In Their Own Words

“All in all I would like to be appreciated as a man”

Recently Virginia Tech and the National Endowment for the Humanities launched a project to transcribe the handwritten comments of a thousands of soldiers who responded to a survey during and in the aftermath of World War II. The results were published in 1950 under the title The American Soldier, a four volume series by the Army Research Branch. But the actual words, remained in handwritten form and thus unavailable except to those who visited the archives in the nation’s capital. Until now.

Virginia Tech students along with thousands of volunteers were presented with scanned images of some 70,000 pages from the survey, many of them darkened with age and often filled with nearly indecipherable cursive writing. By zooming in, picking through the handwriting, word by word, each volunteer typed what they read into the projects home page.

I heard about the effort through an article on the internet, and jumped into the fray to help. As a johnny-come-lately, I was able to contribute by transcribing about twenty-five pages. This phase of the project is now complete. 

From the few pages of responses to questions 68 through 70, and without the benefit of being able to see earlier questions, I came away with some interesting, albeit unscientific insights:

The Points System. With millions of men and women deployed across the globe at the end of the war, the military faced a daunting task of how to bring them home. It was an endeavor that the United State began planning years before the end of the war and culminated with the Adjusted Service Rating Score. Essentially, the military established a priority system that awarded points to the soldiers based on, among other things, time served, time served overseas, campaigns they participated in, decorations received, and number of dependents. 

Everyone wanted to get home as quickly as possible, yet many spent months waiting their turn. It was only natural for them to be disgruntled. 

 “I think us boys who have went threw [sic] two or more campaigns should be given a chance at civilian life and let more of those who have never been in the army try it for a while.

And to draw my complaints to an end I personally would like a discharge as I can establish myself in civilian life rather than waste time here cutting grass & picking up tree limbs and salvaging waste paper.

“Men who have been kept in the U.S. through no fault of their own should not be forgotten. In some cases the F. U.’s that the squadrons  wanted to get rid of were sent early and now eligible for discharge. is this fair?”

Famous Athletes Assignments. The respondents were asked about how famous athletes were assigned duties and whether they were concerned with these policies. 

“It’s a good policy never to worry about such things. Had enough damn other things to occupy my mind concerning myself and the men close to me.”

Most of the responses I transcribed fell into the “Is there anything else you’d like to say?” category. Here, men remarked about everything from food, to entertainment programs, to 

Treatment of Blacks

“I would like to see the colored people getting a fair dile [sic] when the war is over and let our people live like other people.”

Food

“The food could be much better prepared. We get good food, but it isn’t prepared right. I have been stationed in other camps and as a comparison, the food here …”

Radio Programs (BBC and ABC).

“… too much talking, all I ever hear is the Rine [sic] crossing and Kraut talk.”

“Too many foolish programs. These limies trying to teach the foreigners to speak English. They repeat every sentence.”

Although my own contribution was miniscule, the project illustrated the power of the internet to bring people together to accomplish a task that would otherwise take years to complete. The American Soldier as the project was known is but one such project. Many other opportunities exist for anyone willing to donate a few minutes or hours of their time. Today, on the Zooniverse platform, the one that hosted The American Soldier, there are requests for help on everything from SCOTUS Notes: Behind the Scenes at the Supreme Court Conference to Spotting New Zealand’s Endangered Otago Skinks. If you feel the urge to try your hand as an amateur sleuth or student researcher – what else are you doing while quarantined at home –check out: 

https://www.zooniverse.org/projects

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