A Grandfather’s War Stories

Kenneth Harbaugh reflects on stories his grandfather told him about World War 2. (links goes to page on NPR with link to 3+ minute audio file). Harbaugh describes being a young kid listening to the humorous twists to his grandfather’s stories (“War, for all I knew, was fun”), and then, as they both got older, the stories took on a different meaning.

When I was nine, my family visited the American Military Cemetery in Luxembourg, near where the Battle of the Bulge took place. I had never seen my grandfather cry before. But watching his face as “Taps” was played, I finally made the connection between the tales he told and the real cost of his war. I began to ask for the other  stories, as much as I knew they might terrify me.

Besides being just a good story about a grandson and grandfather, two other things about this audio essay struck me:

The stories change over time, as the listener grows old enough to hear the more difficult parts of someone’s life story. And, for all I know, the aging witness to past events wants to pass on “what really happened” before it’s too late. (This wasn’t explicit in this case, but has been noted in similar circumstances)

The sound of a person’s voice is powerful indeed. There are little tremors in Kenneth Harbaugh’s voice as he recalls his grandfather and also compares the WW2 stories to current day stories. The emotion behind his words exemplifies the power of the voice (for audio) and the vision and voice (for video & audio).

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 10, 2007 in • AudioPersonal History
3 CommentsPermalink

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The Census Bureau released these statistics today:

Number of military veterans in the United States in 2006: 23.7 million. (Source: Table 505 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)

Number of all living veterans who served in World War II: 3.2 million. (Source: Table 506 of the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2008.)

Documented number of living World War I veterans who served with U.S. forces as of Oct. 2, 2007: 3. (Source: Department of Veterans Affairs)

Percentage of veterans living in poverty, as of 2006: 5.9%. The corresponding rate for nonveterans was 12.3 percent. (Source: 2006 American Community Survey.)

Joy Rich

Joy Rich  on 10/11  at  07:52 AM

I am trying to get my father interviewed about his tour of duty in the US Navy for over 22 years.  He is still with us and remembers the war like it was yesterday.  His stories recount many great and scary times in WWII which include surviving the sinking of the WASP in the Battle of Guadal Canal and many accounts of his times with hurricaine hunting.  He flew with the same pilot for over 11 years which was unheard of in those times.  My father is 88 years old and I believe his stories are much like the ones documented on Ken Burns’s documentary of WWII.  His name is Harry Joseph Beard (Joe), and any information about how I could get him interviewed would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you for your time in reading this.


Mary Beard-Eich

Mary Eich  on 11/12  at  09:56 AM

Dear Mary Beard-Eich—

How splendid that you want to do this! I spent Saturday with my dad, in another session talking about his navy days.

The best thing is to conduct the interview and donate it to the Veterans History Project/Library of Congress.

First, see if there’s an effort taking place in your/his area. I see news stories about this all the time on Google: Search Google News for Oral+History+Veteran to see if there are any efforts underway in your part of the world. If so, get in touch with whatever organization is mentioned in the news story.

Contact a local veterans organization. Maybe there are plans underway for oral history that haven’t yet been announced? Or maybe your call will help get things rolling.

If it’s a part of a local veterans group, then I imagine the costs would be minimal to none.

If you come up dry there, then contact the Association of Personal Historians—there’s a member search page  where you can select your area of the country (or his area, if different), what services you’d like, and then it gives you a list of people to contact. That would be a paid service, I assume. But given your father’s age, time is of the essence, and it may be the quickest, most expedient way to ensure that you get a recording of his stories. Good luck, and please let me know how it works for you!!

Susan A. Kitchens  on 11/15  at  01:47 PM

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