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Mar 25, 2009

West Point’s Center for Oral History will let generations of America’s soldiers record their stories—and let the rest of us listen.

By Matthew Schaeffer

A government official watches as an airplane crashes into the Pentagon on 9/11. A prisoner of war explains how he survived five-years at the Hanoi Hilton. A special ops soldier details the failed attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran. An octogenarian recalls surviving the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. A marine remembers his frightening first day in Vietnam.
All of these stories, and hundreds more —thousands of hours of video testimonials telling the tales of soldiers on and off the battlefield—will be available for the public online at West Point’s new Center for Oral History.
“We are in the business of teaching cadets,” explains the Center’s director, Todd Brewster. “We are also in the business of recording history for posterity. So whatever purpose history serves, we are serving it with the kind of work we are doing here.”
The Center, scheduled to launch this fall, will be the first ever archive created to host first-person accounts from American soldiers dating as far back as World War II. The interviews with military personnel of all ranks and assignments are intended to help cadets and soldiers prepare to go to war.
The recordings will also be a unique resource for scholars of military history as well as for the public. “We’re at a period in our history where a smaller and smaller percentage of the public has a direct personal tie to the military,” says Col. Matthew Moten, the head of West Point’s history department.
“We know that there is an interest and a hunger to see what soldiers and officers are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Col. Moten explains. His ultimate hope is that the Center will help to bridge the gap between the public and the military.
“The Center for Oral History is going to be interesting for the American public,” Col. Moten says. “These tapes are going to have immediacy for them, and an emotional impact that will show them the humanity of the people serving their country.”

“‘Navy, my foot,’ I said. ‘It’s the Army, and it’s the Japanese attacking.’ You could see them.” – Col. (Retired) Battle Barksdale on the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor
– USMA Class of 1937
– U.S. Army Artillery
– Veteran of Pearl Harbor and the Korean War

“Among the people who were selling heroin and some of the people who were selling hash, I created a small little drug war.” – Capt. (Retired) Patrick Sculley talks about stopping drug use among soldiers in Vietnam
– USMA Class of 1970
– U.S. Army Infantry
– Veteran of the Vietnam War
– Worked for Ross Perot at EDS and went on a quasi-civilian hostage rescue mission after the ousting of the Shah of Iran


“The whole point group was lost but two platoon leaders, two platoon sergeants. Literally, everybody in command except me got it.”
– Capt. (Retired) Mike Hood on fighting the war in Vietnam
– USMA Class of 1967
– U.S. Army Infantry
– Awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star
– Veteran of the Vietnam War

“Virtually anybody who was anybody in the defense structure was in a single room up to within an hour of when the plane hit the building.” – Brig. Gen. (Retired) Tom White recalls the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon
– USMA Class of 1967
– U.S. Army Infantry & Aviation
– Served as Secretary of the Army in 2001 and was at Pentagon during the 9/11 terrorist attack


“You’re in the interrogation, and it’s name, rank, serial number, date of birth. That was the code of conduct.”
– Maj. (Retired) Rick Campbell Jones on being questioned as a POW in Vietnam
– USMA Class of 1963
– U.S. Air Force F-4 Phantom pilot
– Awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart
– POW in North Vietnam


“Probably the high and low points of my life were within about 24 hours.”
– Col. (Retired) Carlton Savory on the failed attempt to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran
– USMA Class of 1967
– U.S. Army Infantry & Medical Corps
– Veteran of the Vietnam War, founding member of Delta Force, and part of failed Iran hostage rescue mission


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