Behind the Curtain: Julia Kilgore, Bicentennial Oral History Intern

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Role: Bicentennial Oral History Intern

Educational Background: BA in History, BA in Art from Hillsdale College; Current MLS student with a specialization in archives and records management.

How she got here: Julia started working in archives as an undergraduate at Hillsdale College. At the College, she mainly worked in special collections as the caretaker of the campus Library’s coin collection, but she occasionally helped the college Archivist with various projects. One particular project she enjoyed was helping to rearrange documents from the Winston Churchill Project.  She also had the pleasure of working with and organizing an entire archives collection at a local historic house, the Grosvenor House Museum.

When Julia volunteered for the Grosvenor House Museum, she never knew what to expect.  It was like Christmas every day! One afternoon she would be flipping through a pile of graduation announcements from the local schools and the next she would be trying to identify individuals in a stack of nameless photos. There were old maps, rail road tickets, letters, articles on local war heroes…one time she and a friend found a military commission from King George III for a local townsman with its wax seal still intact! Meanwhile at the College, Julia would sift through and rehouse tons of letters between Winston Churchill and his wife, secretary notes from meetings, letters to dignitaries from around the world, and other great documents. After working with these collections, Julia knew that she wanted to work in an environment where she could interact with archives and special collections in some way, whether it be in a library, museum, or a similar institution.

Julia began her dual MLS/Art History degree in the fall of 2015 and found work as a Public Services Assistant in Wells Library. In the spring of 2016, she began processing collections for the IU Archives and transitioned into her current position as Bicentennial Oral History Intern the following semester.

Favorite item in the collection: One of Julia’s favorite items in the archives is Volume 5 of the Sycamore Logbook from 1944-1945 from the IU Women’s Residence Halls scrapbooks (see more info about the scrapbooks in her posts titled “Snippets from Dorm Life” and “Mail Call“). She was reordering all of IU’s women’s dorm scrapbooks when she decided to flip through a few to get an idea of what these ladies were like. As she turned page after page of unidentified photographs, she wondered if she would find anything that would tell her their names or what their lives were like at IU. She turned a page and saw the headline “Mail Call.” She was immediately drawn to it because she knew the book was from around the end of World War II, meaning it had to be something about soldiers during the war.

It turned out to be a really great piece describing a typical morning in Sycamore Hall where the ladies would dash downstairs immediately after waking up to see if there was news from the front lines. It really struck a chord with Julia and reminded her yet again the amazing things you get to discover while working in archives (and purely by accident too!).

Current project: Julia interviews staff and alumni for the Oral History Project about their time here at IU.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Julia loves when she is interviewing someone for the Oral History project and they talk about old student hangouts or past events.  It’s really great because she can research these places and events after the interview and she always finds great things in our collections on them.  Sitting there listening to them talk about these things really helps her to connect with our collections on a different level.  It makes it all the more real to her.

What she’s learned from working here: Restaurants, bookstores, and other places downtown have such a rich and wonderful history that are so interconnected to IU and its students. The best thing about it? Many of them still exist.  It is wonderful to go into places Nick’s or the Gables after hearing about all of these different experiences and think about what it was like then versus now.

Lawrence M. Langer: IU Physicist and Manhattan Project Scientist

While Lawrence M. Langer made an impact at Indiana University’s physics department, his contributions to society go beyond his work as a physics professor at IU. Dr. Langer’s role with the Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb that hit the town of Hiroshima during World War II, played a pivotal point for the Allied powers.

Langer with three other physic professors in 1940 (from left to right, Langer is the third person) helped create the first cyclotron at Indiana University. P0032291

Lawrence M. Langer was born in New York in 1913. He received his B.S.(1934) and PhD (1938), both from NYU in physics. In 1938, Langer joined the Indiana University faculty in the physics department where he helped create IU’s first cyclotron. As WWII progressed, Langer was excused from his duties at IU to join the Massachusetts Institute of Technology radar project in 1941, then moving on to to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 1943 to participate in the atomic bomb project. He served as the group leader and was the first of IU’s faculty to be recruited for the project.

1945 may have marked one of the most important years of Langer’s life. Langer supervised the trial drops of dummy bombs by Enola Grey (the plane used to drop the atomic bomb at Hiroshima) at Saipan. He also trained an Army officer for the mission, because the military would not permit a civilian to carry out the mission.

On the night before the Enola Grey mission, Langer wanted to make sure that everything stayed in place. He had feared that the military police and possibly others would become curious and cause problems for the bomb. For this reason, he stayed on the plane, and guarded the bomb on the evening before the mission was to take place. Eventually as Langer became tired, he slept on top of the bomb. In the morning everything was properly intact.

Following the Hiroshima misson, Langer returned to Bloomington and served as faculty member in the physics department until 1979. During his time there, he published many works and inspired his students in the field of science. Langer resided in Bloomington until his death in 2000.

Langer was a beloved faculty member at Indiana University, but many outside of the school community, remember him for his contributions to the Allies during WWII.

If you would like to learn more about Langer, contact the IU Archives to make an appointment to view the Lawrence Langer papers. There is a plethora of materials including WWII military documents, newspaper clippings, and Langer’s academic work.

Sincerely Yours: How Cecil Got His Gun

Cecil K. Byrd (1913-1997) was a longtime librarian and faculty member at Indiana University. He served as Curator of Special Collections (1942-1946), Assistant Director of Libraries (1946-1949), Associate Director of Libraries (1949-1964), University Librarian (1964-1972), and finally professor and librarian emeritus at the Lilly Library (1980-1997).

Air mail envelope addressed to Dr. Robert A. Miller from C. K. Byrd
Air mail envelope from Cecil K. Byrd’s wartime correspondence with Robert Miller, June 1944.

Cecil K. Byrd (M.A. 1938, Ph.D. 1942, History, Indiana University) landed a plum job at IU as Curator of Special Collections upon his graduation, but his career was soon interrupted by the entrance of the United States into World War II. Byrd left the university for service in the U.S. Navy in April 1943, not long after an important IU special collections milestone– the donation of the Oakleaf collection on Abraham Lincoln, which Byrd cataloged, and the opening of the library’s Lincoln room (then located in Franklin Hall).

Photograph of Cecil K. Byrd and three scholars in the Lincoln Room at its dedication on February 13, 1943.
Lincoln Scholars at Lincoln Room Dedication, February 13, 1943. Cecil K. Byrd is the second from the right.

During his wartime service as a ship’s navigator, Byrd corresponded with IU Libraries Director Robert Miller, who kept him up to date with campus affairs. In return, Byrd shared some of his experiences as well as his eagerness to get back to his beloved job (“I would give my share of paradise to be sitting on my thin bottom in that red chair in Rare books and attending an auction now and again!”). One of Byrd’s more entertaining anecdotes appears in a June 23, 1944 letter, written while Byrd’s ship was stationed in France on transport duty. It concerns the requisitioning of a machine gun that he just had to have, not for himself, of course, but for Lincoln:

“Visited a German ammunition dump that had been evacuated a few hours before. Mindful of the Rare Book section, I selected a machine gun that in some mystical way had been connected with Lincoln for a souvenir. Pulled and groaned with the thing many miles and had nearly reached the ship when I was hailed by a British M.P. who wanted to know what I was doing with one of his Majesty’s guns. I gave him my little song and dance and “for Lincoln” he let me take it aboard. But I was so disappointed that it wasn’t German that I gave it to the mess boy with the story that I captured it alone and unarmed.”

Byrd’s mock-curatorial escapade was not the end of his exploits abroad in the name of the IU Libraries. During a stopover in England, he used coupons to procure “enough Harris tweed…to make myself a suit and topcoat” (stereotypical mid-century librarian wear?) and offered to buy additional cloth for Miller:

“Don’t know whether you like tweed or not. I’ve bought enough Harris tweed in Eng. to make myself a suit and topcoat. It takes coupons but I have a contact out to get more. If you are interested I think I could get you enough for a suit or topcoat. The last I got cost me $27 for 7 yards. You’ll have to trust me for the general color, etc. I’ll not make you look either like a librarian or race track tout — something in between. Let me know about this.”

After the war, Byrd returned to his beloved library, complete with a brand-new title: Assistant Director of the Libraries. And the rest is history- the expansion of library collections and branch libraries, the establishment of the Lilly Library as IU’s rare books and special collections repository, etc. etc. Except for Abraham Lincoln’s machine gun. Byrd totally made that up.

Read the entirety of Byrd’s June 23, 1944 letter to Miller here, including original handwriting and transcript.

Byrd’s wartime correspondence with Robert Miller is located in the Indiana University Libraries Director’s records, 1932-1977, Collection C540, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Charles DeBow: an Original Tuskegee Pilot

Lt. Charles H. DeBow, image appears in September 1942 edition of the Indiana Alumni Magazine
Lt. Charles H. DeBow, image appears in September 1942 edition of the Indiana Alumni Magazine

“…I’m flying for every one of the 12,000,000 Negroes in the United States. I want to prove that we can take a tough job and handle it just as well as a white man.”

So said Charles DeBow, one of the first African-Americans to be commissioned in the United States Air Force. He was trained at the Tuskegee Army Flying School in Alabama, making him one of the first five African-Americans to receive his wings. He was also an alumni of Indiana University.

The archives are home to the Indiana University War Service Register records that dates from 1920-1946. The collection, created by the Alumni Office, includes records and correspondences relating to the men and women of the university who served in World War II and was used to compile the original Golden Book. The records tell us how some students juggled their education, marriages, and careers with their promise to Uncle Sam, postponing everything for the sake of serving their country. Charles DeBow was not unique in that aspect; his father pushed for Charles to pursue a career in medicine. But the important milestone he set for African-Americans all over the country is what makes his record a fascinating find.

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DeBow’s file includes his correspondence with the alumni office, a couple of newspaper clippings, and an article featured in the August 1942 edition of The American Magazine– a periodical that sometimes published articles about the lives of interesting American people–narrated by DeBow himself. In it, he explains his struggle with the race boundaries found both in life and the U.S. army. DeBow expressed that his dream of flying, although unrealistic, developed at a young age.

“…Negroes didn’t become aviators. They became elevator operators, and janitors, and porters like Dad. I knew all that with my head, but I kept my dreams in my heart.”

Putting those dreams aside, DeBow enrolled at IU after high school. As stated previously, his father insisted that he study medicine– a profession that could allow anyone, white or black, to make a good living. But DeBow was convinced that he would never be successful in the medical profession, and so he transferred to the Hampton Institute in Virginia to study business. That’s where he first learned to fly. The government selected twenty African-Americans (out of around three hundred applicants) to learn the art of aviation. Afflicted by what DeBow referred to as “the flying bug,” he elected to drop out of college and eventually enlisted into the United States Army after months of working various jobs to save money. The glorious day had finally arrived when the War Department announced their acceptance of applications from African-Americans interested in the Air Force. It was finally a triumphant “yes” after years of hearing that same phrase “no Negroes” in the theater, in his career–in nearly every aspect of DeBow’s life.

The first five members of the graduating class at the Tuskegee air school. Charles DeBow is featured in the bottom right.

Charles DeBow became one of five members of the first graduating class of the Tuskegee army flying school in Alabama on March 6th, 1942. The other men in his class included: Ben Davis Jr., graduate of West Point and the son of Benjamin Davis, the first African-American to become a general in the U.S. Air Force; Lem Curtis, policeman from Hartford Connecticut; George Roberts of West Virginia, and Mac Ross of Dayton, Ohio. The commanding general of the South Eastern Air Force Center, General George E. Stratemeyer, delivered a speech for the ceremony. DeBow’s parents looked on proudly as winged pins were placed on each graduate’s chest. By the end of his narration in the American Magazine article, DeBow was still in training at Tuskegee. He had not yet seen the war front, but he was ready.

“Personally– just personally– I hope I get a chance to tangle with a Jap or a Nazi. Soon. I’d like to be the first Negro to bag one. I’ve waited a long time.”

That’s where the article leaves us. The Alumni Office at Indiana University sent DeBow’s father a congratulatory letter after the publication of this article and shared that they planned to release a feature story for him in the Alumni Magazine. But what happened after?

According to his obituary, which was published in the Indianapolis Star in 1986, DeBow commanded the 301st Fighter Squadron, flew 52 combat missions in the European Theater, and flew support missiodebow004ns for the Italian and D-Day invasions. His military career proved impressive and extensive, and his “wild, fantastic, impossible” dream had come true.

DeBow returned to Indiana University after serving in the Air Force and received a Master’s degree. Additionally, he
received a Master’s from Butler University, taught English for ten years at Thomas Carr Howe High School in Indianapolis, and became an associate lecturer in English at IUPUI throughout the remaining years before his death on April 4th, 1986.

If anything, the story of Charles DeBow and the other Tuskegee Airmen is one of true American patriotism: overcoming hardships and fighting boundaries in order to recognize and achieve one’s dreams. DeBow certainly broke the threshold the day they pinned on those golden wings– not just within the army, but for the entire basis of racial interactions in the United States.

Sincerely Yours – The Dwyers and V-J Day: “That was our celebration.”

With the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the swift entry of the United States into World War II, the Indiana University Bloomington campus quickly transformed itself to participate in the war effort. On December 13, 1941 President Herman B Wells addressed the anxious students of the University saying:

In this crisis, every patriotic American wishes to make a contribution to the defense of the nation and victory. In keeping with the tradition established in other wars, the students of the University are naturally eager to do their share….Some of you will be chosen for service in the army as rapidly as needed…But most of you will have to serve elsewhere….Most of you, therefore, can serve best through devoting extra time to the matters at hand. Study a little more, use the library a little more, use the laboratory apparatus a little more, learn a little faster….

University administrators, faculty and staff joined the Indiana Committee for Victory and the College Civilian Morale Service to encourage widespread participation “in all types of military activities” and the University quickly adopted a three semester academic plan so that the traditional four year program could be completed in two and two-thirds years in an effort to graduate as many students as possible before they were called to active military duty. By the end of 1942, U.S. Navy yeoman, WAVES, SPARS, and Marines were training on campus and the in 1943 the University signed a contract with the the US Army for an Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) unit. In addition, hundreds of men and women affiliated with IU (either current students or alumni) were called to active service in the various branches of the military.

Dwyer005Between 1941 and 1945, Margaret “Meg” Shaw Dwyer (BA Psychology 1941) continued to correspond with her university days mentor Frank Beck (advisor to the Student Religious Cabinet and the Town Hall Club) to share personal milestones and heartache of she and her husband, Robert “Bob” Arthur Dwyer (BS Business 19Wedding_Page_142). These included the announcement of their wedding, birth of their child, and the glorious news that Bob, presumed dead after being shot down over France, had been released from his POW camp and that the couple had been enjoying a recuperative vacation in Vermont when they heard the news of the war’s end on September 2, 1945.

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The Dwyers lived an active and full life filled with family, work, travel, lifelong learning, and even glider flights following the war. Meg passed away at the age of 95 in 2014. Her beautifully written obituary gives us just a taste of the woman she had become.