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Memories of Forrest C. Pogue, Oral History Pioneer and One of Kentucky’s Greatest Historians Now that oral history is respectable and flourishing, it is hard to believe how little it was used as a source and in what low regard it was held by many historians fifty years ago. Kentuckian Forrest C. Pogue (1912–1996), one of the most significant historians of World War II, was a leader in using oral history and making it respectable. Although born in Lyon County, Pogue grew up in Crittenden County. A precocious boy, he graduated from the then Murray State College at eighteen and earned his master’s degree at the University of Kentucky the next year. After teaching for three years at Murray, he went to Clark University in Massachusetts to pursue his doctorate. Before completing his degree in 1939, he also spent a year at the University of Paris.1 Not long after the United States entered World War II, Pogue was drafted. After some months in the service, he was assigned to the army’s history program. On 6 June 1944, he set out for Normandy. The next morning following D-day as the infantrymen landed, Pogue stayed on the landing ship (LST) and interviewed the wounded. On D-plus-2 he went ashore and began observing and interviewing the soldiers about one of the greatest stories of World War II. For the next eleven months, except for a brief assignment at the Army History headquarters in Paris, he was with the troops during the Battle of the Bulge and was among those who met the Russians on the Elbe River in late April. His wartime service earned him a Bronze Star and Croix de Guerre.2 Although discharged in the fall of 1945, Pogue stayed on as an army historian with the job of writing the short official history of the Supreme Command. In Germany and later in Washington, D.C., he continued with the army’s historical program until he finished the much longer and fully developed history, The Supreme Command, the 154   The Embattled Past keystone volume of the official history of the army in the European Theater of Operations.3 This work earned him an international reputation as one of the major historians of World War II. In it, he clearly demonstrated his mastery of voluminous and varied sources and his skill in describing and analyzing the complex activities of a high-level headquarters that dealt with diplomatic as well as military problems. When Pogue began research on this book, he was fully aware of the value of oral history. From his experience as a combat historian, he knew that logic dictated talking to those who had made history happen; thus he interviewed major leaders like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar N. Bradley, Charles de Gaulle, and Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke as well as many other American, English, French, and German officers who commanded at subordinate levels or served on staffs.4 When he prepared his bibliography, he took the unusual step of listing his oral history sources. In this way and later with his leadership in the Oral History Association during its fledgling years, he helped scholars recognize the value of this source. After seven years as a civilian army historian, Pogue spent two more as a contract historian working on operations research for the army headquarters in Heidelberg. Then in 1954, he returned to teach at Murray. Back in Kentucky, he married Christine Brown, whom he had first met in the 1930s. Christine, a talented painter and art teacher who had a keen intelligence, perceptive understanding of people, and delightful personality, graced his life. In 1956, the George C. Marshall Foundation hired Pogue to write the general’s official biography. As army chief of staff throughout World War II and, during the postwar years, secretary of state and secretary of defense, Marshall was one of the most significant figures of this critical era in American history. He was obdurate about not writing a memoir, however, and he only reluctantly agreed to be interviewed by his biographer. Pogue’s background as a diplomatic and military historian, as a combat historian who had also written the history of Eisenhower’s headquarters, and his extensive experience as an oral historian made him an ideal choice. After all, the most important and immediate task was to conduct extensive interviews with Marshall. That October Memories of Forrest C. Pogue   155 he began talking with the general. During the five...


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