• Last modified 7312 days ago (May 20, 2004)
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Historian defends his cause

To the Editor:

Recently I received a letter from Thor Ronnigen in which he expresses his disappointment that I "mis-construed [sic] the situation" at Camp Maxey during training. He maintains that my "article is unfair to all of us as it portrays a minor, temporary circumstance [the conflict between the cadre and the ASTPers] as the norm." While Thor admits "a number of ASTP guys felt demeaned," and there was "some friction between the ASTP guys and the 'old guys,' . . . these misunderstandings were worked out in training and the few remaining problems disappeared when we were exposed to combat."

In my essay (December 2003) I wrote, "After weeks of marching, training, . . . the units came together. The ASPers proved to the 'old guys' they could measure up physically and psychologically to infantry training, and the college boys recognized the enlisted men from Van Dorn were able soldiers. . . . When it came to field problems and day-to-day training they melded as a unit. Socially the groups remained apart but the ties were strengthening."

Was my account somehow different from Thor's view and "unfair"?

Thor writes, "Many of my ASTP comrades grew up in upscale families and areas and had difficulty understanding people they considered their inferiors." My research indicates that most ASTPers came from rather modest backgrounds.

Thor finds "it very offensive and uncalled for to single out some men by names as being particularly disliked. Some of these men are dead now and cannot speak for themselves. We were there. You were not and I'm afraid you did not fully understand the situation."

I gave considerable thought as to whether I should include a few names of men who, even after nearly 60 years, continued to arouse anger and bitterness in Checkerboard veterans. In an attempt to portray an accurate account of what the enlisted men endured, I felt I owed it to them not to ignore their stories. Thor does not object to my identifying those who were admired. I am not writing heroic history a la Stephen Ambrose or Walter Lauer; I am writing about experiences that impacted these men both positively and negatively. I am not saying the Camp Maxey conflicts were the norm, but to deny they happened is a disservice to those who prefer a candid account. If we follow Thor's restrictions, no one would be allowed to reveal unflattering facts about Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, or all other deceased soldiers.

Finally, as to Thor's charge that "I was not there," and he was, I agree. Being there provides a vivid and authentic experience; in fact, I quote Thor in the later essays, so I acknowledge his unique views. But historians are never there; rather, they gather facts from as many sources as possible and try to make sense of what happened. Thor has the perspective of an enlisted man in a single platoon with a limited understanding of what happened in other platoons and companies. He seems to be discounting the experiences and testimony of those soldiers who also were there. I don't.

My understanding may be incorrect, but I have interviewed more than 200 99ers and have given considerable time, energy, and thought to these essays. I am disappointed that Thor thinks I got it wrong. I am heartened that other 99ers have welcomed my attempt to tell their stories and include their trials.


Robert Humphrey