Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year from Oral History Audiobooks

The Rev. Edmund Randolph Laine

   One of my New Year's Resolutions is to advance my transcription and preservation of the diary of the Rev. Edmund Randolph Laine, pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Stockbridge, Mass., during the World War II years. Laine raised Ed Forrest, who was killed on April 3, 1945. Ed was a buddy of my father in combat, and in researching Ed's life back in 1995 I learned of the existence of Laine's diary, which the Stockbridge Library allowed me to photocopy.
   As 2016 came to a close, I thought I might be able to find something appropriate in my archives, but a search of the phrase "new year" on my hard drive only brought up an excerpt from an interview with tank driver Tony D'Arpino, who described a furlough he received at Christmastime in 1943. When he left he was in the 11th Armored Regiment of the 10th Armored Division, and when he took a cab back to his barracks ten days later the sign out front said C Company, 712th Tank Battalion. Unbeknownst to him, the battalion had been taken out of the division and renamed as a separate, independent tank battalion. He was a bit confused, to say the least.
   And then I remembered that a few years back I began scanning and transcribing some of the entries from Laine's diary, so I thought, I wonder what he said on various New Year's Days. I have not yet scanned the entry from Jan. 1, 1945. Ed was still alive and about to take part in the Battle of the Bulge. Following is a loose transcript of the entry for that date (you would understand why I say "loose" transcript if you could see Laine's handwriting).

Monday, Jan. 1, 1945: A very warm day - 52 degrees at noon - raining hard - very dark. Up 9:20, shaved. Radio - music (WQXR) & News). 10:25 - breakfast. Package from Springfield. 11 - Holy Com. (17) - service men & women prayed for by name. 1:45 - helped Miss F. put guest room in order. Put Christmas tree & Christmas picture away. Wrote V-mail letter to E. (No. 981). 2 - Mr. Kingdon called - father died. 2:10 - to P.O. Read "Times." Read "Times." 3 - had tomato soup, turkey sandwiches & peaches. 3:30 - "Pepper Young's Family." Raining very hard. Rec'd END. Read in "Yankee Lawyer." ("Ephraim Tutt") Dozed in chair. Read "Eagle." Read in "Yankee Lawyer." 6 - News - Quincy Howe & Bill Costello. Storming hard. Read in "Yankee Lawyer." Radio music. Snowing. 10 - News - Henry Gladstone. Had hot milk, toast & baked apple. 11 - News - John Daly & William L. Shirer.

   Like many of the entries in the diary, this excerpt is full of little historical treasures. Take the line, "Read in "Yankee Lawyer" ("Ephraim Tutt."). I admit I had never heard of Ephraim Tutt, so I asked my friend Mr. Google. Who knew that only a few years ago a book would have been written about Ephraim Tutt.

   Here's an article about the book: The Myth of Ephraim Tutt

   Ed Forrest was killed at Heimboldshausen, Germany, on April 3, 1945. It was curiosity about what Laine wrote in the entry for that day that inspired me to begin reading his journal. I have scanned that entry. Note the thick black cross at the beginning and what appears to be an underlined footnote at the end saying "Eddie killed this day in Germany at about 12 p.m. our time." With the time difference of about six hours, it was just about dusk in Germany when a German ME-109 fighter plane attacked some railroad cars, two of which were empty but fume filled gasoline tankers, setting off a huge explosion just as Ed, his company's executive officer, was setting up his headquarters in the basement of a nearby house.

    The reason his death is recorded in the diary as a footnote is because it would be 13 days before Rev. Laine learned of Ed's death, and the entry was already pretty full, not to mention that with several lines for each of five years on a page beginning in 1941, the entry for 1945 was already at the bottom of the page.
   Well, it's almost midnight. I have to make some phone calls and start wishing close friends and relatives a Happy New Year. So I'll close by saying "Happy New Year" to all my Oral History Audiobooks aficionados and thank you for your interest in these remarkable bits of history.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Like listening to the MOTH Radio Hour

Karnig Thomasian

   Recently, I was interviewed on the radio on WNPR. The producer asked me to send some audio clips to give an idea of some of the interviews I've done. I put together a set of ten clips, although only four were used on the air due to my propensity to talk a little more than I should (it was an interview, after all).
   However, although it was difficult to choose a set of ten relatively brief clips, the ones I selected, and many that I didn't, reminded me just how powerful these voices, and the stories they tell, are. As I listened to them, I thought I could just as easily be listening to the MOTH Radio Hour, a popular storytelling program that has recognized and promoted the entertainment value of storytelling, sharing the stories not only of comedians and entertainers, but of ordinary people as well.
   Following are the ten audio clips I sent the radio station, with a little commentary on each (note: because these were recorded at different volume levels, you may have to adjust the volume up or down on some of the clips):

 1) Karnig, who lives in River Edge, N.J., was a prisoner of war of the Japanese after bailing out of a B-29 that exploded. In this short excerpt, in which he describes the plane carrying him home, he shifts from tears to laughter in a matter of moments. (Karnig's full interview is included in the collection titled "POW! Right in the Keister" in my eBay store.)

 2) Dan Diel. Dan was a lieutenant in my father's tank battalion. The war made philosophers of some of its veterans. In this excerpt he describes a sentiment that was almost universal among combat veterans: fatalism, aka if a bullet has your name on it, there's nothing you can do. (Every time I cross the street, I'm thankful my father didn't name me Peterbilt). (Dan's full interview is included in "The Tanker Tapes" in my eBay store.)

3 Ed Boccafogli. Ed was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. In this excerpt, he describes the moment he was wounded at Baupte, France. One aspect of many of the interviews I've done is the veteran's recreation of sound effects. This always blows me away when I'm listening to it. (Ed's full interview is included in "The D-Day Tapes" in my eBay store but can also be downloaded for free from the home page of


 4) Sam Cropanese. Ditto the above. Brace yourself for Sam's description of a shell hitting a tank. Sam was a Pfc. in my dad's tank battalion. (Sam's interview is included in "The Tanker Tapes")

5) George Bussell. George was a tank driver. This excerpt shows the lighter side of the war, in which he describes going to Paris on a three-day pass with five hundred dollars and returns with 75 cents. Maybe I shouldn't have, but for the radio I edited out his descriptions of Piccadilly and Pigalle. (George Bussell's interview is included in both "The Tanker Tapes" and "The Men Who Drove the Tanks," both of which are available in my eBay store.)

6) John Sweren. John was a prisoner of war who endured the grueling 700 mile march across Germany near the end of the war in Europe so that the prisoners could be surrendered to the Americans and not the Russians, who would have executed all the guards. Get out a handkerchief for this one. (John's interview is included in "March Madness" in my eBay store. A transcript of the interview is available from in the book "Merry Christmas in July.")

7) Arnold Brown. I need to re-edit the original on this now that I know a little about noise reduction; this was one of my first and favorite interviews but I rarely promote it until it's re-done. This is a very short excerpt but is pretty powerful in its statement. (This interview will be available on audio cd soon. A transcript of Arnold's interview is in my book 9 Lives)

 8) Kay Hutchins. I realized I ought to include at least one of the women I've interviewed. Most of them were widows or siblings of men who were killed, and as such would be more appropriate for Memorial Day. Kay's brother Newell was killed but he and another brother were both missing in action, so Kay joined the Red Cross, hoping she would be in England and closer to them when they were liberated. Incidentally, her maiden name was Brainard and she was originally from Hartford but her family moved to Florida when she was young. (Kay Hutchins' interview is included in "The Kassel Cassettes" and is also included in my book 9 Lives)

9) Pfc. Patsy J. Giacchi. This excerpt is a bit long, I whittled it down to about five minutes. It's one of my most popular tracks and for good reason. Patsy was a survivor of Exercise Tiger, a pre-D-Day landing exercise in which two fully loaded landing ships were torpedoed and sunk. Patsy was a little excitable, and his entire tape sounds like the actor Joe Pesci on steroids. (Patsy Giacchi's audio CD is included in "The D-Day Tapes" and his story is included in 9 Lives)

10) Dale Albee. Many veterans went into schools to talk to students. Dale was a sergeant in the horse cavalry who was promoted to lieutenant on the battlefield with my father's tank battalion.  (Dale's interview is included in "The Tanker Tapes.)