Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida is honoring those who have served America in the armed forces by gathering, preserving, and promoting their stories.
SPOHP has more than 200 oral history interviews with military war veterans, all of which are being made accessible to scholars and the public. The collection includes interviews with survivors of the Bataan Death March, soldiers who took part in the liberation of Nazi concentration camps and American Civil War veterans.
Clair Chaffin, Navy corpsman and survivor of the landing at Iwo Jima in 1945, lost his life in an armed robbery outside of his hotel June 8, 2009. The staff of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida remembers him and honors his service to his country.
SPOHP is the foremost repository for veterans’ oral histories in the South. The collection contains 130 WW II oral histories, 25 Vietnam oral histories and several Korean War interviews.
SPOHP has an ongoing commitment to preserve these individuals’ experiences through their compelling oral histories. SPOHP’s WW II Collection has been used for research, public readings, and high school curriculum enhancement.
In 2008, SPOHP took several oral histories off the archival shelves and turned them into living history by making a documentary titled “I Just Wanted to Live!”
The film was based on selected passages from oral histories given by four ex-prisoners of war held by the Japanese. The documentary is now housed in three major museums and the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
You can view the actual video on the Crooked Fences website by clicking on the "I Just Wanted To Live" image above.
He survived the infamous Bataan Death March; he survived bombing attacks by his fellow Americans on Corregidor who were shelling the Japanese on Bataan; he survived two hellish internment camps in the Philippines; he survived the terrifying passage in the hold of a Japanese Hell Ship en route to Japan; and he survived forced labor in a condemned Japanese coal mile. Herbert Pepper suffered beatings and malnutrition and contracted tuberculosis and beriberi during those years as a POW from 1942 to 1945.
In 2005, Pepper recounted those horrific experiences in an oral history, conducted by Dr. Julian Pleasants, then director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. SPOHP also had catalogued three other oral histories of POWs held by the Japanese.
In 2008, Deborah Hendrix and Diane Fischler of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program produced a documentary titled “I Just Wanted to Live!” based on these four oral histories in its World War II collection. The film (both a 35-minute presentation version and a longer 55-minute version) premiered in Pugh Hall on November 10, 2008, in a program titled “Testimony of War.”
Herbert Pepper had been hospitalized in the Lake City VA the week before the premiere but insisted on leaving his hospital bed to come to Gainesville to attend the documentary’s debut. He arrived in a wheelchair accompanied by many family members.
One of the other two ex-POWs, Victor Cote of New Smyrna Beach, also came to the program. The two former POWs shook hands and were both astonished to learn that they had worked in the same coal mining camp in Japan, Camp Fukuoka. Their handshake spoke volumes of their shared prisoner-of-war experiences.
On October 2, 2012, at age 93, Herbert Pepper passed away at the Lake City VA. He was a true survivor. It was an honor and privilege for the Oral History Program to capture the hell-on-earth years of these heroic men.
Early on the morning of April 18, 1966, the Marines of Alpha North, an artillery battery stationed outside of Danang, South Vietnam, were attacked by a company of Viet Cong insurgents. Using rocket-propelled grenades, satchel charges, and semi and fully automatic rifles, the attackers quickly overran the installation and disabled two of the installation’s six 105mm howitzers. In the ensuing firefight, five Marines were killed and fifteen wounded before control of the base was regained.
This October a team of researchers from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida attended a reunion of the Alpha North Marines in Las Vegas, Nevada, in order to conduct oral interviews with surviving members. In both video and audio interviews, the team worked to reconstruct the events that led to the attack, the defense of the installation, and the steps that were taken in the aftermath in order to increase security. In addition, interviewees were encouraged to share the impact of their Vietnam experience on their lives since 1966.
Local political activist and Alpha North veteran Scott Camil accompanied the team to Las Vegas and assisted with the interviews. Bonnie Gallegos, whose brother Arnold lost his life in the attack, has been instrumental in organizing the reunion and was on hand as well.
All of the interviews will be deposited in a publicly accessible archive at UF, as well as the Library of Congress in the Veteran’s History Project.
Ray Eberling received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in 1970 and was the SPOHP’s Julian Pleasants Visiting Scholar in 2010. He is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and hopes to receive his PhD in American Studies this coming year at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Below is an excerpt from his reflections on the reunion in Las Vegas.
"When I received the phone call in mid-August from Dr. Paul Ortiz inviting me to be part of the Alpha North interview team, I was both surprised and honored: Surprised since, although I had conducted my own oral histories in the past and had accessed many of the oral histories in the SPOHP catalog for my own research, I had never taken part in one of the SPOHP field projects.
And I was honored for two reasons. First, that Paul had thought of me for this particular project, and second, the opportunity to interview the subjects themselves. All had volunteered for service in more idealistic times, had suffered adversity in battle, in loss of comrades, and later at home, as the American public became more and more divided about the war. This would be their chance to tell their respective stories and I was honored to help facilitate that process."
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Episode 13: Damon Conrad Alberty on WW II - This podcast details the darkest side of war as recalled by a POW held by the Japanese for three and a half years. Conrad Alberty survived the Battle of Bataan, the Bataan Death March, the internment camps of O’Donnell and Cabanatuan, the Japanese Hell Ships, and the slave labor camps in Japan. He endured torture, starvation, malaria, and other near-death experiences—and he lived to tell his story. The harrowing accounts of prisoners of war are not found in history textbooks or in books on World War II—or any other war. This survivor’s gripping words are also featured in the SPOHP-produced documentary about four POWs titled I Just Wanted to Live! Ken Samuelson conducted Conrad Alberty’s oral history in 1998. Produced by Deborah Hendrix. Edited by Danielle Navarrete and Diane Fischler. Copyrighted music by Therapy Shock, courtesy of Public Room Records.
Episode 8: Michael Jamin on WWII - Michael Jamin discusses his childhood in German-occupied Holland. Topics include wartime rationing, restrictions imposed on Dutch citizens, the deportation of Jews, and the Allied invasion. Steve Davis interviewed Mr. Jamin on May 5, 2009. This interview is the second part of a three part series produced especially for Memorial Day. Produced by Deborah Hendrix. Edited by Steve Davis.
Episode 7: Bernard Mellman on WWII - Bernard Mellman speaks about his experiences during WWII. Mr. Mellman was a member of the 42nd Infantry Division, also known as the Rainbow Division. Topics include his childhood in Columbus Ohio, training for combat, the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, and his postwar life. Steve Davis interviewed Mr. Mellman on February 19, 2009. This interview is the first part of a three part series produced especially for Memorial Day. Produced by Deborah Hendrix. Edited by Steve Davis.
To view photo galleries from the SPOHP Veterans History Project, please click on the camera icon above. We will be updating this page with photos from future events, so check back often!
We currently have posted photographs taken at the recent Alpha North US Marines Reunion, held in Las Vegas, Nevada.
On Sunday, November 11, SPOHP attended the second annual Veterans Day Parade in Starke, Florida. The event honored local veterans and featured ROTC and veterans groups, including the USO. SPOHP set up a booth to share interviews from our Veterans History Project and to schedule new ones. Deborah Hendrix, Marna Weston, Sarah Blanc, and Diana Dombrowski attended. See the Bradford County Telegraph's photos from the day...HERE, and a photograph of SPOHP's own booth...HERE!
Testimony of War - On November 10, 2008, SPOHP presented "Testimony of War," a two-part program in Pugh Hall that attracted several hundred people from the community, including students, faculty, and veterans. The first part of the program premiered the SPOHP-produced documentary titled "I Just Wanted to Live!". This film utilized SPOHP's World War II Collection in an unusual way.Read more...
Scott Camil, member of Alpha North, attended the reunion in Las Vegas, NV in October 2012. Steve Karras, Staff Writer for Web2Carz wrote an amazing article about Mr. Camil. Read more......
Military veteran, now UF faculty member, honors veterans in Gainesville display. Listen to the WUFT-FM Special on SPOHP's local Veterans for Peace "Memorial Mile" project.
WUFT-FM recently interviewed Vietnam veteran Jon Anderson who was exposed to Agent Orange, and later diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2004. Read both parts of the interview, on WUFT-FM's website. Or you can listen to the interview in your browser.
Read "Veterans Oral History Project" in The Fine Print, by Ellen McHugh.
Read the Gainesville Sun's article about Ann Smith and her work on the Veterans History Project.
Ann Smith - Project Coordinator :
As Veterans’ History Project coordinator, one of Smith's major roles is to facilitate the interviewing of World War II veterans. So far, the program has conducted about 160 interviews with WWII veterans. You can contact Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org
Deborah Hendrix - Archivist/Videographer :
Deborah has worked with the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program since 2000, first as a volunteer and presently, as archivist and videographer. You can contact Deborah at email@example.com
Diane Fischler worked at SPOHP for nine years (2000-2009) as an editor, historian, and writer. She wrote and narrated a SPOHP-produced documentary titled “I Just Wanted to Live.” The documentary is now housed in the educational resources archives of several museums across the country, including the National POW Museum in Andersonville, Georgia; the National World War II Museum in New Orleans; and the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas.
The Alachua County Library at the Alachua County Jail recruits inmates for transcription of oral histories, providing them with the benefit of computer practice and increased potential for later job opportunities. Cheris Carpenter is the current librarian there.
Gigi Simmons has just begun interviewing elders in the Porter's Quarters, one of Gainesville's oldest and most historic African-American neighborhoods. Dr. Watson Porter, a Canadian physican, established Porters Addition to Gainesville in 1884 and sold lots exclusively to African Americans, many of whom worked in the nearby railroad yards and industrial sites. Her interviews of those elders who are veterans will be added to the SPOHP collection.
The Alachua County Historic Trust: Matheson Museum, Inc. is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of Alachua County, Florida. The Museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in operation since 1994.
The Museum complex includes 4 sites: the Matheson Museum, housing the exhibit hall and research library, the Matheson House, the Tison Tool Museum, and Sweetwater Park.
Learn more about The Matheson Museum Complex
This web site pays tribute to the more than 21,000 men and women veterans that live in the Alachua County community. He is a volunteer for the Military Support Group of Alachua County, and has met many of these men and women, as well as their families.
There is a wealth of information on the Crooked Fences website, such as photos, videos, contact information, as well as links to other resources.
©2012–Website design by Stephanie Taylor