaughtered indiscriminately. Clements describes the devastation and a grateful French woman who offered them a homecooked meal. Before America entered WWII, Joseph Clements watched newsreel footage of the fall of France. He recounts visiting the spot where Hitler danced after forcing the French to surrender.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was written by Sean O'Farrell and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
PHOTO: French surrender to German forces during WWII near Compiègne, France.
Lt. General Emmett H. "Mickey" Walker joined the Mississippi State ROTC program in 1941. In this episode, he recalls being activated in 1943 and going through basic training in the Texas summer heat. As war raged in Europe during WWII, soldiers who were wounded or killed in action needed to be replaced. Walker discusses being a replacement soldier and his long journey to the front lines.
During WWII, the German-held city of Metz in Northeast France, was considered a veritable fortress. Walker describes how Allied forces were able to take the city in half a day’s time.
The Battle of the Bulge was a last-ditch effort by the Germans to split Allied forces with a surprise counter-offensive through the Ardennes Forest in December of 1944. Walker remembers driving all night through the harsh Belgium winter with General Patton’s Third Army.
1978 – G. R. Sullivan of Raleigh, Mississippi joined the army one month before the attack on Pearl Harbor. In this episode he recalls being assigned to an armored reconnaissance unit and boarding a ship bound for England. On Christmas Day, 1943, Sullivan’s troop ship lay off the coast of Gibraltar. He describes the submarine countermeasures and being attacked by the German Luftwaffe.
While stationed in Algiers, North Africa, Sullivan had been driving for the company commander. He recounts being asked to serve as a scout car driver for General Dwight Eisenhower, a position he held for nine months until his unit left North Africa.
As fighting raged on in Italy, G. R. Sullivan’s unit was driven from a small village by German artillery. He remembers being assisted by a colonel with a jeep, a radio, and a lot of American firepower.
Through the years, we have delved through our large collection of veteran oral histories, many times, to find impactful war stories that really bring home the hardships and sacrifices of our soldiers and sailors during WWII. This is not one of those episodes. For while Albert Russell did escape calamity on multiple occasions during his service as a navigator aboard a Navy patrol bomber in the Pacific theater, the man clearly had more fun and more good fortune that most during the war. In training, Russell frequently enjoyed the nightlife in Atlanta, Washington DC, and San Francisco. While serving in the Pacific, he met and cavorted with one of Hollywood’s most glamorous actresses of the day, Carol Landis, who was touring with a USO group in Australia at the time. Clearly, the man knew how to enjoy his downtime.
1977 - Albert Russell joined the Navy in 1942 and served as a flight navigator in the Pacific. In this episode, he describes basic training and the methods of navigation in those early days. As young Navy ensign during WWII, Russell was assigned to a base near Pacific fleet headquarters. He remembers taking an early morning swim in the private pool of Fleet Admiral Bull Halsey.
While on leave in Australia, Russell met and befriended two USO performers: actress Carol Landis and singer Martha Tilton. He recalls a month of dancing and dining and being the envy of his commanding officer.
During WWII, bad weather was a constant source of danger for patrol planes in the Pacific. Russell recounts how a typhoon forced him to change course repeatedly for nineteen hours.
From a young age Patrick Carr dreamed of being a pilot in the Army Air Corps, even sending for literature from Jackson when he was twelve. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered WWII, nineteen year old Carr enlisted in the Army Air Corps determined to make that dream a reality.
Unfortunately, Carr washed out of the pilot program because of faulty depth perception. It was then he decided to enter gunnery school instead and became a waist gunner on a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. This week we dive into his story from this interview recorded on October 4, 1973.
1973 – Patrick Carr grew up on a farm near the small community of Paulding, Mississippi. In this episode, he recalls joining the Army Air Corp and becoming a gunner on a B-24 bomber in 1942. In August of 1944, Carr’s plane was shot down during a bombing run over Budapest. He remembers the angry mob waiting for him and being captured by the Germans.
Carr was held prisoner in a German POW camp (Stalag Luft IV) during the final eight months of WWII. He describes the meager rations they lived on and being slapped around by the guards. As the Russian Army advanced on their camp in the closing days of the war, Carr and his fellow POWs were marched away from the front line by the German guards. He describes a couple of times they were at risk of being killed by friendly fire.
PHOTO: Model of Stalag Luft III, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=534329
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021.
Al Key and his brother Fred developed a passion for aviation while in their teens and worked hard to make their dreams of flying a reality. They started their own flying service and took over as managers of the Meridian airport in the early 1930s. When the city decided to close the airport in 1935, Al and Fred decided to promote Meridian as an aeronautical hub by breaking the world record for longest time sent in non-stop flight. They succeeded on their third attempt, remaining aloft for over 27 days. The no-spill nozzle they helped develop for mid-air refueling is still used by the US Air Force.
In 1939, Al helped form the Mississippi Air National Guard and became a full time military pilot in 1940. He was commanding a squadron of B-17Cs when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He and Fred made several suggestions for armament modifications for US bombers that were adopted by the manufacturers. Their work landed them positions with the 8th Air Force Operational Engineering Section and Al became a Chief Liaison Officer with the British on designing new types of bombs.
Al retired as a colonel from the US Air Force in 1960 and served two terms as mayor of Meridian.
1973 – Al Key grew up on his family’s Kemper County farm in the 1910s. He describes being inspired to pursue a career in aviation when three biplanes planes landed in their pasture.
While managing the Meridian Airport in the 1930s, Al and Fred Key joined the newly formed Mississippi Air National Guard. Al Key recalls how their jobs as B-17 pilots changed after Pearl Harbor. During WWII, Al and Fred Key commanded bomber squadrons on submarine patrols and combat missions. Al Key explains how their suggestions for bomber designs made the planes less vulnerable.
While serving with the 8th Air Force Operational Engineering Section, Al Key worked with the British to develop a massive bunker-busting bomb known as the “Disney bomb.” He discusses how it was used to destroy German concrete-reenforced submarine pens.
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we delve into one of our first POW interviews.
Lt. Commander James W. Bailey (Bill) sat down to share his experiences with us on September 11, 1973, less than a year after his release. His memories of sixty-eight months as a POW were still fresh and raw in his mind.
1973 - Kosciusko native, Bill Bailey, served as a Navy Flight Officer on the aircraft carrier, USS Ranger. In this episode he recalls how his F4 Phantom jet was shot down over North Vietnam on June 28, 1967. When Bailey’s plane was downed by the North Vietnamese, he and his pilot were taken prisoner. He describes being tortured for three days by interrogators trying to obtain information.
As a prisoner of war in North Vietnam, Bill Bailey was subjected to harsh treatment by the camp guards. He remembers how they were replaced by with new, more humane guards in early 1970.
After spending sixty-eight grueling months as a POW in North Vietnam, Bailey was finally allowed to go home. He recounts how conditions in the prison camp improved dramatically about a month before they were released.
CAUTION: CONTAINS GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF TORTURE.
PHOTO: A plane load of recently released POWs on their way home in 1973. Public domain.
The Civilian Conservation Corps was established in 1933 to create jobs for young single men. In this episode, Charlie Odom of Gulfport recalls learning to operate heavy equipment as part of the CCC.
Odom learned to drive large trucks while working with the Civilian Conservation Corps. He explains how that ability proved useful after being drafted into the Army during WWII.
During the war, Odom was a motor pool sergeant, hauling men and materials to the front lines. He discusses his service in the European and Pacific theaters. After the war ended, Odom spent six months serving in Yokohama, Japan, as part of the occupying force. He remembers befriending several of the Japanese soldiers assigned to his motor pool.
Ruth Colter attended school in Natchez from the first grade through high school during the 1930s. In this episode, she shares her memories of those days and life in Natchez during WWII.
During the war, thousands of young men from across the country came to Mississippi for basic training. Colter recalls how the Military Maids assisted these new recruits. After graduating high school in 1942, Colter went to work for a Natchez trucking company. She explains how she and her friends still managed to shop and socialize despite wartime shortages.
PODCAST BONUS: During her lifetime, Ruth Colter witnessed many changes to her hometown of Natchez. She remembers shopping downtown, buying produce from street vendors, and the low cost of groceries.
PHOTO: Camp Shelby Military Museum
This Memorial Day, we salute all our service men and women who have paid the ultimate price in the line of duty, with the story of Marine demolition man, Alvy Ray Pittman. A Columbia, Mississippi native, Pittman volunteered to join the U.S. Marine Corp in November of 1942. After bootcamp, he went to demolition school for training in the use of high explosives and landmine removal. In this episode, Pittman explains the hazards of being on a demolition team and why their casualty rates were so high.
During WWII, the campaign to take the Pacific Islands held by Japanese forces, resulted in thousands of casualties. Pittman recalls how so many of his friends died in combat.
On February 19, 1945, U.S. Marine and Navy forces attacked the island of Iwo Jima. During five weeks of constant fighting, the Marines endured heavy artillery barrages from the entrenched and fortified positions of the Imperial Japanese Army. Pittman describes a phenomenon he calls “Combat Wisdom.”—a combination of battle experience and premonition that helped him and his team escape death on multiple occasions.
Given the human cost, some have questioned the strategic value of taking certain Pacific Islands during WWII. Pittman discusses why the battle of Iwo Jima saved more lives than were lost.
James Bass of Laurel was fifteen years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. In this episode, he recalls convincing his father to sign his enlistment papers when he was only sixteen. After joining the Navy, Bass was assigned to a destroyer minesweeper. He remembers learning to be a gunner as they sailed from Boston to Pearl Harbor.
During the battle for Okinawa, Bass’s ship was struck by a kamikaze plane and heavily damaged. He describes the events leading up to the attack and how their captain managed to keep the ship afloat.
After Bass’s ship was damaged in the battle for Okinawa, the crew was given a 25-day leave. He reflects on how the dropping of the atomic bomb probably saved his life and millions more.
PHOTO: USS Harding DMS-28
Kosciusko native W.C. “Billy” Leonard got married and joined the Army in 1940. In this episode, he recalls how his life changed after hearing news of the Japanese attack on a place called Pearl Harbor.
While serving as an artillery officer, Leonard met several people from his hometown. He remembers being pleasantly surprised by one such Kosciusko connection.
Leonard’s artillery platoon was transferred to a base in Burbank, California to await deployment. He recounts how he and his wife were able to tour Hollywood before he was shipped out.
After months of fighting in the Philippine Islands, Leonard was given a 30-day leave before the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland. He explains how dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki changed those plans.
After the war, Billy Leonard came home and eventually took over Leonard’s Department Store from his father. He ran the business until his retirement in 1985. Leonard passed away in fall of 2005.
During WWII, a key component of the Allied strategy to defeat the Axis powers in Europe was a sustained aerial bombing campaign against key German military and civilian targets. Despite the vaunted reputation the B-17 bomber achieved, they were outnumbered by the lesser known B-24 Liberator.
Greenville native, Colonial C.R. Cadenhead trained to be an B-24 bomber pilot. In this episode, he shared some memories of his time flying missions over Germany. Cadenhead explains how he and his crew dined on fancy French cuisine while on their way to Europe and how they helped a shell-shocked bombardier complete his tour of duty. He also describes how, on one mission, his crew made it back to base after losing two of their four engines with some help from the Tuskegee Airmen.
PODCAST EXTRA: After completing his tour of duty in Europe, Cadenhead expected to be sent home. Instead he was shipped to California to prepared for the invasion of Japan. He remembers how the sudden end of the war in 1945 allowed him to return to college that fall and play football for Mississippi State.
This episode of Mississippi Moments was researched by Hayley Hasik and produced by Ross Walton, with narration by Bill Ellison.
PHOTO: US Air Force
During WWII, young men from cities and towns across the nation, answered the call to serve. So too, did young men from isolated areas of the country—boys who had never been away from the farms where they were raised—but were still compelled to go to the battlefields of countries they had only read about in textbooks. For many, that rural lifestyle held advantages in wartime. For example, those who grew up hunting with their fathers found the experience of targeting game with hunting rifles and shotguns useful in the army.
In this episode, Thurman Clark of Laurel remembers training for combat and winning a prize for his marksmanship.
American soldiers deployed to the battlefields of Europe, crossed the Atlantic Ocean by the thousands on troops ships. Clark recalls the misery of being seasick for his entire seventeen-day voyage. As a member of the 66th Infantry Division, Clark was assigned to harass German installations in the occupied city of Lorient, France. He describes dodging artillery fire and the stress of keeping watch for enemy attacks at night.
For many Mississippi farm boys, WWII was their first time traveling far from home. Clark reflects on the culture shock of his time in France and the myriad of memories he brought back.
PHOTO: wikimedia commons
In 1973, Gayle Greene-Aguirre, a professor at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, was studying History at the University of Connecticut. In this episode, she recalls her decision to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps, College Junior Program. Green-Aguirre chose a career in the US Army based more on economic incentives than a sense of duty. She explains how that experience, and exposure to top secret information, made her a pragmatic patriot.
Green-Aguirre joined the US Army as the war in Vietnam was beginning to wind down. As a historian and officer, she gives her perspective on why that war was unwinnable.
When soldiers returned home from Vietnam, they faced a hostile American public, who viewed them as complicit in the atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people. Green-Aguirre discusses the burden shared by those returning veterans and how their legacy has evolved over time.