80th Infantry Division
 
Oral History Project
   
   

The MISSION

For the children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews of 80th Division veterans: your mission is to conduct an Oral History of your father, grandfather, or uncle who served in the 80th Division. This is NOT limited to WWII veterans; we want to gather as much history as we can from all 80th Division veterans. You may be surprised - the conversation may change your life.

     
    Here’s a Step-by-Step Procedure for Conducting an Oral History
    1. Develop a list of initial questions. Focus on the basics, such as:
  • What branch of the service did he serve? Most of the 80th Division veterans served with the U.S. Army, but I would not be surprised if several veterans served with another branch such as the Marines or the Navy.

  • What was his rank? In most cases, an enlisted man joins the Army as a private and works his way up through promotions. Officers start as 2d Lieutenants and work their way up through promotions.

  • Did he join the 80th as a replacement soldier? The 80th entered the ETO (European Theatre of Operation)
    in July 1944 when they arrived in Scotland. They hit the beaches of Normandy the first week of August 1944. Anyone joining the 80th Division after that time would be considered a replacement.

  • In what unit did he serve? In the 80th Division during WWII , there were three rifle regiments (317th, 318th, 319th), four Field Artillery Battalions (313th, 314th, 905th, 315th), and a number of other support units (80th Reconnaissance Troop, 305th Engineer Combat Battalion, 305th Medical Battalion, 780th Ordnance Light Maintenance Company, 80th Quartermaster Company, 80th Signal Company, Military Police Platoon, Headquarters Company, and the Band). He may have served in more than one unit. Also, note the company he was in: for every rifle regiment, there are three battalions, each with three rifle companies and one heavy weapons company.

  • Was he awarded any medals? If so, what medals and does he have the official citations that came with the
    award? While the citation would be “official,” ask him about the circumstances. This may be a tough one (see below), but it would help explain the story.

  • In what campaigns did he participate? During WWII, the 80th Division participated in four campaigns: Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and Central Europe.

2. Keep in mind there are typically three “phases” of your veteran’s history:

  • Before action: This is where he learned to become a soldier. Initial training, then training for his particular
    MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), though not everyone had specific training, then training with the
    unit.

  • Action: The 80th Division spent 277 days in continuous combat. Many veterans fought with the 80th Division from the time the division landed on Utah Beach in early August until the end of the war on May 7,
    1945. This will be the toughest part of the interview.

  • After the war: Many veterans came home in one piece; others, not so lucky. But all veterans came home a different person than when they went over. It’s also important to try to understand how the war shaped their lives and what they did after the war.

3. Conduct the interview - this is where you get to talk to your veteran and ask specific questions. You’ve got your initial set of questions (see examples below), but you may find you want to ask more questions that take you into a different direction during the interview—be flexible. That’s fine and you should go with the flow. You’ve got to be interested in your veteran’s story and learn to adapt to the conversation. There is no book to read on how to do this, thought there are lots of resources; you just learn by experience. If you’re interviewing your father or grandfather, be patient (both of you). These men grew up without computers, some without telephones—a proud generation that grew up not showing their emotions.

     
    A Few Tips for You
   
  • Before the Interview, do a little research: Does your veteran have any papers or documents from the Army? The discharge papers will provide a lot of information. Some veterans filed their papers with the local clerk of the court, many of which are online. Does he have a scrapbook, or any photos from the time? Does he have the letters he wrote home?

  • When you conduct the interview, try to avoid background noises, such as phones, TVs, radios, noisy pets.

  • Write your initial set of questions down and share them with your 80th Division veteran. If you don’t have a script, your conversation may go all over the place. Also, letting your veteran know what you’ll be asking will give him a chance to think about and reflect what he’s going to say; he may also have several other questions to suggest you ask.

  • If you can get one, use an audio recorder, preferably digital. You can try to record using a video recorder, but the veteran may be self-conscious about what he looks like rather that what he’s saying. Many older people don’t want pictures or videos of themselves, so using audio is less intrusive and makes the person more comfortable. It’s also easier, less expensive, and less time-consuming.

  • A digital recorder allows you to store the voice file onto the computer and playback using the computer. This is especially important when you transcribe (or have someone else transcribe) the interview. On the other hand, a video of the oral history interview would be a treasure for you and your family. Set the microphone six to twelve inches from the veteran. Test the audio (or video if you’re videotaping) before you start.

  • Conduct the interview in a safe, comfortable environment. Try to interview the veteran at his home, where he’s more comfortable. Before you start the interview, spend a few minutes talking about the interview in general, how it will proceed, and what you’re going to ask. You don’t necessarily want to just jump in there and start asking questions.

  • Don’t rush the interview. Most veterans like to talk about themselves, but not about everything. Begin the interview by asking some of the basic questions outlined below, then transition into more specific questions. To do this right, expect to conduct the oral history interview over a period of time. It will probably take more than an hour or two and you may want to break it into several different interviews.

  • Don’t interrupt. It’s not your job to comment on what the veteran is saying, but to record the memories. Remember, you’re asking someone to bring back memories (some may be difficult and emotional) that happened 65+ years ago. If you get stuck on a question, or in an awkward moment, ask him what the weather was like or were there any particular sights or smells he remembers.

  • Ask the veteran’s permission to send this Oral History to the 80th Division Veterans Association.

  • Be sensitive. There are some taboo subjects that your veteran may not want to talk about—at least not up front. The subject of killing is difficult, but what probably hurts more is the subject of lost buddies. If your veteran gets upset or emotional as they tell their story, you should react and show concern. Give him time to recuperate. You may even suggest taking a break after acknowledging this tough moment.
     
    Sample Oral History Interview Questions [click HERE to download a PDF of sample questions]
     
   

What to Do When You're Done with the Interview

First of all, you will probably be exhausted as will the veteran—it’s natural, especially if any of the interview was emotional. Thank the veteran for his time and his service to this great country of ours. The next steps are to review the interview. If you’ve done an audio or video interview, you want to take some time to digest the information; it’s ok, there’s no rush. Once you’ve had time to rest and digest, you’ll want to transcribe the interview. In other words, you’ll listen to the recording and type out the interview. Usually, the transcription takes the form of:

Question (or your name as the interviewer): Here’s the question I asked (verbatim).
Answer (or the veteran’s name): Here’s the answer by the veteran.

This is an important step, since this becomes the recorded Oral History. It will take time, especially if you’ve done a quality job. You want to make sure that you type the questions and answers in the order in which you conducted the interview. After you’ve typed it all out, review for spelling and grammar errors. Then, you’d probably like to share it with the veteran. He may have remembered something else, or after reading the interview, may need to make a change or two. This is very common and it is courteous. Once you are comfortable with the
interview and the Oral History, you’ll want to send it (either e-mail or postal mail) to:

80th Division Veterans Association
Andrew Z. Adkins III ,
National Secretary
2121 N.W. 54th Terrace
Gainesville, FL 32605-3392
adkins@80thdivision.com

     
    80th Division Oral Histories
   
     
   
  • John Wojtkowiak 305th Engr Regt, Private, US Army (WW1)
    Killed in action Nov 1, 1918 during the construction of a bridge in Buzancy and buried at Meuse-Argonne Cemetery - Romagne France. His death is recorded in History of 305th Engineers, Pg 12, although mispelled in the original document. His family has created a page on Delaware Valley pages with his life history and photo including the ABMC reference to his burial location.


  • 318th Infantry Regiment - WWI Re-enactment
    Excellent web site providing tons of information about the 318th Infantry Regiment during WWI.


  • THE AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCES MEMORIAL PROJECT
    The Online Museum and Research Center on the History of the US in the First World War. B. Clark Byrnes is the founder of the American Expeditionary Forces Memorial Project. Clark is a collector and researcher of WWI photographs, diaries, letters, and individual level records.


  • Diary of William A. Livergood - A Tale of a Soldier who Served the World War in France.

  • Letters from Guyowen H. Howard, 317th/B - Letter 1; Letter 2; Letter 3
    Two letters Guyowen wrote home to his wife in June 1945.

  • Lucky To Be Alive - Barbara Laughlin Adler's father was in the 318th Infantry Regiment.