UF is a top contributor to Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.

World War II veteran Frank Towers landed on Utah Beach shortly after D-Day, survived the frigid nights of the Battle of the Bulge, and participated in the liberation of thousands of Jews headed to the death camps just before that terrible war ended in 1945. Towers’ story is not one to be forgotten, and thanks to the Veterans History Project sponsored by UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (SPOHP), it won’t be.

The SPOHP began its mission of documenting cultural, social, and economic histories of Floridians in 1967. To date, the SPOHP has collected nearly 7,000 oral histories – Civil Rights workers, Native Americans, Latinos, Alachua County African Americans, and war veterans.

photo of Frank Towers standing in front of tarpaulin and stone wall
Frank Towers’ foxhole off Utah Beach, Normandy, 1944
Frank Towers standing in tall grass in front of overgrown stone wall
Frank Towers revisits his foxhole at Utah Beach, 1989

Frank Towers standing on street with snowy building and trees in background
This photo was taken in Francorchamps, Belgium, on Jan. 4, 1945, when Gainesville resident Frank Towers served as 1st Lieutenant during the Battle of the Bulge.


The Veterans History Project has collected firsthand histories from World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, and the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. As the curator of the project since 2000, former UF nurse Ann Smith ’67 says she’s been humbled to record the voices of the Greatest Generation.

 

“Being able to sit with a man or woman who experienced the war firsthand is sobering.”

Last year marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II (May 7 in the West when the Germans surrendered to the Allied troops and Aug. 14 in the Pacific theater), and most of those who served in the war have passed on. To date, SPOHP volunteers have collected and shared 273 World War II histories with the Library of Congress, which reports that UF is one of the nation’s top contributors to this archive.

soldiers hiding in snowy bushes

American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment fight in fresh snowfall near Amonines, Belgium. January 4, 1945
SPOHP director and history professor Paul Ortiz says that the 75 students who volunteer at the center each semester are enriched by the experience: “They learn about the war in a visceral way; you see the direct impact of that narrative, and it’s amazing.”

History and English senior Annemarie Nichols ’16 concurs. “Being able to sit with a man or woman who experienced the war firsthand is sobering,” she says. “We’re connecting with the public, and it’s really important.”

Learn more about the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.


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Sam Proctor Oral History Program

Dean’s Fund for Excellence