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Center for American History Introduces New World War II Oral History Project

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posted: Friday December 14, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas — A new online resource captures the World War II experiences of University of Texas Naval ROTC alumni, thanks to an oral history project at the Institute for Studies in American Military History, a division of the Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin.

The Naval ROTC project site, with biographical sketches, photographs and excerpts from video interviews, was introduced Dec. 7. The site represents the first phase of the project, which focuses on university students who joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

"We interviewed 12 men during their annual reunion in Austin," said Dr. Thomas M. Hatfield, senior research fellow and director of the institute. "They trained together at the university and then were sent to various parts of the world for a variety of responsibilities. Their perspectives help us to create a more complete record of World War II, especially contributions to the war effort by the university and its students."

The project was established by the Naval ROTC World War II alumni group and Capt. Gabe Salazar, chair of the Department of Naval Science. Salazar approached the center to serve as the project's home. Fred Moon, president of The University of Texas Naval ROTC Alumni Foundation, aided the project and was instrumental in arranging the interviews. The resulting video recordings and transcripts join the military history collections at the center. Participants include William "Bill" T. Barnhouse, Chandos H. Britton, Arthur K. "Swede" Bergstrom, Hume Cofer, Franklin "Sandy" J. Crow, John R. Doole, Macon "Mac" Freeman, Bernie Hillen, Joe H. Smith, John Wildenthal, J. Sam Winters and Albert "Bert" M. Wolford.

Barnhouse was a sophomore at the university when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"I was at a girls' boarding house," Barnhouse said. "It was a Sunday afternoon and we'd gone over there to have lunch and visit the girls that afternoon. Somebody came running in and said the Japanese had attacked. We knew there'd be a war with Japan. It was just when, not if."

Barnhouse, now 84, has been a member of the Naval ROTC since 1940 and trained at the university for three and a half years before serving on the USS Kidd in the South Pacific.

The interviews also describe wartime life at the university. In 1943, Naval ROTC students were placed on active duty and their movements were restricted.

"Our society maintains peace by understanding and passing on the lessons of war," Hatfield said. "With additional funding, we hope to continue and expand the project. There are World War II veterans who are no longer able to travel to Austin, and we would like to visit them and record their stories. There are also many veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts who have much to add to our knowledge of military history."

Visit the Naval ROTC Oral History Collection online.