Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Young Scholars Panel - Conversations of War
Abstract: Traditionally, military history has focused on topics such as battlefield campaigns, strategy and weaponry, or the memoirs of famous military leaders and commanders. While these narratives are important for our understanding of history, it is also crucial to examine the common individual's wartime experience. Doing so allows for the incorporation of different types of sources and helps to further society's understanding of warfare and the soldier's role. While several sources bases are available to the historian, one of the most interesting is the personal correspondence of those engaged in war. Scholars have debated the merits of letters as sources, but this panel asserts that letters are a useful and significant source. Beyond demonstrating how letters can offer a subtler comprehension of the wartime experience, these three papers use letters to examine gender roles during wartime, combat conditions, memory, and wartime relationships, and how all these are shaped by the environments of war and peace. Sasha Conaway focuses on the soldier correspondence sent to USO hostess Lola Pefley. Hostesses were an integral, but little-researched, part of the war effort on the home front.  Cameron Carlomagno will review the letter collection of Berry Robison, an Airborne Ranger in the Vietnam War. She will analyze Robison's continual support for the Vietnam War in the post Tet offensive period, and the importance of recognizing alternative narratives. Finally, Nick Gutierrez will examine the correspondence of Vietnam veteran Daryl Eigen, considering both his war time service and how, once he returned home, he ultimately came to grips with the experience by writing a memoir. Together these papers demonstrate that investigating the wartime conversations taking place through the exchange of letters offers new insights and challenges traditional narratives of World War II and Vietnam.
Gregory Daddis, Chapman University
Cameron Carlomagno, Chapman University
Participant's Paper Title: "Straying from Popular Memory: Exploring the War Experiences of Berry Robison in Vietnam"
Participant's Paper Abstract: Whereas World War II is considered the "good war" in the American psyche, the Vietnam War is generally seen as the opposite. Largely remembered as a war of gross injustice fought by aggrieved Americans, Vietnam has become an example of American imperialism and failed military ventures. This narrative was solidified in the aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive. Militarily Tet was a victory for the United States, but journalists in the country nonetheless highlighted the horrors of war, specifically noting the brutality committed by the American and South Vietnamese armies. Yet, this narrative contradicts the story that emerges from the letter correspondence of Berry "Robie" Robison, an Airborne Ranger who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. His post-Tet narrative instead emphasizes comradery, pride, and dedication; all of which influenced Robison's wartime experience. Utilizing Robison's personal correspondence to his wife during his tour in Vietnam, this paper analyzes the role of the Tet Offensive and the complex reactions to the war in the period following the attacks on South Vietnam. While historians debate the usefulness of letters as a source?considering topics such as censorship and authenticity?this form of personal correspondence offers a subtler understanding of an individual's life, as well as insight to the period and society at home. Ultimately, Robison's experiences do not fit into the popular memory of the Vietnam War as a period characterized by violence and anti-war protests. His letters instead reveal his continual dedication to the ideological purposes of the war. Overall, this paper challenges us to consider which accounts shape public recollection and that by recognizing alternative narratives the veterans overlooked by society for their opposing views are acknowledged.
Sasha Conway, Chapman University
Participant's Paper Title: "For Our Boys: Lola Pefley and the contribution of senior USO hostesses in World War II"
Participant's Paper Abstract: In studying World War II, much scholarship has focused on female war workers- women who worked, mostly in factories, and military outfits such as the Women's Army Corps (WAC). Historians have debated whether these positions elevated women or were simply temporary opportunities, and how this work challenged traditional gender roles. When it comes to women who were not part of this mostly working-class demographic, however, there is little scholarship. Through the use of letters from the Lola Pefley Collection available through Chapman University's Center for American War Letters, this paper will explore the contributions hostesses made and the impact they had on soldiers. Despite discourse regarding the validity of letters as a primary source- citing censorship and authenticity as problems- correspondence from this collection makes use of a much subtler context regarding attitudes toward women and the contributions they made to the war. USO hostesses were a group of women who contributed to the war effort, though unlike that of war workers or military women, their efforts fit well within the stereotypical gender roles assigned to women at the time. What role did they play within the war effort? And how did it contribute to the war effort? Unlike the tangible efforts of war workers and military women, the efforts of USO hostesses were less visible. This paper aims to explore the ways in which USO hostesses contributed to the war effort. While the role fit the feminine stereotype of the time, their efforts were nonetheless seen as essential to the war. Gaining a broader historical perspective of women's roles in the war effort  could change the conversation around women during World War II.
Nicholas Guitierrez, Chapman University
Participant's Paper Title: "Fighting in Their Prime: The Harrowing Experience of Vietnam Service"
Participant's Paper Abstract: For nearly fifty years, the men who fought in Vietnam have continuously carried with them the memories and realities of the war. Contention on the home front and the vast unpopularity of the war discouraged veterans from sharing their life-changing experiences. Many combat veterans of this generation of men have left their stories untold, making it difficult for society and the veterans themselves to properly process the meaning and significance of the war. Psychologists suggest that one way to help heal the wounds of war is by veterans sharing their war time experiences, regardless of the years that have passed. Not only can the telling of these stories help the veterans with their healing, it also brings a greater, societal understanding of war on a humanistic level. This paper utilizes the wartime correspondence of Daryl Eigen, as well as his memoir and subsequent writings to illustrate Eigen's own method of revisiting his past. While re-engaging with his letters to write his memoir, Eigen's PTSD intensified. In combination with VA therapy sessions, Eigen claims, "Multiple exposures to the recollections of the trauma helped me to fill in the blanks and to reduce the emotional charge of certain memories." Eigen observes, "The labor of recall and writing was a struggle to rid myself of the demons of war and give voice to the forgotten and the fallen." As research has suggested, war memories may become more intense as years progress, and encouragement and support by others to share those experiences will assist veterans in understanding their moment in history matters. The goal is not to glorify or fetishize their war time experiences and trauma, but to allow for greater societal and personal understanding to one of the nation's most misunderstood wars and, potentially, assist Vietnam veterans in mending their wounds of war.
Mark Grotelueschen, US Air Force Academy
Heather Stur, University of Southern Mississippi

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