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Forrest Pogue, the Historian from Western Kentucky Who Penned and Preserved WWII Memories

As we reflect on Pearl Harbor on the 75th anniversary today, much of what we know about that event and World War II is in part due to the work of an historian from western Kentucky. On Sounds Good, Matt Markgraf speaks with Murray State University Pogue Library Special Collections curator Sarah Hopley about the library's namesake, Forrest C. Pogue, and his work during and after WWII. He also created the library's oral histories collection, featuring voices from numerous individuals from the region, including many who vividly remember Pearl Harbor and WWII. 

Forrest C. Pogue is a western Kentucky native, Murray State Alum and taught at Murray State. Sarah Hopley says he was a genius - graduated high school at 14 and had a PhD by 24. He was also known as a WWII historian. He was drafted in 1942 and went on to do oral history work, chronicling stories of soldiers in and after the war. She says Pogue is considered to be one of the pioneering fathers of oral history. He was also asked by former president Truman to write the biography of George Marshall as part of his presidential library. At the time, Pogue had been back in Murray teaching and was convinced to do a one-year project, which ultimately spanned 12 years and four volumes - and eventually another book describing the process.

George Marshall was Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army during WWII. The Pogue collection at Murray State contains now "unclassified" documents from the U.S. Army about information coming into the attack on Pearl Harbor and recollections of the event written shortly after. Many materials in the collection include accounts of Pogue's time in Europe. One of the more fragile materials are his war diaries, which include everyday accounts of his experience. There are also several photos of Pogue on the beaches of Normandy. Hopley says he was one of three historians who joined soldiers invading Normandy. Pogue was on a hospital ship and interviewed injured soldiers who talked about the frontline.

Other items in the collection include German propaganda found at Omaha Beach that looks like an American dollar, but has anti-Semitic language written in French on the inside of the bill. Other pieces include a German-English translation guide and orders issued by the U.S. Army warning Americans to be wary of Germans after the war. The collection also has an impressive stack of hand drawn battle maps from D-Day, which are on very fragile onion skin paper drawn in pencil.

In the 1970s, Pogue helped Murray State start an oral history institute. He came back to teach in Murray for several years. Truman later asked him to oversee the research center at the George Marshall Foundation. As such, Pogue Library has numerous oral histories from people around the region, including several veterans who served in WWII and vividly remember Pearl Harbor.

[NOTE: The interview features a sound byte is from the Oral Histories collection, of John Watson interviewing Jack Belote of Mayfield on December 7, 1981. Listen to the full interview - it's the second one]

Pogue gave the majority of his personal collection to Murray State. Some materials are in the Marshall Foundation's research library and others are in the Truman Library an in the Smithsonian.

The Pogue Collection

The Oral History Collection

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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