World War II project records veterans' stories

  • Posted: Sunday, November 17, 2013 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, November 17, 2013 12:12 a.m.
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala
Dr. Doug Higbee, a professor of English at USC Aiken, reads transcripts from one of hundreds of interviews conducted with local veterans and residents who lived through World War II.
Staff photo by Teddy Kulmala Dr. Doug Higbee, a professor of English at USC Aiken, reads transcripts from one of hundreds of interviews conducted with local veterans and residents who lived through World War II.

The Augusta-Richmond County Historical Society on Saturday celebrated the debut of its oral history project on World War II, of which a USC Aiken professor is a part.

The project, known as “Augusta Goes to War,” has been a five-year endeavor that includes interviews with 800 local veterans who fought in World War II.

Saturday's event was led by two historians from Georgia Regents University, Jim Garvey and Hubert van Tuyll, and Doug Higbee of USCA.

The purpose of the lengthy project is to put local faces on The Greatest Generation. Saturday's event included readings from the society's documentary on Augusta-area veterans remembering World War II.

During the presentation, Higbee read transcripts from interviews with veterans regarding life in theater and returning home from the war. He emphasized that not every moment of a soldier or sailor's life was spent in combat or on the fields of battle.

Higbee read from one interview with a veteran who'd been in a military hospital in Dijon, France. He couldn't be sent to his home state of Florida because there were no Army medical centers there. The state of Georgia had four, including one in Augusta.

“I said, 'You know what, I've never been to Augusta, Ga. I've heard it's a beautiful city. Would you please send me to Augusta?'” he quoted the veteran, who eventually met his wife in Augusta.

“We didn't want to just focus on the combat vignettes,” Higbee said. “Those are interesting, but they're more interesting if you get to know the person who is experiencing (it).”

Higbee, a professor of English, was invited to join the project four years ago by a colleague at USCA.

“I started interviewing veterans and then moved to this book project,” he said. He focuses on organizing the transcripts and the way the book will be structured.

“I've got a bit of knowledge about war stories and how people tell them through the ages,” he said. “Going back to Homer, to the stuff that you read nowadays from Iraq vets. That's more my expertise, the narrative and the storytelling.”

Higbee said the book is still about two years out from being published.

He hopes it will appeal to a variety of age groups, particularly younger people and school-age children who weren't alive during World War II, since The Greatest Generation is gradually dying out.

“This history is going to die out if we don't get some 'younger recruits,'” he said. “We want to get school kids involved, college kids.”

Local veterans and even residents who didn't serve in the military but were alive during World War II are encouraged to share their thoughts and memories, which could be included in the project.

For more information, call Augusta-Richmond County Historical Society at 706-737-1532.

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012. He is a native of Williston and majored in communication studies at Clemson University.

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