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The Citadel Oral History Program

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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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G. Edward Haynsworth, 13 October 2008
G. Edward Haynsworth, 13 October 2008 Bishop G. Edward Haynsworth explains his strong family connections to The Citadel. His father and two brothers were Citadel graduates, and he said his grandfather was credited with firing the first shot at the Star of the West in 1861. His decision to apply, he said, was “relatively simple.” He was called with his entire class of 1944 to active duty in 1943 at the end of his junior year. Within a year he had been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and shipped to the European theater with the 84th Infantry Division. He describes his combat duty in WWII, including being wounded on November 29, 1944 during an action against the Germans near Aachen. He and his platoon came under attack while advancing, and he was shot through the arm and returned to England for medical care. After returning to The Citadel to complete his English degree, Haynsworth attended the School of Theology at the University of the South. Haynsworth asserts that his wartime experiences confirmed his desire to go to divinity school. Since then, Haynsworth, has traveled the world as a Christian missionary, helping to establish churches in Central and South America as well as in Asia.
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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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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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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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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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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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Gerald Meyerson, Interview by Jack Bass, 14 November 2008
Gerald Meyerson, Interview by Jack Bass, 14 November 2008 Gerald Meyerson was born in Spartanburg, SC, on December 19, 1921. After his sophomore year at The Citadel, he transferred to Duke University. While still at Duke as a first-year law school student, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and he enlisted in the Army Air Corps communications cadet program. He then returned and completed his law school exams while he waited to start the training program. As a communications officer, he later served in London and Paris. From there his unit coordinated communications with various Air Corps units in the European Theater of Operations. After the German surrender, he transferred to the Judge Advocate Generals Corps because he had attended law school. He worked there on minor cases for only a short time before returning to the United States. Meyerson reflects on his decisions both to enroll at and subsequently transfer from The Citadel. He also discusses his postwar career, initially as an attorney and subsequently as a men’s clothing merchant.
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Clarence Renneker, Interview by Jack Bass, 1 December 2008
Clarence Renneker, Interview by Jack Bass, 1 December 2008 Clarence A. Renneker Jr. grew up in Orangeburg, SC, and enrolled at The Citadel in 1939. His brother-in-law, a graduate from the school, influenced his decision. He majored in business and graduated from The Citadel in May of 1943. Renneker was sent to Ft. Benning, GA, where he completed OCS and was commissioned. He was then assigned for a time to the 80th Infantry division. After training in the southwest, he was shipped overseas in June 1944 as an “excess officer.” After arriving in England, he was assigned to the 118th Infantry after speaking with the regiment’s executive officer by chance in a barbershop. The Regimental executive officer was Citadel graduate Colonel Caldwell Barron, Jr. As an officer in the 118th division, Renneker helped run training schools around England, and later in France, he helped train replacement troops from other branches as riflemen by teaching them map reading skills, to shoot and care for their rifles, and other basic infantry skills before they were sent to the front lines. After the surrender was signed in Germany, Renneker helped coordinate the post-war return of soldiers to the United States. In June 1946, he returned home to his wife and eventually took over his father’s clothing store in Orangeburg. He is retired and living in Mt. Pleasant with his wife.
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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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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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Vincent Adams, Interview by Jack Bass, 22 September 2008
Vincent Adams, Interview by Jack Bass, 22 September 2008 A native of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, Adams recalls his WWII experiences and decision to enlist in the Navy as a seventeen year-old. Adams was assigned to the USS Duchess, which primarily served as an attack transport carrier. His most vivid combat experiences came in off-loading troops during the battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. Although stationed in the boiler room of the transport, he went topside during part of the unloading and helped carry one of the wounded men aboard ship. After returning home from the war he graduated from The Citadel (1950) and capitalized on his entrepreneurial spirit, founding his own blueprint business as well as Charleston Yacht Sales until he retired from his real estate business, which his daughters continue to run in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
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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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Ernest F. Hollings, Interview by Jack Bass, 18 September 2008
Ernest F. Hollings, Interview by Jack Bass, 18 September 2008 Ernest F. Hollings was born on January 1, 1922. A Charleston native and World War II veteran, Hollings graduated from The Citadel in 1942. He served as Governor of South Carolina (1959-1963) and represented the state in the United States Senate (1966-2005). He is credited with enhancing the state’s system of public education and expanding its industrial base through the establishment a network of technical education centers and the State Development Board. During his tenure in the Senate, he was instrumental in envisioning and developing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In this interview, Hollings credits The Citadel for preparing him for WWII and life as a politician. He recounts the state’s “embarrassing” treatment of returning African-American veterans after WWII. Hollings also asserts that the establishment of the state sales tax improved public schools. Drawing upon his life in public service, Hollings reflects on contemporary political problems, including the economy, the war in Iraq, the current state of politics, and the press. For a full account of his experiences in WWII, see Hollings’s interview with H.W. White, a transcript of which is located in The Citadel Archives.
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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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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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A. Lee Chandler, Interview by Jack Bass, 26 October 2008
A. Lee Chandler, Interview by Jack Bass, 26 October 2008 Chandler discusses the decision to attend The Citadel and recalls that his family lacked the resources to send him to a North East or Ivy League School. Though he enrolled in ’39, he was forced to delay his education for financial reasons, and became part of the class of ’44. After attending OCS training he was commissioned as 2nd Lt. in the 271st Infantry, 69th Division and served with distinction in the European Theater during WWII. He recounts his combat experiences, including when he was injured in Germany along the Siegfried Line, an incident for which he received the Purple Heart. After returning from the war, Chandler began a civic and legal career, elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives, Circuit Judge, Associate Justice and eventually the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. He has remained active in his community, both through economic development boards as well as in his church. He currently presides as Deacon of his church in Mt. Pleasant, SC where he resides with his wife.
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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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Arthur M. Swanson, Interview by Jack Bass, 14 October 2008
Arthur M. Swanson, Interview by Jack Bass, 14 October 2008 Arthur Swanson entered The Citadel in 1941 at the urging of his father whose friend had assured him it was a school that would instill discipline. After two years pursuing an English degree, he went on active duty in July 1943. Assigned to an anti-aircraft unit, he applied for pilot training but was selected to become a navigator. Before he could complete the course, he was reassigned to an infantry unit because of a shortage of young officers. He recalls this abrupt change of plans. “I ended up in Northern California from the comforts of the Air Force to the rigors of the infantry in the Eighty Ninth Division.” In December 1944, he embarked for Europe, landed at Le Havre, and entered the fighting in Luxembourg, moving from there into Germany. He received the Combat Infantry Badge and the Bronze Star for his efforts in Germany with his regiment—the 355th Infantry. He returned from the war in 1946, but visited Europe again before graduating from The Citadel in 1948. Shortly after graduation he began his accidental career in banking, eventually retiring as President of the South Carolina National Bank in 1985. He continues to hold an office at the South Carolina Bank and Trust Company and plays golf regularly.
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John Burrows, Interview by Jack Bass, 10 December 2008
John Burrows, Interview by Jack Bass, 10 December 2008 John Burrows was born in Saginaw, Michigan. An excellent student and athlete he graduated high school and received a full scholarship to go The Citadel. He entered in September of 1936 as a civil engineer major, and quickly became number one in his class academically. He also excelled in football, basketball and track, making all-state for basketball three years in a row, and remains in the Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame. Upon graduation from The Citadel in 1940 he received a regular army commission and joined the 61st Coast Artillery Regiment. From there he was eventually assigned to the air defense division of the Supreme Headquarters under General Eisenhower in London, and oversaw the then top-secret plan codenamed Operation Overlord. Burrows recalls his decision to enter The Citadel and his active duty in WWII. Although never in direct combat, his time on the Supreme Headquarters staff allowed him an insider's perspective on the planning for Operation Overlord and the European Theater. He discusses the US Army's ingenuity when it came to advances in weaponry, which were occurring in front of his eyes. He also discusses in detail the German surrender at Reims and how the US Army so effectively handled the multitude of issues surrounding the details of such an event. Upon returning from his service in the army, Burrows worked for a book publishing company before returning to Charleston take a job as Assistant Commandant at The Citadel. Audio with transcript.