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The Citadel Oral History Program

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1.
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Gladys Pinckney, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 2 February 2011
Gladys Pinckney, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 2 February 2011 Gladys Pinckney was born in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1915 and made the decision very early to become a nurse. She attended nursing school and was encouraged to become a Red Cross nurse. In 1941, she received a request from the War Department to serve as Second Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps, and she reported to Fort Jackson two weeks later. She served at a number of medical facilities in France at the tail end of the war and in its aftermath. As a nurse with a specialty in anaesthesia, she took care of combat casualties and prisoners of war from all over Europe. When asked how she felt about taking care of German POW’s, she said, “Didn’t make any difference. When I took an oath, we vowed that we would take care of everybody who was committed to our care. That’s an oath we had to take.” Pinckney also served as a nurse in a MASH unit during the Korean War. She was asked to serve in Vietnam, but decided to retire due to health considerations. She is presently a resident of Columbia, South Carolina, where she volunteers at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church and drives her own car.
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Ida Ostendorff, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 1 March 2011
Ida Ostendorff, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 1 March 2011 Ida Ostendorff was born in Gilbert, South Carolina. At the start of WWII she traveled to Washington D.C. where she passed a typing course and began work as a “government girl” working in the Judge Advocate General’s office. In 1942, upon turning 21 and meeting the minimum age requirement, she jointed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). She completed her basic training at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, where she was trained to use a gas mask. She volunteered for an assignment overseas and traveled to New York City to embark on the Queen Elizabeth. She landed in Scotland on June 6, 1944, having no idea at the time that it was D-Day. She was then transported to her assignment at Stone Staffordshire, England. On her way there she remembers the commotion caused by the Normandy landings: “As we were going along, people were just waving wildly to us because they knew it was D-Day, but we didn’t know it.” She remained in England until the end of the war. She met her husband after the war when they both took the same French class. They were married for 61 years and have five children, several of whom have served in the military.
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Elma England, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 14 March 2011
Elma England, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 14 March 2011 Elma England was raised in Grover, SC sixty miles from Charleston. During the war she moved to Charleston to work in the Charleston Navy Yard as a welder. At the shipyard, England worked on the USS Tidewater and she was on board during the destroyer’s ceremonial launch on 30 June 1945. As someone who had worked her whole life, she found it easy to make the adjustment to working at the shipyard. She was laid off after the war and went to work for the phone company.
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Leila Kikos, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 18 March 2011
Leila Kikos, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 18 March 2011 Leila Kikos was born Leila Elizabeth Bailey on President St. in Charleston, SC in 1923. She graduated from Memminger High School in 1940, after which she studied drafting at The Citadel and worked at the shipyards and for the War Department as a switchboard operator on Meeting St. After the formation of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), Kikos consulted with her father and enlisted. She attended basic training at Hunter College in New York City. She was assigned to Washington, D.C. as a drafter. It was there that she met her husband Peter, a Marine studying bomb disposal at American University. After the war, she and her husband moved to Minneapolis briefly before returning to Charleston, where they operated a bakery.
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Helen Rooks, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 14 February 2011
Helen Rooks, Interview by Rebecca Michaud, 14 February 2011 Helen Rooks was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. She was the oldest of five children and her father worked as a lumberman, while her mother was a homemaker. Though she was initially interested in joining the Navy, a recruiter at the local courthouse convinced her to join the Coast Guard in 1943. Her time in the service began with a rough start when the train in which she was traveling struck a cow on the way to Miami. Upon arriving at her duty station, she worked as a yeoman with Air-Sea Rescue. At a hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, she worked in the burn unit. She recalls witnessing debris floating up onto the beach from battles with nearby German submarines. Rooks spent her off-hours enjoying the nightlife in Miami. She received a citation for being a charter member of the Women in the Military Service for America and was recognized for her service by Governor Olin Johnston. She was married to her husband Milton—a World War II veteran—for 53 years before his death in 1991.
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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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John Allison, Interview by Jack Bass, 6 October 2008
John Allison, Interview by Jack Bass, 6 October 2008 Colonel John Allison was born September 19, 1921 in Albany, Georgia. He entered the Citadel in September of 1939 and left at the end of his Junior year in 1942 to enter the Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet. During World War II he received three Distinguished Flying Crosses as a bomber pilot. He flew 59 combat missions as a B-24 pilot and five as a B-25 pilot during almost two years in the Pacific, including the bombing of Japan. After returning to the Citadel after the war, he graduated in 1947 and then rejoined what was then the Air Force, becoming a squadron commander in Vietnam. He currently lives in Charleston and is an avid golfer. Allison reflects on his decision to attend The Citadel and his combat experiences in both WWII and Vietnam. He discusses his training as an Army Air Corps pilot and subsequent World War II military experience as a bomber pilot in the Pacific theater. He also alludes to his post-WWII career during the Cold War, including flights to gather intelligence over Russia and Cuba. Audio with transcript.
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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Henry Berlin, Interview by Jack Bass, 31 October 2008
Henry Berlin, Interview by Jack Bass, 31 October 2008 Henry Berlin was born August 19, 1924, in Charleston and enrolled at The Citadel in 1941. After enlistment and training, Berlin eventually served as a radar operator on an LST during the early Normandy landings. After the war he studied law at the University of South Carolina for two years and returned to work at Berlin's clothing store on the corner of King and Broad Streets in Charleston, SC. Berlin details his brief but rebellious tenure at the Citadel before going on active duty in May 1942. He describes how this rebellious streak ended his naval officer training in Columbia, SC, and how he was shipped to Maryland for boot camp. He discusses how he eventually became a radar operator on an LST ferrying troops and material across the English Channel in the days and months after D-Day. He relates harrowing trips across the channel, being targeted by German artillery during the early landings on Normandy, and the loss of troops as they disembarked from the LST in rough seas. After V-E day he describes his return to the US, his trip through the Panama Canal and his arrival at Pearl Harbor just before V-J day. He also touches upon his immediate post-war life including law school, a brief stint playing semi-pro baseball and return to his father's clothing shop in Charleston. Audio with transcript.
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Henry Rittenberg, Interview by Jack Bass, 28 November 2008
Henry Rittenberg, Interview by Jack Bass, 28 November 2008 Henry Rittenberg was born and raised in Charleston, SC, only a few blocks away from the Citadel campus. In 1934 after winning the City of Charleston Scholarship, he had the means to attend The Citadel and entered that fall semester. After repeatedly failing to pass the physical examination for various commissioning programs, he was accepted for the OCS Limited Service but found there were no vacancies. Afterwards, he was assigned to the coast artillery near Boston as an enlisted soldier. When coast artillery troops were taken for field artillery assignments in 1943, Rittenberg volunteered and was deployed to England, later serving as a forward observer. He took part in the crossing of the Rhine and the battle of the Ruhr pocket in which thousands of Germans were taken as prisoners of war. He was present at the Elbe River on VE Day, May 8, 1945, and returned home in February 1946. After working as a pharmacist, Rittenberg went to medical school, which he completed in 1955. He worked as a general practitioner until he retired. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus and received an honorary degree from the Citadel. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the AOA Medical Honor Society, and the Hebrew Orphan Society.