The Veterans' Oral History Project at Austin Peay State University (http://vohp.lib.apsu.edu) can trace its origins to a convergence of events in 1999. The yearly reunion of the 101st Airborne Air Assault Division was scheduled to take place in Clarksville in the spring of 2000, and it inaugurated a fundraising campaign to build a new museum for the division, replacing a smaller facility on Ft. Campbell, the Don F. Pratt Museum.(http://campbell.army.mil/prattmuseum/aspx) Hundreds of veterans were expected to attend the four-day event and to be available for interviews.
Clarksville, Tennessee is a community of about 125,000 residents 45 miles northwest of Nashville and not far from the Kentucky state line. Settled in 1784 the town became a center of tobacco production in the 19th century and was home to several light industries from the early 20th. Until World War Two Clarksville was a market town of about 10,000 residents. The character of the town changed decisively in January 1942 when the U.S. Army began construction on Camp Campbell, a large base that straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky line and is currently division headquarters and home to the 101st Airborne and other units. Nearly 30,000 soldiers call Ft. Campbell and the surrounding communities of Clarksville and Hopkinsville, KY home and shape the area in many ways. By any reasonable definition Clarksville is now a military community and was ripe in 1999 for an oral history program to document the half century that had transformed the town.
Clarksville is also home to Austin Peay Sate University, comprised of a main campus and a center for classes on Ft. Campbell, with a total student population over 10,000. APSU draws heavily on a population of non-traditional students with past or present links to the military. Among them are retired service personnel looking for training for second careers, military spouses and family members and recent active duty soldiers making the transition to civilian life. A History Department of 17 full-time faculty members teaches dozens of U.S. History survey courses in conformity with state mandates and offers upper division courses to about 300 history majors and other students. APSU boasts an active Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) department whose program is highly rated among medium-sized universities, and it serves active duty enlisted personnel in its Green to Gold program to earn their college degrees and serve four years as officers in the U.S. Army. For this reason, a four-course sequence in military history is available for students and forms part of the ROTC- required coursework. One requirement of the history major is to complete a capstone course for seniors, which changes from semester to semester depending on the research interests and skills of the faculty member assigned to teach it.
When my turn came to teach the capstone class at the same time as the veterans' reunion, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to teach oral history techniques and prepare students to conduct reunion interviews. An additional incentive to sponsor the class was my participation in the United States Military Academy at West Point's summer program in military history several years before I began teaching at Austin Peay. While I cannot claim military history as my primary research interest, I was well enough versed in the subject, especially World War Two, to teach it. My liaison to the military was a colleague and now department chair, Prof. Dewey Browder. As former Army lieutenant colonel who also sat on the board of directors of the Ft. Campbell Historical Foundation and its proposed new museum, he saw the class as an opportunity to begin a new oral history archive for the museum and used his ties to the Fort Campbell Foundation to promote the project.
In the ten years since the class roughly 60 students conducted about 350 interviews with World War Two, WW2 Homefront and Korean War veterans. These are the veterans' stories.
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