News from Voices of Oklahoma…

Veterans Day

Approximately 20 million people have served in our armed forces. And today we honor the thousands of Oklahomans who served their country. Voices of Oklahoma has collected many veterans’ voices and stories that would otherwise be lost to history.

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Paul Andert was an 18 year old platoon leader in 1942. He talks about his first invasion experience in Safi, France:

“Then when we landed on shore, I definitely remember taking the town of Safi. We were fired on and I hit the ground and the first bullet that went past my ear, I said to myself, what the hell are you doing here? You didn’t have to be here, you volunteered, you know. But right away it came to me, because of all the training we had. The part of the training that helped the most was the discipline you got as a leader. You had been told and told and told that your men are what are important to you. So it made you think about them instead of yourself and you knew the rule was MOVE so you moved. But I remember the first bullet and saying to myself what in the hell are you doing here? I did think, I wonder how many more bullets there are going to be?” Listen now.

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Shawnee Stewart served in the Army Air Corp during WWII and was a gunner on a B26 bomber. He was on his twentieth mission when his plane was shot down over Germany.

“And I’m going to say something here that I haven’t said. I haven’t told a soul. I’m not sure that I want to say it but it’s true, I checked it out. Our flight leader turned left off the target. We had been briefed that “There’s a gun over there, don’t turn left, turn right.” So he turned left, and pow! they got our plane. That’s the only plane they got. He was a colonel.”

Shawnee goes on to tell his story of parachuting from that plane with a broken arm and became a POW. Listen now.

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In 1944 Catharine Kingsley was a code breaker for the FBI in Washington D.C. Catharine talks about a doll-hospital: “Well, you know, if you have a doll and it’s one you want to have repaired and it’s a real expensive doll and everything, you’d be willing to pay to get it fixed. And they called it a hospital. I guess there are people now who do antique things, they fix them back up. It would be that sort of thing but they called it a doll hospital. That doll represented a ship and they would say, “Well, this doll’s arm was broken and we had to do this.”

Then when the Japanese got that, what was supposedly fixing a doll, was actually passing information of what had happened to the ships that were in the dry dock. Listen now.

We honor the other veterans who have shared their stories with Voices of Oklahoma, such as Rex Calvert, Robert Norman, Kenneth Renberg, Bob Borlase, and while they were career military personnel, many of our story tellers served our country and returned to civilian life. Take time to listen to these brave people. We are grateful for their service!

Thank you for listening to Voices of Oklahoma and for sharing with your friends. Remember to record the oral history of your family, you will be glad you did!

John Erling, Founder of Voices of Oklahoma

Astronaut Bill Pogue

Bill Pogue

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon, Oklahomans should know that a young man who was born in Okemah, Oklahoma and grew up in Sand Springs was on the support crew for Apollo 11. The support crew maintained the flight plan, checklists and developed procedures for emergency situations for the prime and backup crews. The support crew consisted of Ken Mattingly, Ronald Evans and Bill Pogue. Bill Pogue was ten years old while standing in an Oklahoma cotton field when he observed a DC-2 fly over and at that moment he “got the urge to be a pilot”.

Of course, the prime crew for Apollo 11 consisted of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, along with Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.

In chapter nine of our oral history interview with Bill Pogue, Bill talked about his relationship with Neil Armstrong:

BP: He’s quiet. He’s smart. Really competent. We shared a back fence near the space center. Our houses backed up to each other. He is very interesting to work with. We would go home every weekend. I would usually drive my Beetle.

JE: Your Volkswagen.

BP: Yes. Leave it at Ellington when we flew down to the Cape. And then I’d take him home. And he was under a lot of pressure.

JE: What kind of pressure?

BP: The pressure of the importance of the mission.

JE: You’re talking about before he had actually landed on the moon.

BP: That’s right.

JE: The lead-up to it.

BP: Correct. We would be flying along and he said, “Do you know what the zodiacal light is?” and I said, “Haven’t the foggiest idea.” He says, “I’ll show you.” So, he did. He talked me through it and showed me the zodiacal light. That took about a half an hour just to go through that. It was about an hour and a half flight from Florida back to Texas.

JE: What is a zodiacal light?

BP: It is a light—you can see it right after sunset. The sun is still right below the horizon, but the light from the sun is going past the earth and there’s dust here and there. The dust captures the light. When you can see that, that’s called zodiacal light.

JE: You were around him right up to the day he performed the landing on the moon. He felt tremendous pressure, as you talked about.

BP: Yeah, he did.

JE: Where were you when he landed on the moon?

BP: I was at mission control.

JE: And you experienced the elation, then, in mission control.

BP: Yes.

JE: When that was all happening.

BP: Yes. Then I went home to watch the EVA’s—the space walk.

JE: Did you talk to him personally after this about his experience being on the moon?

BP: No, I did not. They sent him to NASA headquarters as soon as they got through with the debriefing, maybe a couple of months or something like that. And he—he was made to feel like a captured trained ape. The only time I really had much to do with him, I had put a package together using Apollo photographs and he wanted to use it. They were resources-type stuff. I sent him the whole package, he used it, and then he called me up and thanked me. I won’t say he was distant, but he knew that he occupied a historical position in the space program.

JE: As a public, we never saw him come out and be a personality, so that matches what you’re saying about him. When you were with him prior to the moon launch, was it real obvious—wow, I understand why they selected him for this?

BP: Yes. He had it. The right stuff.

You can hear Bill’s story from his days in Sand Springs, to a combat tour in Korea, his life with the Thunderbirds and his selection to be on the support crews for Apollo 7, 11, and 14. Listen here. Also available as a podcast here.

Share this story with family, friends, and especially teachers so they can use Bill’s story in their classrooms.

Record your history…You will be glad you did.