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The Citadel Oral History Program

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William F. Ladson, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 13 May 2009
William F. Ladson, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 13 May 2009 William Ladson was born in Moultrie, GA, on October 10, 1915. He chose to enter The Citadel in 1932 but returned home after two years to help his father run the family business, which was strained due to the Depression. He eventually returned to school and graduated in 1938 with a degree in engineering. He entered the Army Reserve in 1940 as part of the Coast Artillery and, due to his background and degree in engineering, worked stateside as part of the engineer corps during WWII. Ladson recalls his decision to attend The Citadel and his experiences during WWII and the Korean War. Anxious to go overseas, he eventually went to Korea after the Korean War broke out. There he was executive officer and commanding officer of combat engineers in direct support of the frontline troops. He retired from the army in 1965, and his engineering background led him to take a job as city manager of Cocoa Beach, FL. He maintains strong ties to his alma mater, recently attending his class reunion and speaking to a class of Citadel Cadets.
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George K. Webb, Interview by Jack Bass, 13 November 2008
George K. Webb, Interview by Jack Bass, 13 November 2008 Webb was born November 30, 1919, and grew up in Portsmouth, OH. After high school, he attended Kentucky Military Institute to prepare for enrollment at Virginia Military Institute, but after reading an article about The Citadel in National Geographic magazine he applied for admission in 1939 and was accepted. He became battalion commander for Padgett Thomas Barracks and lettered on The Citadel rifle team. With the rest of his class, he missed final summer ROTC camp in 1942 because the camps were filled with Army recruits. After graduation in 1943, Webb was assigned to officer candidate school at Fort Benning, GA, graduating first in his class. In November 1943 he was commission and assigned to the infantry school cadre, remaining there nine months until sent to the 174th Infantry regiment at Camp Chafee, AR. Two months later he was shipped to Europe as an individual replacement officer and was assigned as a platoon leader in C Company, 48th Armored Infantry Battalion, 7th Armored Division, in charge of roughly 40 men. Immediately sent into combat, he became acting company commander six days after joining the unit, because he was the only remaining officer. After a month in combat, he received a battlefield promotion to first lieutenant and was awarded a Silver Star medal for valor and later received a Purple Heart. Webb said that a first hand account of a war scene cannot be conveyed verbally. “If you could smell it, if you could feel it, if you could taste the food, if you could hear the noises—it’s a very all-encompassing experience.” He continued, “The most horrendous smell I ever smelt was later in the Bulge when I opened the door to a house, and a German soldier had been laying there for two or three days, and the stench was such that your stomach involuntarily vomited.” After being wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, he was treated at a hospital in Paris. Six weeks later he was back in action as a platoon leader, often sleeping in a foxhole in the snow. After the war, Webb returned to Ohio and ran a lumber company for a while, but in 1951 he returned to military service, including a tour in Korea near the end of the war there and two tours in Vietnam. He also served two tours at The Citadel, as tactical officer for several years in the 1950s and as commandant of cadets for six months. After retiring from the Army in 1973, he returned to Charleston, where his wife had grown up, operated an charter fishing business for fifteen years.
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Bernard Warshaw, Interview by Jack Bass, 1 October 2008
Bernard Warshaw, Interview by Jack Bass, 1 October 2008 Warshaw was born on October 27, 1920. From an early age, he wanted to go to college at The Citadel. When his high school record seemed likely to derail his hope, direct appeal to Gen. Summerall got him in. After overcoming some early problems, Warshaw settled down and graduated in 1942. He received orders on graduation day to report on June 10, 1942, for active duty and soon was assigned to the 433rd automatic weapons battalion, an anti-aircraft unit. Shipped to Casablanca, on the Moroccan Atlantic coast, his unit was assigned a training and support mission until the July-August 1943 invasion of Sicily. After the conquest of Sicily, his unit joined the Allied invasion of Italy and advanced to the Cassino front where the attack stalled. Withdrawn from the Cassino front and sent to the Anzio beachhead, he was able to visit Rome after the breakout for one evening. Withdrawn once again, Warshaw’s unit left Italy to join the invasion of southern France, fighting from there into Germany. Warshaw was promoted to first lieutenant and to captain as the war progressed, but when asked he said that he had absolutely no interest in staying in the Army. The morning after the capture of the Dachau concentration camp, Warshaw’s colonel took him to see the camp. There they found the odor was such that “we could hardly stand it . . . piles and piles of bodies.” He opened one of camp’s four ovens where “Bones were still smoldering,” and the colonel handed him a camera and told him to take pictures, some of which are archived at the Jewish Heritage Collection at the College of Charleston. A retired merchant of men’s clothing, he resides in his home town of Walterboro, SC.
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John Vafides, Interview by Larry A. Grant, August 4, 2011
John Vafides, Interview by Larry A. Grant, August 4, 2011 Vafides was born in 1921 in Hull, MA. He was a member of The Citadel class of 1943. He attended The Citadel at the beginning of World War II, leaving in 1943 to serve in the US Army as a paratrooper. He returned to complete his studies after the war ended. He was assigned to duty as part of a bazooka team in the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Co. H, and deployed with his unit in the 17th Airborne Division to England in late 1944. The Division was alerted for Operation Market Garden but did not participate. When the German attack against Allied forces began in mid-December 1944 in the Ardennes in what is known as the Battle of the Bulge, Vafides was in England undergoing training. His entire division was ordered to France and moved by air and then by truck into Belgium near Bastogne where it joined the fighting as part of Gen. Patton's Third Army. While engaged near Flamierge, Belgium, Vafides was wounded and taken captive by the Germans and sent to a POW camp in Germany. He returned to Allied control when his camp was liberated in early 1945 and returned home. After college Vafides worked as a teacher until his retirement.
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Timothy S. Street, Interview by Jack Bass, 27 October 2008
Timothy S. Street, Interview by Jack Bass, 27 October 2008 Timothy Street was born on December 9, 1923, in downtown Charleston, SC. As his father had done before him, he decided to attend The Citadel, entering in September of 1940. A member of the class of 1944, Street and all his classmates were called together to active duty in May 1943, prior to graduation. Prior to attending The Citadel, Street worked in his father’s steamship agency and stevedoring business, an experience that influenced his later decision to join the Navy. After months waiting to attend officer candidate school to receive an Army commission, he learned that the Seabees were looking for people with his background. He applied for and soon received a commission as a Navy ensign. Shortly after the Japanese surrender, Street’s unit was sent to support the First Marine Division in China during the repatriation of Japanese soldiers. He said of his service that “I want to stress the fact that I don't consider what I did amounted to much more than a hill of beans compared to my friends that were combat veterans.” After the war, Street returned to Charleston, completed his business degree at The Citadel, joined Street Brothers Shipping in the summer of 1947, and stayed until he retired 37 years later.
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Thomas J. Thorne, Interview by Jack Bass, 18 December 2008
Thomas J. Thorne, Interview by Jack Bass, 18 December 2008 Thomas Thorne was born in Savannah, GA, on July 17, 1918. He acquired his love of the military through his father, who was a major in the Georgia National Guard. He entered The Citadel in 1935, and a year after graduating, received a commission in November 1940 as a second lieutenant in the 76th Coast Artillery, a black unit with white officers. While on active duty he served for a time as the anti-aircraft officer for 16th Corps during the Battle of the Bulge when his commanding officer was relieved. For his service in WWII, he received the Distinguished Service Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal. Thorne recalls his decision to attend The Citadel and his thirty-five years in the Army Reserve. He discusses some memorable events of his service in WWII, including chance meetings with General Patton and with two armed SS men alone in the woods. After retiring from the Army Reserve in 1974, Thorne remained active in the Charleston, SC, community, serving as president of the Greater Charleston Chamber of Commerce and vice chairman of the Charleston Development Board.
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Stefan Kosovych, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 15 April 2010
Stefan Kosovych, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 15 April 2010 Stefan Kosovych was born on October 5, 1979 in Washington, DC. He graduated from The College of William and Mary with a B.S. in Chemistry in 2002 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army through ROTC. Contracting with the Army in 2000 during a time of peace, he found himself going to war following his initial training at the Field Artillery Officer Basic Course. In this interview, Kosovych recounts his experience as a platoon leader in Iraq from August 2003 to July 2004. Lieutenant Kosovych and his unit performed diverse missions, sometimes with little or no training. They hauled Iraqi munitions to be destroyed, conducted infantry patrols in downtown Baghdad, and participated in large-scale raids. Kosovych stresses the difficulties of being a leader including the tensions between him and his Noncommissioned Officers, as well as the strain of both completing the mission and taking care of his soldiers. His account contains situations that highlight the confusion of combat and the moral ambiguities of modern warfare. He also reflects on failures of leadership—those of his superiors as well as his own. Kosovych is a graduate from and holds a M.A. in History from The Citadel/College of Charleston.
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Robert S. Adden, Interview by Jack Bass, 15 October 2008
Robert S. Adden, Interview by Jack Bass, 15 October 2008 Robert S. Adden was born 1 January 1923 in Orangeburg, SC, and enrolled at The Citadel in 1940. He went on active duty with his class of 1944 classmates at the end of their 1943 spring semester, first to basic training at Fort McClellan, AL, and then to 18 weeks of Infantry Officer Candidates School at Fort Benning, GA. His regiment was shipped overseas to England for a month and then to Germany, where they were attached to the British Second Army and became engaged in combat in an attack on the Siegfried line a month before the Battle of the Bulge. After the war he earned an M.B.A. and Ph.D., and returned to The Citadel as a faculty member and administrator until he retired. He received an honorary degree in 2008 in a ceremony that honored the class of 1944, "the class that never was." Adden describes how his Citadel class (1944) was called to active duty at the end of their spring semester in 1943. He describes basic training in Fort McClellan, AL, and his stint in Officer Candidates School in Fort Benning, GA. Commissioned a second lieutenant in May 1944, he began training with the Eighty-fourth Infantry Division at Camp Claiborne in Louisiana where he became a mortar platoon leader. His regiment was shipped to Europe and was attached to the British Second Army during the Rhineland campaign. Adden discusses his first major combat experiences in November, 1944, when his battalion was assigned to secure the town of Prummern, Germany. Shot 5 times in the streets of Prummern, Adden describes how he played dead for hours as German troops and tanks passed beside him. He recalls stumbling to an American aid station after the streets cleared followed by hospital stays in Europe and the US. He returned to active duty in August 1945. Adden also touches briefly on his life and education after the war. Audio with transcript.
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Robert Kirksey, Interview by Jack Bass, 8 May 2009
Robert Kirksey, Interview by Jack Bass, 8 May 2009 Robert Kirksey was born in Aliceville, AL, in 1922. Although his family wanted him to attend school closer to home, Kirksey chose to attend The Citadel. He entered in the fall of 1940 without knowing a single person. Kirksey recalls his choice of The Citadel over Virginia Military Institute and his experiences during WWII. As a member of the class of 1944, he served in combat as an infantry lieutenant in Europe during WWII. He was wounded in action during an attack of the Siegfried Line in the fall on 1944, just inside the German border. For his actions he received the Purple Heart and a Silver Star. He notes that although it took a long time for training and preparation, his actual time in combat was very short. After the war, Kirksey returned to The Citadel to complete his final year and graduated in 1947 with a degree in political science. Afterwards, he returned home to Alabama where he became a lawyer and served for many years as probate judge of Pickens County. He later spent a year in Washington, DC, and one in Orangeburg, SC, as secretary to U.S. Rep. Hugo Sims.
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Richard Polite, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 10 April 2009
Richard Polite, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 10 April 2009 Richard Polite was born in Charleston in 1951 and raised on Strawberry Lane before his family moved to Cannon St. near President St. After attending Burke High School, where he played football, Polite served in the U.S. Army and served one tour in Vietnam. In this interview, Polite recalls growing up in segregated Charleston and later working at the Naval Shipyard. He explains why he enjoys the job he has now held for 12 years driving a truck for the City of Charleston’s environmental services department. The job affords him the opportunity to serve and interact with the public. Hazardous working conditions and mismanagement have nevertheless led Polite and many of his coworkers to establish a union this past year. While there is no shortage of dissatisfaction among his coworkers, fear of losing their jobs in a poor economy has kept many of them on the sidelines.
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Richard Kellahan, Interview by Jack Bass, 6 November 2008
Richard Kellahan, Interview by Jack Bass, 6 November 2008 Richard H. Kellahan was born on April 6, 1923, in Kingstree, SC. He was a member of The Citadel class of 1944 and left to join the Army with his classmates at the end of his junior year in 1943. Kellahan was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army after completing Officer Candidate School in May 1944 and was assigned to the 84th Infantry Division’s 335th regiment. Kellahan reflects on his wartime experience in Belgium and Germany, where he was captured and spent six months in a German prisoner-of-war camp. He arrived in Belgium in October 1944, prior to the Battle of the Bulge. While leading his platoon in the 3rd battalion’s attack on the village of Lindern, Lt. Kellahan and his platoon expended all their ammunition and were captured by the Germans on November 29, 1944. Kellahan was sent to Oflag 64 in Szubin, Poland. In January 1945, as the Russians advanced, he endured forced marches in the snow with temperatures as low as -20 ºF and on a bare subsistence rations. At first, he walked along with refugees fleeing the Russians and then spent a week in a German boxcar traveling before stopping at a camp near Potsdam, German. “We could see through the crack at the doorway if it was night or day. . . . One guy had dysentery. We all had to go and whatever. But they finally stopped the train and opened the doors and we got out. I fell out.” The Russians liberated Kellahan’s camp on April 21, 1945, and he rode in a truck convoy to the Elbe River before ending at a hospital near Nancy, France. There he was put on a train to the French coast and later shipped from Le Havre to New York. A Purple Heart recipient, Kellahan returned to Kingstree, South Carolina, and spent some time hunting and fishing. He did not return to The Citadel. He farmed and helped found the Williamsburg First National Bank, working there until 2000 as director and president.
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Rev. Joseph A. Darby, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 27 May 2010
Rev. Joseph A. Darby, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 27 May 2010 Rev. Joseph A. Darby was born in Columbia, South Carolina. He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and a product of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. Darby has long been involved in numerous racial, cultural and faith based programs to improve South Carolina race relations and education, most notably as former President of both the Greater Columbia Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Greater Columbia Interfaith Clergy Association. He also served on the Charleston County School District’s Superintendent Search Committee, which led to the hiring of the School District’s first African-American Superintendent. Reverend Darby is also a former First Vice-President of the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP. In this interview with Kerry Taylor, Rev. Darby discusses the Democratic Party’s strategies within the state of South Carolina leading up to the 2008 Presidential Election. He comments on the differences between Hilary Clinton’s versus Barack Obama’s campaigns, of which he found Obama’s more successful by focusing on making personal connections within the Democratic voter base. In addition, he also discusses the role of the ministerial clergy in relation to the Democratic presidential campaigns, how those contacts were made, and the impact they had on the eventual outcome. A fourth generation minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church he has over thirty years experience and currently serves as Pastor of the Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
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Reamer L. Cockfield, Interview by Jack Bass, 15 September 2008
Reamer L. Cockfield, Interview by Jack Bass, 15 September 2008 Reamer Lorenzo Cockfield was born on December 2, 1924, in Johnsonville, SC and moved to Lake City shortly thereafter. He was a pre-med student in The Citadel class of 1945 and therefore was exempted from the draft. Nevertheless, Cockfield voluntarily enlisted in the Marine Corps in December of 1943. As a private first class, he served in combat operations in the Pacific Theater. After the war Cockfield led a highly successful life serving as a public school teacher, principal, superintendent and one term as mayor of Lake City. Cockfield reflects on his experience as a stretcher bearer for 30 days of continuous combat during The Battle of Iwo Jima. The stretcher bearers hauled ammunition, food, and medical supplies from battalion headquarters to company headquarters and often returned with a wounded marine on the stretcher. Cockfield was the only member of his original eight-man team to survive. "It was at that time that they replaced me and assigned me to the K Company of the Ninth Marines which was on the front lines and I was delighted to get on the front lines because it was a lot safer up there in a foxhole than where I had been moving around all of the time." Audio with transcript.
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Raymond Kessler, Interview by Jack Bass, 21 November 2008
Raymond Kessler, Interview by Jack Bass, 21 November 2008 Raymond Kessler was born November 29, 1922, in Charleston, SC, attended the public schools, and enjoyed his first military experience at Porter Military Academy, now the Porter-Gaud private school. At The Citadel, he majored in civil engineering and served as company commander. After graduation in 1943, he was assigned to an engineering officer candidate school at Fort Belvoir, VA. There he learned the military aspects of civil engineering including training in demolitions. Sent to Fort Leonard Wood, MO, he taught draftee recruits basic engineering skills. In August 1944, he was sent to the 1381st Engineer Air Petroleum Distribution company in Camp Claiborne, LA. Kessler overseas experience began with his departure by ship from California to an unknown destination. After stops in Fiji and Australia, his unit arrived in Bombay [modern Mombai], India, in October 1944 and went from there by train to Assam Province in northern India. From Assam Province, his unit was flown over the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range with a dozen peaks higher than 25,000 feet, to China. This route was known in World War II as “the Hump”; it claimed the lives of many airmen. His unit’s assignment was to build a 1,000-mile pipeline from India across Burma to China to pump high octane gasoline for American airfields being built to support the war against Japan. There he was put in charge of fifty men and assigned to build a fifty-mile stretch of the pipeline. Though otherwise safer than in combat, he lost two men who were inspecting the pipeline. Locals presumably knocked a hole in the pipeline for fuel, and when the leaking gasoline caught fire it flashed back up the mountain and burning the two men to death. Shortly after the arriving in the US, Kessler signed up for the army reserve and was promoted to captain. He retired as a colonel in 1976. In his civilian career, he worked for a time with the South Carolina Electric and Gas Company before taking a teaching appointment at The Citadel. He later worked for DuPont and then the US Navy until retirement.
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Sherrill Poulnot, Interview by Jack Bass, 21 October 2008
Sherrill Poulnot, Interview by Jack Bass, 21 October 2008 Poulnot was born on August 2, 1922, and was a member of The Citadel class of 1944. While most of his classmates went into the Army after their junior year, Poulnot decided to join the Navy in the fall of 1942. After his two years at The Citadel, he knew how to march and was appointed commander of his boot camp company. After boot camp in Virginia, he was sent to Quartermaster School in Newport, RI, he served three years in the Navy including combat tours in the Pacific. Poulnot reflects on mine sweeping operations at Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan, and Tinian. Afterwards assigned to a destroyer, he took part in the battles for the Philippines and Okinawa. As a quartermaster, Poulnot was in charge of steering the ship to dodge incoming Japanese kamikazes. “You knew these guys were shooting at you and you knew they were trying to light on you like mosquitoes, and the name of the game was ‘stay the hell from under them,’ which we did successfully.” After the war, Poulnot enrolled in the College of Charleston, but he decided to apprentice as a Charleston Harbor pilot instead of getting a degree. He worked as a harbor pilot for forty-two years before retiring in 1987.
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Philip Minges, Interview by Jack Bass, 10 October 2008
Philip Minges, Interview by Jack Bass, 10 October 2008 Philip S. Minges, Jr. was born on December 1, 1923, in Charleston, SC. He reported for active duty in 1942 during his sophomore year at Clemson University. Although he began training in the Corps of Engineers, combat replacement requirements led to Minges’ assignment as an infantryman to the Eleventh Armored Division. Minges reflects on his combat experience during the Battle of the Bulge when he had to try to dig a foxhole under fire in frozen ground. In his first battle, only three men of a 12-man squad, Minges and two others, came through unharmed. All others were wounded or killed. A few battles later, Minges was wounded: “I heard something hit on the side of the track, about waist high. I knew what it was. [If the shot] had been over about a foot [it would have gotten] me in the back…. I heard another pop and dirt flew up around my feet…. I got shot in the foot.” Following World War II, he enrolled at The Citadel in 1946 and graduated in 1948. After the war, Minges worked fifty years for Dupont in Camden, SC, and retired as an Army Reserve colonel with thirty years of service.
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Pearl James Hill, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 16 March 2011
Pearl James Hill, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 16 March 2011 Pearl James Hill was born in 1925, in Aynor, South Carolina. One of fourteen children, she was orphaned at age thirteen, and lived with various family members until she turned sixteen and moved to Charleston. Hill worked at the munitions factory manufacturing hand grenades. Later, she became a ship welder, and worked at the Naval Shipyard until WWII ended in 1945. She then briefly worked at American Tobacco. In this interview with Rebecca Michaud, Hill reflects on her childhood, work at the munitions factory and the ship yard, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
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George Orvin, Interview by Jack Bass, 9 December 2008
George Orvin, Interview by Jack Bass, 9 December 2008 Orvin was born and raised near The Citadel in Charleston, SC. He decided to go to The Citadel and entered in September 1939. In his senior year at The Citadel he began medical school at the Medical College of Charleston as part of a government program to increase the number of doctors in the Medical Corps during WWII. After graduating from medical school in May 1946 he went straight into the Army Air Corps as a flight surgeon trainee but was discharged due to a hearing impairment after a physical examination revealed scars on his ear drums. After his discharge Orvin interned in New York City before returning home to Charleston and opening a general practice in 1948, which he ran for ten years. During this time he realized he enjoyed listening to patients and helping them with their problems. He trained in psychiatry, founded two hospitals specializing in the treatment of adolescents, and joined the Medical University faculty in Charleston. Orvin discusses his time at The Citadel and his fond memories of the years he spent there. His love for his alma mater inspired him to create the Brigadier Club in 1948, which continues to raise money for Citadel Athletics.
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Michael Veeck, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 17 November 2008
Michael Veeck, Interview by Kerry Taylor, 17 November 2008 Michael Veeck was born in Tucson, Arizona in 1951 and is co-owner of the Charleston Riverdogs baseball team. He is the son of Bill Veeck (1914-1986), the colorful if not always successful owner of the St. Louis Browns, the Chicago White Sox, and the World Series champion Cleveland Indians (1948). Michael Veeck inherited his family’s love of baseball, but may be best known as the originator of one of baseball’s most infamous promotions—“Disco Demolition.” What began as a light-hearted gag to blow up disco records symbolizing the death of the 1970s dance craze, ended in a riot at Chicago’s Comiskey Park and considerable damage to the stadium and playing field. In this interview excerpt, Veeck details the planning of “Disco Demolition,” and boasts of his role in hastening disco’s demise. The interview took place during a “US Since 1945” course at The Citadel.
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James A. Grimsley, Interview by Jack Bass, 2 October 2008
James A. Grimsley, Interview by Jack Bass, 2 October 2008 Major General James Alexander Grimsley was born in 1921 in Florence, South Carolina. After graduating from The Citadel in 1942 he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. He served for thirty-three years and finished his Army career as the Director of Security Assistance Plans and Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Among his thirty-five major decorations are Two Silver Star medals for gallantry in Action; four Bronze Star medals for Valor; four Legion of Merit awards; and three Purple Heart medals. In September 1975, Grimsley accepted the position of Vice President of Administration and Finance at The Citadel and five years later was named the 16th President of the military college. Upon retiring in 1989, the Board of Visitors named him President Emeritus, a position held only by Generals Charles P. Summerall and Mark W. Clark. Grimsley, reflects on his decision to attend The Citadel and his combat experiences in Vietnam. He also discusses several of his major achievements as Citadel President. On transitioning from the Army to The Citadel, Grimsley observes that “it was made easier for me coming to The Citadel because it was a military college so there was a structure here that I understood. They just wore cadet uniforms and not army uniforms.” In an April 4-6, 2000 interview, a transcript of which is at the Citadel Archives and Museum, Grimsley detailed his active duty service during WWII.
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