EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in June 2007. His thoughts are still pertinent to today.
I received a letter from Wilbur A. (Bill) Bailey of Roseburg asking me if a self-published memoir of his World War II experiences was worthy of a wider publication. Wilbur, the answer is a firm yes.
But will it happen in today’s publishing world?
I have to be honest and tell you no.
And to have to tell you that makes me angry. Because, Bill Bailey, you tell a wonderful, well-written story in your book, “From Postmaster — Special Delivery.” It is a story of everyday Americans who became heroes, although Bailey starts his memoir saying “I was no hero.” He says he just wrote the book for “more or less something to do” and concludes “it is unlikely anyone would give a hoot what an ordinary guy like me did or saw.”
Bailey did his entire soldiering with Company B, 41st Tank Battalion, 11th Armored Division, a unit in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army. He began his Army service as a draftee from Long Island, New York, but later became a lieutenant. His unit had the code name of Postmaster because the company commander was the son-in-law of the Postmaster General of the United States.
Bailey’s story is filled with anecdotes that put a human face on the horror of war. He was in the bloody Battle of the Bulge. He tells about his company discovering the slaughter of refugees by the German SS. “Almost every 20 feet along the road, we could see one of the emaciated persons lying on either side of the road, a bullet hole through the head.”
Bailey said “fortunately for my sanity, I have blocked out most of the horrible details of this.”
Commercial book publishers probably don’t give a hoot, Bailey, but this nation does. In the year 2000, Congress created the Veterans History Project, a written and oral history project in which veterans told their war stories, which are kept at the Library of Congress.
The problem is the Veterans History Project relied on volunteers to collect and preserve stories of wartime service. I think it was a worthwhile project that helped tell the stories stored in the memories of a generation that is dying off at the rate of 1,000 World War II veterans a day — so there was a certain amount of urgency.
According to the information I received in a telephone call from Bob Massey, a reader in Fair Oaks, California, the Veteran History Project wanted personal narratives of World War II vets told in written memoirs or done by audio or videotaped interviews. The history project wanted letters, postcards, V-Mail correspondence and personal diaries. It also sought visual materials such has photographs, drawings and scrapbooks.
While the interest was, of course on veterans, the project also sought stories from those who supported the war effort as war industry workers, USO workers, flight instructors and medical volunteers.
I have read accounts written by Marion Young of Myrtle Creek, who was a Red Cross worker in the European theater during World War II.
There were hundreds of stories, written and unwritten, by those who served in World War II, that were included in this Veterans History Project. Interested readers can receive more information at email@example.com or write to The Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, 101 Independence Ave., S.E., Washington D.C. 20540-4615.
I volunteered, with Bill Bailey’s permission, to see that “From Postmaster — A Special Delivery” was included in the Veterans History Project,.
In conclusion Bailey said, “I disagree with the label that ours was the ‘greatest generation.’ Today, a farmer or rancher risking his life to save a cow or a horse, is just as courageous. Daily, police, firemen and rescue crews face dangers every bit as deadly as enemy fire.”
While I don’t agree with you, Bill, the fact remains that the unspeakable memories you blocked out need to have a voice.