A West Virginia University P.I. Reed School of Journalism (SOJ) graduate student worked with West Virginia Public Broadcasting to help compile the stories of West Virginia World War II veterans that were aired recently during the PBS showing of Ken Burnsdocumentary,The War.
Barbara Griffin, a graduate student and an information systems technician in the WVU Financial Aid Office, has been working on the SOJ s Veterans History project and with PBS for her masters thesis.
Many local World War II veterans were featured in the spots that ran between segments of Burnsdocumentary, mimicking the style he used in the film, including lighting, camera angles and interviewing techniques. The 15-hour, seven-part documentary, which ran from Sept. 23 to Oct. 2, focuses on the personal stories of ordinary Americans who lived through the war.
The SOJ project is a part of the West Virginia Veterans History Project, a collaboration with the American Folklife Center and the Library of Congress to collect the oral histories of West Virginias more than 200,000 veterans. The SOJ became involved with the project in 2001 when Sen. Robert C. Byrd approached former WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr. and asked the University to take a leadership role in the project. Hardesty then turned to the SOJ to conduct interviews and collect oral histories. Assistant Professor Joel Beeson is the SOJ project director.
Since becoming involved in the SOJ project in 2003, Griffin has interviewed and recorded dozens of veterans.
I came in a year after it started,he said.I have thanked Professor Beeson a dozen times for introducing me to the project. The interviews captured my heart.
Griffin used her work on the SOJ veterans project to conduct research and background work for the PBS project.
I did all the legwork for them,she said.I scanned most of the photos they used in the documentary. I went to the veteranshomes and pre-interviewed them to give them an idea as to what to expect when WVPBS arrived. Some of the veteran interviews were conducted at the PBS studio, and others were as far away as Charles Town. I sat in on the filming and had input on some of the questions asked.
Veterans who were aired in the PBS television segments include Charles Brown of Kingwood; Elvin Thomas and Russell Roper, both of Charles Town; and Milton Cohen, Robert Connor, James McCartney, Everett Griffin and Bill and Jean Bonsall, all of Morgantown.
They were all such powerful pieces,Griffin said.
Brown was a Navy flyer who was shot down during his first mission and reported to his family as killed in action. In her interview with Brown, he talked about how he joined the Navy at age 20, was captured by the Germans, became a prisoner of war, was blindfolded and made to drop to his knees.
He thought he was about to be beheaded, and the article in Life magazine of the Australian came to mind,Griffin said.At that moment, he started praying that his mother would never find out how he died.
Brown received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with a star and Prisoner of War Medal.
The Bonsall segment was slightly different because it included his wife talking about what it was like back home to have a boyfriend leaving for the war.
She was only 16 when they met,Griffin said.She talks about how he was getting on the train, ready to leave for service, and he gave her a kissa kiss she would never forget.
In addition to the television work, three of the interviews, including Brown, Cohen and Griffin, appeared on West Virginia Public Broadcastings radio program,Aging with Grace and Dignity.
Her edited interviews of three other veterans appeared on the West Virginia Public Broadcasting radio showWest Virginia Good Morning,including the late AntoinetteToniArkle of Morgantown, Geneva Powell of Montrose and Mickey Furfari of Morgantown.
Griffin edited an existing two-hour interview taken from the SOJ veterans project of Arkle in November 2003, talking about her time in the Marine Corps. Arkle, who had a masters degree from WVU , had volunteered to join the service in April 1943. She worked for two and a half years in Virginia and six months in Honolulu and was assigned to classified records, handling such sensitive records asOperation Olympic,which was the invasion of Japan.
Griffin said the two-hour interview had to be edited to one minute for radio time.
Before it aired,she said,I contacted Arkles son to let him know so he could hear the piece on the Internet.
Afterward, Tom Arkle of Charlotte, N.C., sent Griffin an e-mail explaining how much it meant to him to hear his mothers voice recounting her experiences so many years after her death.
Because of the interviews, Griffin also had a chance to get to know her uncle, Everett Griffin.
I didnt know of his experiences of the war before the interview,she said.He just didnt talk about them. There was a part in the interview when he talked about how bad the war was. He said that once he got married and had children, he hoped he wouldnt have any boys, so they wouldnt have to go off to war. It was the first time my Aunt Mattie heard the story, too. She cried, and I cried. They ended up having all girls and no boys. I guess God answered his prayers.
West Virginias Veterans History Project is part of the National Veterans History Project, designed to preserve the real-life experiences of American veterans and civilians who were involved in World War I, World War II and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars. The project encourages war veterans, their families, veterans groups, community groups and students to audio- and videotape the memories of veteranstime in service to be preserved in the Library of Congress.
Through her research, Griffin formed a strong bond with many of the veterans.
I communicate with at least two or three of them daily,she said.
Many of Griffins interviews with veterans can be found athttp://www.wvpbs.com/radio/newsroom/default.asp.
She hopes to graduate in May 2008.