Our World War II era interview series grew from our Roots with Wings Place-based Education Project, a partnership with the Floyd Story Center, Radford University (RU), and Floyd County High School (FCHS). Between 2007-2018, over 220 high school students completed this intergenerational oral history program successfully.
The WWII-era oral history series, 2007-2015, produced thirty interviews with audio and transcripts, forty student-produced short films, and a two-DVD set of films published with a biographical twelve-page booklet, “From the Front Porch to the Front Lines.”
The project began in 2007 with a community non-profit, public school, and college partnership. FCHS principal Barry Hollandsworth, youth counselor Joe Klein, Kathleen Ingoldsby, Co-director of the Floyd Story Center, and Dr. Melinda Bollar Wagner, Professor of Anthropology at Radford University first developed the Project as an in-school program for at-risk youth. The program began modestly with one interview per semester, producing audio recordings, content logs, and transcripts from each interview. A second respondent was added for the 2009 program year, and a Foundation for Roanoke Valley’s Vest grant allowed us to purchase Apple laptops with iMovie software. This resulted in the production of two short films based on narrative themes extracted from each interview. Participants were guided by our newly developed project manual for each step of the interview process, stressing ethics, interview skills, period history, and themes, as well as the technical aspects of recording and film making. By 2015, our Roots With Wings project had become part of the school curriculum embedded into a technology and media class, producing four interviews and eight short films per year.
Pictured: Lois Bowman Slusher, wartime fiancee of John Edward Slusher, U.S. Army Air Force. Ed served in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, standing military guard (MP) ten days in Algeria, not knowing it was for a meeting of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. 2007 interview w. Kaylynn Brennan. Thank you to Hotel Floyd for site locations for our series of interviews.
The decades of the 1930s and 1940s were to become the last periods of self-reliant and locally centered county life, indelibly marked by the hardships of the Great Depression and the sacrifices made at home and abroad during WWII. Rural electrification, gasoline-powered tractors, and household modernity, for the most part, did not fully reach Floyd County until the mid-to-late 1950s. Veterans and family members recounted their time of service in the military during WWII. They told of their childhoods, siblings, how they met their sweethearts, and how they got married. Students learned of wartime experiences that required perseverance, resilience, and farm-earned common sense to find solutions. A theme throughout the interviews was that the horrors of war far outweigh any glory. The veterans described using in-service skills when they returned home, from working as a machinist to understanding other cultures.
Arlie Thompson summed up the thoughts of many of the veterans: “I didn’t want to go in the service, but you couldn’t buy the experience that I had then. I wouldn’t take nothing for that experience. But I wouldn’t give a penny for any more.”
Listed below, our WWII-era interviewees and their Roots With Wings, Floyd County High School interviewers:
- James K. Akers (2017) w. Alice Slusher, staff
- Sunny Bernardine (2009) w. Monica Morris
- Lowell Boothe (2014) w. Dustin Quesenberry
- Robert Bugg (2008) w. Idalina Walker
- Arthur Conner (2011) w. Aaron Tsang
- Bernard Cox (2017) w. Kathleen Ingoldsby, staff
- Willard Dulaney (2008) w. Idalina Walker
- Clarence Goad (2012) w. Shannon Monk
- William C. Hayden (2010) w. Kathleen Ingoldsby, staff
- Al Kelley (2015) w. David Jungman
- Stanley Lorton (2008) w. Kathleen Ingoldsby, staff
- Burnett Marshall (2012) w. Zachary Newland
- Robert G. Nester, Jr. (2007) w. Nathan Harrell
- Lucille Nolen (2014) w. Rachel Woolery
- Marvin Nolen (2015) w. Dexter Layman
- Catherine Pauley (2014) w. Emily Harris
- Sammie Phillips (2012) w. Spencer Gravely
- Orland Phillips (2010) w. Alex Williams
- Virgie Quesenberry (2013) w. Austin Osborne
- George Shelor (2014) w. Richard Ellis
- McCrey Shortt (2015) w. Luke Moran
- Roger Shortt (2011) w. Kayla Orr
- Lois Slusher (2007) w. Kaylynn Brennan
- Maurice Slusher (2015) w. Daniel Tsang
- Charles Robert Smith (2009) w. Scott Tomi & DJ Jarrell
- Troy Smith (2013) w. Tristan Vest
- Harold Spence (2013) w. Nicholas McDaniel
- Arlie Thompson (2012) w. Patrick Moran
- Laurence Wood (2013) w. Justin Rizen
- Ralph Yopp (2008) w. Michelle Smith
Some of the stories from our WWII-era interviews:
B.J. “Sunny” Bernardine, a USO dancer and stateside welder, brought photographs of performances on stages that could sometimes be the “back of a truck” in Japan.
Arthur Conner, a well-known Floyd fiddle maker, left Floyd for the first time to circumnavigate the globe, man a cargo truck on the Burma Road, and, without apprehension, step into a foreign culture by attending a rural Chinese funeral.
William Hayden, the lone black sailor on a white-staffed supply ship, participated in traditional Navy rituals when he crossed the equator.
Stanley Lorton, when in the Army Infantry in Europe, found ways to play instruments, traveling to a famed instrument-making town in Germany, origin of the Martin Guitar.
Orland Phillips, a Navy sailor, photographed and developed prints of Pacific encounters with Samoan people and native customs.
McCrey Shortt, an Army Engineer, built temporary steel pontoon bridges for Army transport in Germany and learned how to handle explosives to destroy each bridge after use, skills he later used in Floyd County.
Roger Shortt, Army bridge rigger on the Rhine, described his youth: “My Daddy would buy a hundred pounds of pinto beans in the Fall, and by Spring they’d be gone!”
Troy Smith, an Army Air Force gunner in Okinawa, attained five Bronze Stars and a Silver Star. Once home in Indian Valley, he used the GI Bill to attend trade school in Willis, Virginia.
Arlie Thompson served in General Patton’s Third Army and, when first asked about his experience level at training camp, convinced his Sergeant of his ability since he’d worked on a farm and “had looked at the back end of four horses from daylight to dark.”
Thank you to each of the Radford University student mentors in Dr. Melinda Bollar Wagner’s Anthropology and Sociology classes, who helped guide, teach, and inspire Floyd County High School “Roots With Wings” students throughout the nine years of our WWII-era interview series.
- 2007-2010: Ashley Herwald, Natalie Brooks, Brittony Fitzgerald, Patricia Jacobs, Kathryn Leonard, Adam Richardson, Jeffrey Wood, Mary Dunford, Patricia McMurray, Elly Schulte, Tara Reighard, Donald White, Jonathan Brisendine, Alexander Williams, Caitlin Worsham
- 2010-2012: Patricia McMurray, Jess Bellamy, Katie Boyd, Clarissa R. Clarke, Anthony Molignoni, Amy Owens, Mary Dickerson, Amy Dupont, Joshua Judd, Stephen Lesiv, Anne Paulette, Shylah Jones, Matthew Probst, Joshua Shultz
- 2014-2015: Ryan Woodson, Victoria Curtis, Gabrielle DeMarco, Analise Rockaforte, Brandon Beck, Kenna Crane, Taylor LaPrade, Caroline Leggett, Kimberly Pearman, Kasey Campbell, Blake Sholes, Madison Hardin, Haley Frazier, Kurt Koonce, Bianca Dickerson, Lauren Bailey, Ellise Tracy