An Awesometalk With Kate Clifford Larson, PhD and Author

April 27, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Kate Clifford Larson, PhD

Click on the Link below:

Kate Clifford Larson INTERVIEW 5-Apr-11

Dr. Kate Clifford Larson is an historian, lecturer and award winning author who has written biographical books on two well known 19th century women. She earned a PhD in History from the University of New Hampshire and also holds a B.A. in Economics and History from Simmons College (1980); an M.B.A. from Northeastern University (1986); and an M.A. from Simmons College (1995).

“Bound For The Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of An American Hero” (Ballantine/One World 2004) is Kate’s first book and was the published version of her doctoral dissertation from the University of New Hampshire. It celebrates the life and memory of Harriet Tubman, American slave and Underground Railroad guide (actively participating in 13 trips to help free slaves from the south).

Kate hosts a great website on Harriet Tubman at:

“The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln” (Basic Books, June 2008) is Kate’s second book covering the life of Mary E. Surratt and her involvement in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy. Where Mary Surratt is concerned, Kate is one of several experts who answer questions on a blog hosted by The American Film Company, the producer of the film The Conspirator (2011) directed by Robert Redford.

Currently, Kate is working on her third book, “Rosemary: An Interrupted Life,” a biography of Rosemary Kennedy, the severely mentally challenged sister of President John F. Kennedy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, release date late 2011). 

Kate and I first met at Logan Airport in Boston while I was traveling on my way to speak at the Surratt House Museum 2011 Conference in Maryland in mid-March 2011. What started out as a one hour lunch turned into almost a 3-1/2 hour discussion. We had a blast…and I almost missed my flight.

Kate has a warm, light-hearted and fun loving personality. You will truly enjoy our chat just as much as I did.




Upcoming Interviews on An Awesometalk With…

March 9, 2011: Barry Cauchon

I am starting my spring preparations for new interviews for this season. Randal Berry did a great job in my last one.

Next week, I’ll be meeting with Kate Clifford Larson in Boston as I head down to Washington for the Surratt Society conference. Kate is an historian, Ph.D. and writer who teaches at  both Simmons College and Wheelock College in Boston. She is the author of  two books: The Assassin’s Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln and Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero.

I hope to do an interview with Kate sometime in late March/early April.

Beyond that, I’ll be speaking with numerous people at the Surratt Society Conference and am sure I will gather some great folks to interview while there. Stay tuned for a list of upcoming ‘interviewees’ after my return.

If you have a unique story to share, I’m always happy to hear from you as well.


I am looking for students and teachers who would like to participate in An Awesometalk With. If you have an interesting story to tell or are involved in history (how do you teach it or do you know someone local who adds great value to your local history), I’d like to hear from you. As this blog is worldwide, I want to hear and share interesting history-based stories from around the world. You know your community better than anyone, so share it.

Suggested ideas: Teachers: Perhaps you have a unique way of teaching your students history or have a special class project that always works with your students. Perhaps you bring in guest speakers or take field trips. The idea here is to share your creative approaches with my readers (many of which are other teachers and students). Everyone has a story to tell. Let us hear yours.

Students: What interests you about history? What kind of class projects and teaching methods do you get the most enjoyment out of? How do you research? Do you have experts you can talk to?  What was the best project/historical subject you’ve ever studied? What is your favorite historical event or period to study? Tell me about a teacher or person that really inspires you and why.

Again, the key here is to share something different and unique with the followers of A Little Touch of History. If your story is chosen to be shared in An Awesometalk With, I will interview you in a recorded 5-10 minute segment and post it here for the world to see and hear.

Don’t be shy. Share your stories.

Please send your suggestions and stories to my email at




An Awesometalk With RANDAL BERRY, author and webmaster of

February 10, 2011: Barry Cauchon

Randal Berry, Lincoln assassination expert, researcher, webmaster and now author, points to an audio book version of Mike Kauffman's American Brutus.

CLICK TO LISTEN TO INTERVIEW: An Awesometalk With Randal Berry 3-Feb-2011
I’d like to introduce you to Randal Berry. He is not only a friend of mine but also an extremely knowledgable man on the subject of the Lincoln Assassination.

On February 03, 2011, I recorded a great interview with Randal. In it we discuss his “Lincoln-Assassination” website and his first published booklet. The booklet called “Shall We Gather At The River” is an edited and annotated work originally written by Richard M. Smoot, a character little known to the general public, but who was a willing participant in the Lincoln assassination story.

In part one of the interview Randal and I talk about his website

Many people who are fascinated by the Lincoln assassination do not realize how truly vast the subject is. There are hundreds of characters involved, numerous locations referenced, the North, the South, the Union, the Confederacy, plots, schemes, life and death, heroes and villains, scapegoats and turncoats. To educate yourself in this subject could literally take years. Wouldn’t it be great if you could go to a place where many of the seasoned experts on the subject visited often and share their years of experience and research! Well, Randal Berry has created such a place. It is his website at Authors, researchers, experts, students and just everyday people interested in learning more about the subject, regularly visit here and exchange information. Articles, book reviews, references and other great features are all there. However, it is the Discussion Board which many people favor. It is a wonderful part of Randal’s site where you can communicate one-on-one with top Lincoln assassination experts. For the newcomer, it may seem a little intimidating, but rest assured, these experts are excited to share their knowledge with you and help educate you in the details beyond the ‘big picture’.

In part two, we talk about Randal’s Richard Smoot booklet, “Shall We Gather At The River”.

Smoot was a Confederate sympathizer who sold his boat to members of John Wilkes Booth’s conspiracy team when they planned to kidnap President Lincoln in early 1865. The boat would have been used to transport President Lincoln across the Potomac River into Virginia, in one of the first legs of a journey to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Their plan was to hold Lincoln hostage and exchange him for freeing imprisoned Confederate soldiers held in Federal prisons.

The booklet will be available for purchase on February 17, 2011 from two locations: Price is $16.50 + $3.00 shipping/handling from either of the following two locations.

1. Randal’s website, under the Classified / Want Ads section. Send check or money order to:

Randal Berry
P.O. Box 191866
Little Rock, AR 72219

2. Surratt House Museum Gift Shop

Purchases may be made by mail or phone. Send check or money order payable to “Surratt House Gift Shop” to the SURRATT HOUSE MUSEUM, 9118 Brandywine Road, Clinton MD 20735. Phone orders with VISA or MasterCard may be made by calling (301) 868-1121. Maryland residents must add 6% sales tax. Postage is $3 for the first book ordered and $1 for each additional book in the same order unless otherwise specified in the Mail Order List. All proceeds benefit the museum.

I hope you enjoy our chat. I encourage you to visit to learn more about the Lincoln assassination from the ‘best of the best’.



An Awesometalk With: Dona Cauchon, ex-NASA Apollo Project Engineer

November 8, 2010: Barry Cauchon.

Dona Cauchon (ex-NASA Apollo Project engineer)

About two years ago I approached my father, Dona Cauchon (pronounced Doe-Nah) to see if I could interview him for this blog. You see, my father spent ten years working for NASA at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia during the exciting days of the Apollo program and the race to put a man on the moon. I was lucky enough to grow up in this atmosphere, surrounded by stories of rockets and sending men to the moon. It was a very exciting time.

When I asked my father about doing the interview, he did not feel comfortable recording it live but did the next best thing by writing out his NASA bio for me. I am happy to share it with you today.

Currently, my father is retired and living with my mother Adrienne in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Their eight kids (that’s right, I said eight) all live in the area with their respective families. At last count I believe there are 16 grand kids in total.




MY DAYS AT NASA (1962 – 1972)

by Dona Cauchon

In the spring of 1962, I was completing my final term toward a Masters Degree in Engineering Mechanics at Northeastern University in Boston.  The courses were sponsored by Bell Labs of North Andover, Massachusetts, with whom I was employed at the time.  This co-op program was intended to advance the education of the company’s engineers with the hope that they might become better contributors to the development of its products in the future.  At Northeastern, I majored in Heat Transfer.

One of my good friends, John McElman, was also participating in the co-op program.  His major was Structures (the bending and buckling of columns and plate).  Neither Heat Transfer nor Structures, however, commanded a whole lot of attention at Bell Labs, a company that specialized in communications.  It was within that realization that the two of us began to look afield for other career opportunities.  As it turned out at the time, the fledgling United States space program was just getting started with the commissioning of a new agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to undertake the task of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely by the end of the decade (1970), the challenge set out by then President John Kennedy.

Suddenly the fields of Heat Transfer and Structures took on whole new meaning!   NASA embarked on a nationwide recruiting program for engineers, especially those with graduate degrees. John McElman and I interviewed with them at Northeastern in that spring of 1962, accepted their offer of employment a month later, and on Memorial Day weekend traveled to Hampton, Virginia, to buy houses for our families. We returned to receive the congratulations of Bell Labs at a festive dinner for its graduates, gave our notice the next day, and arrived in Hampton on July 1st to begin work at NASA’s Langley Research Center the next Monday. I’ve always had a pang or two of guilt about leaving Bell the way we did.

John McElman joined a structural research department with NASA and went on to earn his PhD from Virginia Tech under NASA sponsorship.  But he had a yearning to teach and in 1967 returned to Massachusetts to teach in his field at Merrimack College.  Dr. McElman became Head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Merrimack around 1980.  He died around 1990; he was in his mid-fifties.)

I took one additional graduate course after arriving at NASA…a calculus-based gem called Laplace Transforms.  When I finished, I knew that my days of formal education were behind me. 

As it was, I joined a special group investigating reentry heating.  Our flight research program was known as Project Fire and our objective was to establish by flight experiments the heating that would be encountered by the Project Apollo capsule entering the Earth’s atmosphere at lunar return velocities.  The program would involve the simulation of that Earth entry using a 1/3-size model of the Apollo capsule.  The simulated velocity would be achieved by launching a two-stage rocket from Cape Kennedy (then called Cape Canaveral) comprising an Atlas Rocket booster with an X-259 solid rocket upper stage.  The trajectories of these two stages would be aligned in such a way that the velocities of each would be added together to simulate lunar return velocity.  The booster would take the X-259 second stage with the attached capsule above the atmosphere…after separation from the Atlas, the X-259 would orient itself to plunge back into the Earth’s atmosphere…and the Apollo-shaped capsule would then separate from the spent X-259 and plummet to its eventual incineration in the South Atlantic Ocean off Ascension Island near Africa.  Before it incinerated, however, it would telemeter back all the onboard measurements to enable the investigators to establish the heating data.

Project Fire Heat Tunnel Test at Langley Research Center in 1962

Project Fire had two launches, the first in the spring of 1964 and the second in the spring of 1965.  The results confirmed the theoretical calculations and were the only two experimental flights to confirm the integrity of the heat shield design for the Apollo return capsule.


NASA Facts: Two Atlas missiles with ABL X-259 upper stages. These Atlas X-259 flights were launched from Cape Canaveral Pad 12 in the NASA Flight Investigation of reentry Environment [FIRE] program. Both flights were successful. The first flight occurred on April 14, 1964 and the second on May 22, 1965.

1964 April 14 – . 21:42 GMT – . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas D. LV Configuration: Atlas D 263D.

  • FIRE 1 – . Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Apogee: 837 km (520 mi). FIRE was a subscale model of the Apollo capsule used to verify the spacecraft’s hypersonic flight and thermal characteristics. An Atlas D launch vehicle lifted a Project Fire spacecraft from Cape Kennedy in the first test of the heat that would be encountered by a spacecraft reentering the atmosphere at lunar-return velocity. During the spacecraft’s fall toward earth, a solid-fuel Antares II rocket behind the payload fired for 30 seconds, increasing the descent speed to 40,501 kilometers (25,166 miles) per hour. Instruments in the spacecraft radioed temperature data to the ground. The spacecraft exterior reached an estimated temperature of 11,400 K (20,000 degrees F). About 32 minutes after launch, the spacecraft impacted into the Atlantic Ocean. The mission, sponsored by Langley Research Center, provided reentry heating measurements needed to evaluate heatshield materials and information on the communications blackout during reentry.

1965 May 22 – . 21:55 GMT – . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas D. LV Configuration: Atlas D 264D.

  • FIRE 2 – . Nation: USA. Agency: USAF. Apogee: 817 km (507 mi). Suborbital reentry heating experiment using the FIRE subscale Apollo capsule. An Atlas D booster propelled the instrumented probe, called a “flying thermometer,” into a ballistic trajectory over 805 km (500 mi) high. After 26 minutes of flight, when the spacecraft began its descent, a solid-fueled Antares rocket accelerated its fall. The probe entered the atmosphere at a speed of 40,877 km (25,400 mph) and generated temperatures of about 11,206K (20,000 degrees F). Data on heating were transmitted to ground stations throughout the descent. Thirty-two minutes after the launch – and but six minutes after the Antares was fired – the device impacted in the Atlantic about 8,256 km (5,130 mi) southeast of the Cape.
  • Fire 2 launched 22-May-1965


By 1967, most of the research in support of the Apollo Program had been completed and many NASA engineers moved to other challenges within the agency.  I joined a group that was pulling together experiments for the first Mars lander…I believe it was called Viking.  Companies and universities were competing to get their experiment(s) onboard.  The lander was so weight-limited that only one in twenty or thirty proposals could be accepted.  I spent one year with the experiment evaluation team.  As it turned out, that version of Viking ended up endlessly delayed and I moved on to other things.

My last four years with NASA were spent in the area known as Earth Resources, the science of using remote imagery from orbiting spacecraft to study Planet Earth.  This involved working with a host of other federal and state agencies and research schools and embraced the fields of geology, forestry, agriculture and oceanography among others.  A shortcoming of the NASA program in Earth Resources was the lack of resolution in its imagery.  The military had systems far superior to NASA’s but would not permit their use for our research.  The military had an outstanding joke in this regard that showed a Russian imaging expert looking over some of its high-resolution pictures of the United States.  In one picture, an American serviceman is shown holding a sign that read, “If you can read this, you’re where we were ten years ago”.  Needless to say, NASA’s frustration in this area was more than evident.

In an effort to help overcome the image resolution problem, I introduced a concept called “nesting” which would hopefully allow for making NASA’s space imagery more useful by providing a link between it and airplane imagery.  This would be done by taking images from high-altitude balloons so to provide a continuous, vertical “signature” of Earth targets for evaluation.  Helicopter imagery was also included to take the process right to the ground.  One experiment was aimed at a survey of Chesapeake Bay wetlands to inventory the various plant species.  Two balloon flights were flown from NASA’s Wallops Island Station.  While good imagery was obtained by both the balloons and helicopters, keeping the free-flying balloons over targets was too difficult to provide meaningful results.

NASA Balloon Survey

(File sourced by Marie Cauchon)

My career with NASA ended on June 30th, 1972, ten years to the day after I had joined them.  The most rewarding aspect of my time with the agency was the absolute freedom to pursue ideas and most times to get the support to carry them as far as you could.

Dona Cauchon

A Saturn V rocket carries a crew of three astronauts to the moon. The heat shield did its job during the entire Apollo program.


Have a great day.



An Awesometalk With STEVEN G. MILLER, expert on the hunt for John Wilkes Booth

August 01, 2010: Barry Cauchon

Steven G. Miller, expert on the hunt for John Wilkes Booth

An Awesometalk With Steven G. Miller

Duration: 42:28

Steven G. Miller knows more about the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and the men who participated in it than most people in the world. He has been researching the subject for thirty years. However, if you try to call him an expert in the subject he frowns upon the title. There is just too much more to learn so an expert, he says, he is not!

Despite Steven’s objections, many of us believe that he is an expert and the best person to talk to regarding the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and what really happened in his final hours.

Steven is a gifted researcher, writer and historian. He has written numerous articles for magazines and periodicals and has one unpublished book about the eyewitness accounts taken from the Garrett farm the night John Wilkes Booth was captured and killed..

I’ve known Steve for about two years and he always has something amazing to share. He’s also a pretty humorous guy with a really dry wit.

Steve will be speaking for the sixth time at the Surratt Society Assassination Conference in Clinton, MD next March 19, 2011. For more details, go to the Surratt Society website at:




An Awesometalk With CLINT ROSS, director of the documentary “The Angel of Marye’s Heights”

June 26, 2010: Barry Cauchon 

Clint Ross, director of The Angel of Marye's Heights

 LINK TO AUDIO INTERVIEW: An Awesometalk With Clint Ross

 Running time: 25:28

 Recorded on June 7, 2010

 Hi all: On June 7, 2010, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clint Ross, the director of a new documentary called “The Angel of Marye’s Heights”. It is the story of Richard Kirkland, a Confederate soldier who participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862.

 The battle was fought between Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Major General Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Potomac in what has been described as one of the Civil War’s most ‘one sided battles’ ever fought. Lee held the high ground outside the city of Fredericksburg and Burnside, against all logical recommendations by his own officers, decided to send his troops across open fields in an attempt to attack the Confederate lines. It was a disaster resulting in a bloodbath. The Union forces suffered thousands of casualties as wave after wave of their soldiers succumbed to the immense fire power of the fortified Confederate army. It was a turkey shoot.

Because the fighting had been so intense, and the atmosphere still highly volatile, no Union attempt could be made to rescue their injured troops from the battlefield. As evening came, the wounded Union soldiers began crying for mercy from the Confederate side, asking for water, blankets and anything they could spare. No one could help. Throughout that night and the early hours of the following morning the cries of suffering continued, weighing heavily on the Confederate soldiers’ consciences. 

It was then, that Richard Kirkland, after getting permission from his commander, gathered canteens and supplies from his fellow soldiers and risked his life by stepping out onto the battlefield to tend to the wounded Union soldiers. Once the men in the Union lines realized that Kirkland was not out there to cause further harm to their men, but in fact, help them, the shooting stopped and they began cheering him on. The cheering was taken up by the Confederate soldiers as well. Kirkland made several trips to the injured soldiers that morning. And for a few short moments in time, humanity came to the battlefield. For his actions, Richard Kirkland was called the Angel of Marye’s Heights. 


Clint Ross, decided to tell Kirkland’s story while at the Savannah College of Art and Design. It turned out to be his  thesis film. He worked with Historian Michael Aubrecht and a very talented team to make the film into reality. It’s a piece they are all very proud of.

Historian Michael Aubrecht from "The Angel of Marye's Heights"

To learn more about Richard Kirkland and the film “The Angel of Marye’s Heights”, go to While there, be sure to check out the short teaser from the film as well as view their blog to get the most current updates. 

As of this writing, I’d like to bring you up to date on the film’s premiere as noted below. 

The movie premiere for The Angel of Marye’s Heights will be held on Saturday, July 24, at the Rappahannock Regional Library in historic downtown Fredericksburg from 6-9+pm. Open to the public. Film showing will begin at around 6:30. No one will be admitted entry during the 30-min. screening. Seating is for 200, so please arrive early. (Cast and
Crew will have reserve seating.)   Our program will also feature remarks from the director and producer, intro of present cast and crew, acknowledgements of donors, presentation of cast awards, Q&A. The after-party will include free food and refreshments, music, exhibits of local museums and re-enactors, as well as battlefield preservation groups.   This film was sponsored by the National Civil War Life Foundation and has been donated as a permanent exhibit at the Civil War Life Museum. Subsequent screenings tentatively planned for southern VA, GA, SC, and PA.  Proceeds benefit the film’s upcoming DVD production and distribution costs.

A scene from "The Angel of Marye's Heights"





I try to look at life this way, “when you’ve got nothing… you’ve got unlimited resources!!!” That is exactly what happened on this film… many a little made a lot… that’s why this is a “for everyone film”… it was made by those that care more about the story than about the potential money attached to it. We accomplished a beautiful film with the help of so many people. I could spend all day saying that  to everyone.

I just specially want to thank my fellow producer, Michael Aubrecht for all his hard work and dedication to this film. His knowledge and connections gave depth to this film.

My amazing animator Darrin Dick composed so many elements in the film and really created a solid brand that really captures the heart of the images associated with the “The Angel of Marye’s Heights.”

Zach Graber, a talented cinematographer literally translated my thoughts using the camera. His eye and professionalism shows in every scene.

Clayton De Wet, the location sound mixer virtually made for a seamless post-production process with sound design… it could not have been any better.

Nazar Loun, a very hands on camera operator combined skills with Zach and maintained a solid look through out the film… what a hard working guy.

Kevin Erhard came on board in the latter half of the post production process and really helped me find the heart beat of TAMH. I went to him for this purpose because Kevin has a sixth sense of story structure and character development. Thanks Kevin for helping me tell Kirkland’s story in a poetic way.

Chris Campbell for all his long nights and dedication to the finishing of this film. What an incredible job with sound design and coming in the fourth quarter and scoring this last minute touchdown. What a hard worker. Thanks for your patience Chris!

I’d also like to thank Kathleen Warren and the Warren family for all their encouragement and patience with me. I always felt they were behind me 100%. It is my prayer that I can repay their hospitality one day. I aspire to our level of dedication to family and friends.

Lastly, I’d like to thank my wonderful wife Lizzie. The queen of patience and the love of my life. I could not have made this film without her sacrifice and patience regarding my time and energy.

There are so many others I could thank and I promise I will get around to it!

Thank you.

Clint Ross

An Awesometalk With JOHN ELLIOTT, Co-Author “Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators”

June 12, 2010: Barry Cauchon

LINK TO AUDIO INTERVIEW: An Awesometalk With John Elliott 02-Jun-10

Running Time: 21:30

John Elliott is my friend, researcher, writer and co-author of our upcoming book called Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators. I had a chance to chat with John on June 02, 2010 and record this interview for you.

John lives in San Antonio, Texas with his wife and son. He has been a student of the Lincoln assassination since grade school and has been actively researching the subject throughout the years. We met through this blog in April, 2009 and found we had very similar interests in the Old Arsenal Penitentiary and the Lincoln conspiracy. As our friendship grew we found that we both developed a mutual respect for each other’s ability to continuously find cool stuff about this subject. It was great to make a discovery and then share it with someone who could truly appreciate its significance. Our partnership flourished. So on Saturday, September 19, 2009, I called John up and asked if he would be interested in co-authoring the book I had been working on. I had been focusing on the forensic study of the Alexander Gardner conspirator execution photographs and I knew that John could add so much more to the story. To my delight, John graciously accepted and we began working on the project.

In March of 2010, John and I presented a prototype of the book to a few select and trusted senior researchers at the Surratt Society Assassination Conference in Clinton, MD. We were blown away by the positive response we received. As well, we were invited by Laurie Verge to present our work at the 2011 conference next year (March, 2011).

As I was writing the intro to this interview, I went back and read the first email that John wrote me after my phone call to him in September. He sent it to me two days later on Monday, September 21 and he already had ideas for the book, including the name, which we have stuck with to this day “Inside the Walls: The Final Days of the Lincoln Conspirators”.

In part of that email he also wrote the following:

“The title is just a suggestion. Barry, I appreciate you bringing me on board to co-author but I’m still trying to figure out a way to earn my keep on this project”.

Typical of John. When you read our book, and listen to this interview, you will see exactly what he has been able to offer. Great research, cool discoveries and a great collaboration. John, I’m proud of the work you and I have done on this project and am equally proud to call you my friend.

To all my readers, please enjoy John’s interview.



“An Awesometalk With” BETTY OWNSBEY, author of Alias Paine, the Lewis Powell biography

May 02, 2010: Barry Cauchon

LINK TO INTERVIEW: An Awesometalk With Betty Ownsbey 08-Mar-10

Running Time: 35:00

I am really pleased to present my interview with Betty Ownsbey, historian, researcher and author of ‘Alias Paine’, the biography of Lewis Powell, Lincoln assassination conspirator who was tried, found guilty and hanged on July 7, 1865.

Betty lives in Richmond, Virginia. I grew up in nearby Hampton, so I feel a connection to Betty as a fellow Viriginian. I found her to be charming, witty and passionate about the Lincoln assassination.  She is full of life and you will get pumped up just listening to her.

Our interview covered the following subjects:

  • Frustrations in research
  • The discovery of the Hartranft Letterbook
  • Lewis Powell, his family and history
  • Sharing and living history
  • Horses and the Civil War riding style and how it affected John Wilkes Booth escape from Ford’s Theatre

The red roan is the type of horse that David Herold rode during his escape with John Wilkes Booth. Herold's horse's name was Charlie.

  • Lewis Powell’s skull
  • Penny Dreadfuls

I hope you enjoy the interview.



“An Awesometalk With” LAURIE VERGE, Director of the Surratt House Museum

April 18, 2010: Barry Cauchon

LINK TO INTERVIEW: An Awesometalk With LAURIE VERGE 14-Apr-10

Running Time: 24:57

I am very pleased to present my interview with Ms. Laurie Verge, Director of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland and senior volunteer for the Surratt Society. Our talk was recorded on April 14, 2010, the 145th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. For over a year Laurie and I have been trying to make this interview happen. So when I picked one of the busiest days of the year from her calendar, she was just masochistic enough to say “Let’s do it”!

For anyone who has been involved in Lincoln assassination research, then you will probably know Laurie’s name quite well. She is an organizer, a teacher, an enabler and a matchmaker all rolled into one. She can make things happen and my personal experience with her has been very gratifying. With regards to being a matchmaker, she has directed me, along with so many others, to research specialists in the field of Lincoln assassination research and now sends inquiries my way as well. What goes around, comes around and I’m very happy to help her whenever she calls. The research community is close and works well together. Laurie certainly acts as one of the main points of entry and you will not find a more cordial and helpful person when it comes to guiding you in the right direction.

Our interview covered the following subjects:

  • the Surratt House Museum and its history
  • Mary Surratt’s guilt or innocence
  • the Surratt Society and its function
  • High Profile Projects that the Surratt Society has been involved in.
  • the type of membership the Society attracts (she will dispel the long-held belief that this is a society of conspiracy theorists)
  • Laurie’s other interests

I hope you enjoy the interview.



“An Awesometalk With” DR. EDWARD STEERS, JR. – historian & author

For full interview, click link below (running time 46:20)

Dr. Edward Steers Jr Interview 08-Mar-10

or click Part 1 – 4 below for specific sections of the interview.

Part 1 – E. Steers Interview – Intro & Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia 13min30sec

Part 2 – E. Steers Interview – WWII Fiction Novels 6min56sec

Part 3 – E. Steers Interview – Great Historical Hoaxes 16min45sec

Part 4 – E. Steers Interview – Research, Science, History & Writing 9min30sec


by Barry Cauchon

I am pleased to present my interview with Dr. Edward Steers, Jr., prominent Lincoln Assassination author, historian and researcher. We discuss his two latest books, “The Lincoln Assassination Encyclopedia” and his first fictional novel, a WWII drama called “We’ll Meet Again: A Story of Love and Intrigue in the Midst of War.” This novel reflects his interest in the subject of WWII, having previously published the non-fiction book “Don’t You Know There’s a War On?”

Our interview also covers another favorite subject of Dr. Steers, that being the great historical hoaxes perpetrated on the world along with some of the ridiculous stories and conspiracy theories put forth over the years. Dr. Steers covers hoaxes such as the Piltdown Man, Mark Hofmann and the Oath of a Freeman, the Hitler Diaries, the faked transcript of a phone call from Churchill to FDR warning of the imminent attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, and the hoax of The Man Who Never Was!

The Piltdown Man hoax

Mark Hofmann and the Oath of a Freeman hoax

The Hitler Diaries hoax

The phone call transcript from Churchill to FDR warning him that the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbor...hoax

... and the ridiculous!

Finally, we discuss the subject of research, how it has changed over the years and what experts require to take new research seriously.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Steers and read more about the books he has authored, please follow this link to or type in ed steers author into your favorite search engine.





March 15, 2010: Barry Cauchon.

Hi all: I am pleased to announce a partial list of upcoming interviews planned for my 2010 series “An Awesometalk With”. Last year featured some wonderful interviews and this year will be no exception. Here are just a few of the folks who have agreed to share their thoughts with you on “An Awesometalk With”.

STEVEN G. MILLER, historian & Boston Corbett expert: Steven is considered to be one of the top experts in the world on the 16th New York Regiment and Sergeant Boston Corbett, the man who shot John Wilkes Booth. Steven’s interview was done some time ago but I only recently completed transcribing it (sorry for the delay Steve). Look for it here very soon. It has some great content and stories (interview completed, edited and awaiting approval).

MIKE KAUFFMAN, historian and author of American Brutus: Mike is one of the foremost Lincoln assassination experts in the world authoring numerous articles on the subject. He is most well-known work is American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies. Within Lincoln assassination research circles, Mike is highly respected for his research capabilities and being able to find historical information that escape many of us. Mike will share his insights into how to research an old story in new ways and the many angles one can take to find new material.

LAURIE VERGE, Director, Surratt House Museum: Laurie has been the Director of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, MD since 1983. Anyone who has ever studied the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (from students, authors, film makers and scholars) knows Laurie, and has probably been helped by her at some point over the years. Laurie is a true matchmaker, directing the folks ‘with questions’ to the people who have ‘the answers’. She has been a tremendous supporter of mine and I’m very excited about introducing Laurie to you soon.

GLORIA SWIFT, Museum Curator, Ford’s Theatre, Washington D.C.: When Gloria phoned me recently and we had a chance to talk, I realized then that we had very similar approaches to history. Gloria has been an interpretive park ranger and curator with the National Park Service, working at such sites as Gettysburg National Military Park, Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park, and Monocacy National Battlefield. Currently she is the Museum Curator at Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site.

DR. EDWARD STEERS, JR., historian and author: Ed Steers is one of the most respected giants in the field of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, authoring ten books on the subject. But Mr. Steers’ interest in history goes beyond the assassination. He is fascinated with WWII and has just released his second WWII book, this one called “We’ll Meet Again: A Story of Love and Intrigue in the Midst of War”. He also has a keen interest in some of the great hoaxes perpetrated on the world, including the highly publicized Hitler Diaries (interview posted March 15, 2010).

BETTY J. OWNSBEY, biographer and expert on Lewis Powell, Lincoln assassination conspirator: Betty is the author of “Alias Paine”, the biography of Lewis Powell. She tells me that she loves talking up a storm on Powell and the assassination, as well as on British and American history. I also know that, like me, she is a fan of banjo music and has a collection of old and traditional recordings. Betty has been a huge supporter of the book that John Elliott and I are writing and her submissions and knowledge base have been immeasurable (interview completed and currently being edited).

JOHN ELLIOTT, my writing partner and expert on the Old Arsenal Penitentiary architectural history: I can truly pat myself on my own back when I think about how lucky I was in choosing John to partner with to write our book on the conspirators and what happened to them inside the walls of the Old Arsenal Penitentiary. John is an encyclopedia on the assassination and all the peripheral history that surrounds the event. Like me, his real interest in the assassination started as a young student, when he took his first trip to Ford’s Theatre and the Peterson House in Washington. It was the event that started both of our life-long interests in the Lincoln assassination and the happenings at the Old Arsenal Penitentiary.

So not a bad starting point for 2010. And there are more interviews to come. I just wanted to share the names of the experts who have already agreed to chat with me. I’m sure you will enjoy them all as each gets a chance to share their unique backgrounds and interests.




March 4, 2010: Barry Cauchon

Here is the list of the ten 2008-2009 “An Awesometalk With” interviews that I’ve conducted to date. If you never had a chance to read any of these, this would be a good time to catch up before the 2010 season is launched. Enjoy. Barry

1. An Awesometalk With HAROLD HOLZER, Lincoln Scholar (posted November 10, 2008)

2. An Awesometalk With DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian (posted December 08, 2008)

 3. An Awesometalk With ROBERT KRAUSS, 509th Composite Group Historian (posted December 16, 2008)

 4. An Awesometalk With ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the Abraham Lincoln Research Site (posted December 30, 2008)

5. An Awesometalk With LAURA FRANCES KEYES, Mary Todd Lincoln performer (posted January 26, 2009)

6. An Awesometalk With GEORGE HAUCK, WWII Veteran & Ex-Prisoner of  War (posted March 30, 2009)

7. An Awesometalk With ED ISAACS, Owner of Civil War Diary from Soldier Who Guarded the Lincoln Conspirators  (posted April 1o, 2009)

 8. An Awesometalk With ANDREW JAMPOLER, author of “The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows” (posted April 24, 2009)

 9. An Awesometalk With NIKAELA ZIMMERMAN, Kansas State Historical Society: Owners of the Lincoln Conspirators Gallows Crossbeam (posted June 24, 2009)

 10. An Awesometalk With CHARLENE HENDERSON, The 17th Regiment CVI Gravesite Location Project (posted November 02, 2009)




“An Awesometalk With” CHARLENE HENDERSON: The 17th Regiment CVI Gravesite Location Project

UPDATE: March 02, 2010: Barry Cauchon

The format of this An Awesometalk With is more of a traditional article rather than interview. However I feel that Charlene’s story contains the same wonderful content that my live interviews offer. Therefore, I’ve designated this as “An Awesometalk With” feature article. Enjoy.

November 02, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Paynton, W. Wallace grave

The gravestone of W. Wallace Paynton of the 17th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

My good friend Ed Isaacs recently told me about a woman who has made it her personal project to find the Civil War gravesites of the men of the 17th Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. I remember saying “Wow, what a great project. I’d like to talk to this person”. And so I did. I wrote to Mrs. Charlene Henderson and she graciously responded.

Charlene’s project certainly interested me from the start. But the story about how it all started, along with some of the eerie things that occurred during her search for these men’s final resting places, is to say the least…COOL! She describes these unexplainable occurrences as coming “directly from the twilight zone”. After you read her story you may agree with this assessment. As I have been witness to similarly strange ‘occurrences’ over the years, I believe that she may have been assisted in her search for the graves by, perhaps, the spirits of some of the very men whom she has been seeking out. One never knows.

If you are a believer in paranormal phenomena, this story will certainly add to your reading enjoyment. If not, it will at least serve to expose you to some of the things that Charlene has experience while searching for the graves of the 17th regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

Charlene’s project has been quite the undertaking. To date it has resulted in her locating, or getting leads to, over 71% of the graves of the 17th. An incredible feat!

Enjoy her story.




Charlene Henderson

Charlene Henderson

Charlene Henderson currently lives in New Milford, Connecticut. In 1988, Charlene found a letter written by a Civil War soldier from the 17th regiment CVI. Now, almost twenty-two years later, she has tracked down more 71% of the gravesites of the men of the 17th, and will be writing a book containing their bios and gravesite information. 

In Charlene’s own words, this is how the story began.

“My ex-husband and a friend had a part-time business in 1988 preparing homes for resale or rent. This would include painting, carpet cleaning, windows, etc. They took a contract from a local realtor: a condo that was trashed by a tenant who had been evicted…and I do mean trashed! Visualize a car driving through a single story building  then put back the entrance and exit walls. That is what the interior of the place looked like. 

After a few days of removing debris, I made headway to a bedroom closet. A small handmade wooden blue box was on the floor. I don’t know why but I opened it, instead of throwing it out with all the other junk. A small green piece of felt lined the bottom of the box and a letter was the only object inside. I removed the letter from the envelope. It was dated Feb. ’65 and the author, James Hurlbutt, wrote about being with three other men, Hoyt, Paynton and Hagar. They were stationed in Florida. I was pretty tired and the date seemed odd. I couldn’t understand what was going on in FL. in 1965. Then the light bulb went on. They made “a chimney”, a fire. It wasn’t 1965. It was 1865 and this letter is from a civil war soldier!

I did a little research in 1988 and found that they were soldiers from the 17th CVI. Years went by, I divorced, remarried, changed jobs. I became interested in genealogy. My maiden name is Hager fro Dutchess Co., N.Y. One day, I came across a document held by the Latter Day Saints. The document listed all of my great-grandfathers’ brothers and sisters. One name kept going through my mind. Abijah. Why do I know this name?

Again, the light bulb…Abijah HAGER. Could this be the same Abijah HAGAR, the civil war soldier that was named in the letter? I sent for Abijah Hagar’s pension information and they were one in the same. He was my great-grandfather’s brother.

Again years go by, it’s 2004 and I’ve become bored with family genealogy. My husband suggests doing some research on the other soldiers in Hurlbutt’s letter. W. Wallace Paynton lived at Fitch’s Soldiers Home in Darien, CT. for twenty years and wrote his memoirs which are in Bridgeport Library in Bridgeport, CT. One story is about returning to New Haven, CT after being mustered out in Hilton Head, S.C. The paymaster wasn’t there and the soldiers would have to return to New Haven next week to receive their pay. For those who didn’t return to New Haven, those men filed an application for back pay. Not long after reading this story I was on eBay. I found Abijah Hagar’s application for back pay.

Warren, William H. military (2)

The gravestone of Wm. H. Warren.

Finally, they got my undivided attention (Note: Charlene uses the word ‘they’ referring to her soldier friends whom she is searching for). Bridgeport Library has a collection known as the Warren Collection. William H. Warren was a private from Co. C. He spent most of his post-war life corresponding with his comrades relating to the war stories. I transcribed the stories relating to Chancellorsville. I had nothing more than a high school education about the Civil War. I didn’t even know what state Chancellorsville was in. I educated myself about the battle. The 17th, being only one regiment, was out of context, with relationship to the rest of the 11 Corps and Stonewall Jackson’s flack attack. I learned of a book written by Hamlin, the 11th Corps historian. Again, eBay, I found the book and bought it. The first blank page, in pencil, which someone had tried to erase, “Wm. H. Warren -43 Beers St – no town – 1896. This book was once owned by the private from Co. C., who lived at 43 Beers St., New Haven, CT.

This is why I say, THEY FOUND ME. They sparked an interest with Abijah, twice. Finally, after eighteen years from the onset, I felt that Warren was saying to me, ‘These are not coincidences. Wake up! Do the math! The odds of winning the lottery are better!’. 

That’s how I started looking for the final resting places of ‘my soldier friends’.”


To find the gravesites of the 1153 or 1158 men (final numbers vary) who were members of the 17th regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War.


The regiment assembled and was accepted into Federal service on August 28, 1862. 1006 or 1008 men mustered into service that day with an additional 150 or so joining later during recruiting drives throughout the war.


The first thing that Charlene did was to get the roster from the 17th regiment. She picks up the story about her process from here:

“The roster is listed by company, the town where the person enlisted from and military history. I took the roster and arranged the soldiers by town where they enlisted; so I could use the Hale Cemetery Inscription Collection.

The Hale Collection was compiled by the WPA in 1934. Every gravestone in every cemetery was recorded by town and published with an index. Also, notations were made if the person had a flag, G.A.R. flag holder, and the company and regiment they served. The entire collection is at Connecticut State Library. One page at a time, for each town in Fairfield Co., I wrote the names of everyone who had a flag or G.A.R. marker and compared those names against the roster. Then, using the index, looked up anyone buried in a town whose name matched the soldier name (verifying the I.D. later). Any gravestone with the 17th CVI was self-evident. A typical example of a listing (without military notation) might read as follows: John Doe 1840 – 1906 flag Civil War.

Now the fun begins. The Hale Collection has a map for each town with a dot for each cemetery, the name of the street or its location referenced from another cemetery. The map doesn’t have all street names, only long streets and watercourses. Trying to find some of these cemeteries is an adventure in itself. The vast majority of these cemeteries have no office or section markers. It’s park and let the walking begin. Doing this town by town, I got smarter and wrote down the page number from the Hale Collection. If someone was listed on page 20 and someone on page 22, they would be about 80 graves from each other.  A clue was military gravestones. If the information read: John Doe, Co. A, 17th Conn. Vols., died Jan. 1, 1900, age 68, it’s a good chance the stone was military. Find him and it’s a starting point for finding the rest. So many times I would drive into a cemetery and someone’s gravesite would be right in front of me.

Story: A twisty country road, perched on a hillside, accessible to mountain goats only by traversing several unstable stone stairs, open the iron gate, one little cemetery where very few stones remain. In the back corner, the gravestone I was searching is there, completely legible.

I’ve found 575 gravesites in CT. and N.Y. 36 are buried in National Cemeteries. 38 are missing headstones or I haven’t found them yet. 21 I still have to go find. 36 are buried out-of-state. For a total of 706.

Out of state leads 77. Most likely buried in CT. 40 (burial info may be found at CT Health Dept). New info 2. For a total of 119.

Combined total 825 out of 1153 or 1158.”

stratton, charles before

BEFORE: This is how the gravestone of Charles Stratton was found.

Stratton, Charles S. military

AFTER: The completely exposed gravestone of Charles S. Stratton.


As mentioned earlier, Charlene has had some interesting occurrences take place while doing her project. Unexplainable by scientific methods, but real nonetheless. Here is one such event that I’d like to share with you.

“I was in a cemetery looking for ‘the guys’, having spent about three hours. One was left on my list and I just couldn’t find him.  I apologized to him, called his name, asked collectively of the 17th buried in the cemetery, to help me. A rabbit came out of a bush. I walked over, pushed the branches back, and there was his gravestone”.


Currently, Charlene is continuing to work on her project to locate the remaining graves of the men of the 17th. Recently, she enlisted the assistance of Ed Isaacs (of Dixon diary fame). Ed says this is a perfect project for him to keep busy while in his retirement.

Charlene, thank you for sharing your story with us (and keeping Ed busy). With the help of Ed and ‘your friends’, I’m sure the discovery of the remaining grave stones are not too far in the distant future.

Continued success with your project.

If anyone would like to contact Charlene, please email me and I’ll be happy to pass along your comments to her.



“An Awesometalk With” Nikaela Zimmerman, Kansas State Historical Society; owners of the Lincoln conspirators gallows crossbeam

June 24, 2009: Barry Cauchon 


Nikaela Zimmerman, Assistant Registrar/Conservation Technician for the Kansas State Historical Society

Earlier this month, John Elliott, my friend and research partner on Fort McNair and the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary, sent me a photo of an artifact in the collection of the Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS). It is a portion of the gallows crossbeam that was used to hang the four Lincoln conspirators. I contacted Nikaela Zimmerman, Assistant Registrar / Conservation Technician at the KSHS and she graciously consented to an interview about the crossbeam, the exhibition it is currently displayed in and the Kansas State Historical Society’s role in preserving Kansas history.  Note: The photos of the Gallows Crossbeam and the Bloodstained Playbill from Ford’s Theatre are courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.


B. Hi Nikaela. It’s a pleasure to speak with you. The first thing I’d like to ask you concerns the Kansas State Historical Society. Can you tell us a little bit about the society and the role it plays in Kansas?

N.  The Kansas State Historical Society as a whole was founded in 1875. So we’ve been around almost as long as Kansas has been a state. Kansas became a state in 1861. We were founded by a group of Kansas editors and publishers. And we didn’t become a trustee of the state so we weren’t officially the state historical agency until 1879. We are the official repository and guardian of materials related to the history of the state of Kansas. 

B. Is the collection housed at the Kansas Museum of History?

N. It is! When the society first started out, it wasn’t broken down into divisions. It was all one umbrella. Now we’re broken into several different divisions. Within the Kansas State Historical Society the Kansas Museum of History is one of those divisions. The Library and Archives is another division. And we also have an Education division, a Cultural Resources division which includes Archaeology. And then we have sixteen historic sites throughout the state that are under another division. So we’re all part of one whole. We all serve the same purpose of preserving Kansas history. So we all do slightly different things.

B. Not knowing exactly how the system works, can you tell me how many museums are under the umbrella of the Kansas State Historical Society?

N. For the state of Kansas, we’re it. We are the official history museum. Basically, every county in the state has its own small historical society and they’re independent of us. Now, throughout the state, our historic sites are part of us and we manage them. We have a person there who works for the state who manages that site and the artifacts that are kept at that site. But for the most part, it’s us.

B. The reason I originally came across your website was because you have an exhibition on right now called Lincoln in Kansas which has a number of artifacts that relate to the blog that I write and am involved with. Would you tell us a little bit about that exhibit?

N. Sure. Since 2009 is the bi-centennial of Lincoln’s birth there are many museums in the United States that are doing exhibits related to him. It might sound a little odd that Kansas would have a Lincoln exhibit but Lincoln did visit Kansas in 1859. So the exhibit focuses on that and the other connections that Lincoln had with our state. At the time of his visit to Kansas, the territory was in the midst of a bloody battle to be entered into the Union as a free state. Lincoln was a rising political star. In the previous year he had just done the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The visit to Kansas was beneficial to both the territory and to Lincoln. People in Kansas thought that if they had Lincoln on the side of the Free-Staters it would increase their chances of getting into the Union as a slave-free state. And it benefited Lincoln because he was testing the political waters leading up to the 1860 Presidential elections. And it was a great opportunity for him to build some contacts in this part of the country and in a new area; not only for his campaign but for his law career. So while he was here he visited several cities in northeast Kansas like Atchison, Leavenworth, Troy and Elwood. In each city he gave a speech. He used that opportunity to practice and perfect a speech that he would deliver later at Cooper Union in New York. And many historians as you probably know cite that speech as one that turned around his presidential campaign. So that’s a large part of the exhibit, focusing on his visit to Kansas and what he did while he was here.

B. What artifacts are in the exhibit that relate to Lincoln’s visit?

N. There aren’t too many left. The sites where Lincoln spoke…most of them are gone now, so only pictures of them remain.

There’s a plaque which marks the building where Lincoln spoke in Leavenworth. It was the Planters House Hotel and there was a plaque on the building before it was razed. So we’ve got that.

Lincoln was possibly distantly related as a cousin to a man in Kansas named Mark Delahay who became a judge later on. So there are a few artifacts relating to the Delahay’s.

There is a pot (laughing)…this is crazy! There is a pot lid that may have belonged to Lincoln’s mother and then she gave it to another family member and it was passed down through the line and ended up in Kansas. So these are a collection of strange, random things in that section of the exhibit just because it’s a difficult period to collect from since the territorial period was 1) so long ago and 2) things that they had were so expendable.

B. In all the museums I’ve worked in and visited in my career, it’s those kinds of artifacts that I love most; the unique ones with the strange stories attached to them.

However, two of the artifacts that we spoke about earlier this week are not related to Lincoln’s visit to Kansas but rather to his assassination and the conspirators involved. And it was through connections in Kansas that these artifacts came to be in the KSHS’ historical collection. Can you tell us about these artifacts and how they ended up in Kansas?

N. The two artifacts you are talking about are; one is a gallows crossbeam and the other is a fragment of a playbill.

The gallows crossbeam came from the gallows on which the Lincoln conspirators were hanged in 1865. Again, it seems a little strange that such a piece would end up in the state of Kansas. What possible connection could there be?

A section of the gallows crossbeam taken from the scaffold used to hang the condemned Lincoln conspirators on July 7, 1865.

A section of the gallows crossbeam taken from the scaffold used to hang the condemned Lincoln conspirators on July 7, 1865.

We’ve had the piece of the gallows in our collection since 1885. It’s one of our older artifacts. At the time it was collected our secretary was named Franklin G. Adams and he strongly believed that history should be collected while people who experienced it were still alive. So he was going out trying to find things, especially related to the Civil War, that could illustrate what happened. And he could still talk to the people that experienced it and have a good oral history, a good record of what those people experienced.

He found out from a colleague in Washington D.C. that the gallows used to hang the Lincoln conspirators was being stored in pieces at the Washington Barracks. And so he wasted no time in contacted a man named Lieutenant Sebree Smith who was at the Washington Quartermaster’s Office and asked him if might be willing to send a piece of the gallows to the historical society for the collections. And as luck would have it Lieutenant Smith had been stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for a period of time. He considered himself a Kansan and he happily agreed to send as much of the crossbeam as the historical society wanted. So at the time he shipped out the piece of the gallows that we have in our collection he also acquired a sworn statement from a man named George Tatsbaugh, who stated that he worked as a storekeeper at the Washington Arsenal from 1865 to 1881 and he witnessed the “top beam of the ‘Surratt Scaffold’ [as it’s sometimes called] was buried in 1865 under a large pile of timbers to secure it from curiosity seekers”. He went on to say that he did recognize the piece being sent to Kansas as the top beam from the gallows. And we’ve had it in our collection ever since.

B. One thing that I noticed when I read your brief on it was that the piece was made out of pine. And that surprised me. I didn’t know that about the scaffold. And my next question dealt with what part of the crossbeam did this section come from.

N. There was a little correspondence between Adams and Smith about which section of the crossbeam it was. Because when Smith sent the original letter to Adams saying “Yes, we have this” he indicated that the crossbeam had two mortise points in the middle. And Adams had looked at the pictures that Alexander Gardner had taken. He had also seen the drawings from Harper’s Weekly and he could not understand because in those depictions there was only one support beam in the center so why would there be two mortise holes? So he sent back a letter and Sebree Smith cleared it up by saying “Whoops, I was wrong. Looking at it again there was only one”! And if you look at the piece we have there’s one mortise.

B. But at this point you do not know if you have the center piece or one of the ends?

N. Right. It came from somewhere along the top crossbeam.

B. It can only be one of three locations by the looks of it (laughing).

That’s exciting. It’s a very interesting piece.

N. We are very excited to have it. It’s pretty cool.

B. It’s on display right now in the Lincoln in Kansas exhibit. Is this, and the other artifact that we are going to talk about in a minute, normally on display?

N. No. Unfortunately, they are not normally on display. They are kind of special things that we pull out for exhibits like this. And just for safekeeping they are usually kept in storage. At all times, 24/7, you can go onto our website and see images of them and read the provenance. Both of them can be found in the “Cool Things” section of our website.

B. If my readers have not been to your website, it’s definitely worth a visit. Go to To find Cool Things, click Collections and you will find the link there.

The second artifact is related directly to the assassination and it came from Ford’s Theatre. It’s a small corner of a playbill from the performance of Our American Cousin on April 14, 1865. It looks like a small tear or cut corner of the playbill. What are your thoughts on this Nikaela and the story behind the artifact?

A corner of a bloodstained playbill taken from Ford's Theatre on the night of Lincoln's assassination, April 14, 1865.

A portion of a bloodstained playbill taken from Ford's Theatre on the night of Lincoln's assassination, April 14, 1865. The blood is Abraham Lincoln's.

N. It looks like the piece was cut. I have a feeling that the man who owned it cut it into pieces and maybe kept some of it and maybe divvied it up amongst other people who were interested because it’s a very clean cut.

The man who donated it was named Dr. Thomas D. Bancroft. And he was very active in Kansas during the territorial period. He was part of the Free State movement in Kansas. He fought with James Lane and John Brown against guerrilla fighters from Missouri which are two names that are heavily associated with the abolitionist movement. And he was also part of the frontier guard who protected the White House under the leadership of James Lane during the first days of the Civil War. So during that time the frontier guard was quartered in the east room. He may have met Lincoln during that period. He was also present at Lincoln’s 1st Inaugural. So there’s a possibility that he somehow knew, or at least met, Lincoln. 

Most importantly though, Bancroft attended the play in Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot.  He was among the men who stood at the head of the stairs to keep the crowd back as Lincoln was carried from the theater.  As Lincoln passed the men, drops of blood fell to the floor near where Bancroft was standing.  Once Lincoln was carried from the theater, Bancroft went back and he wiped up the spots with his program. And he kept it in his possession until donating it to the historical society in 1901.

So it’s also another, slightly disturbing, but very interesting artifact.

B. Absolutely. And again it’s good to hear the connection to Kansas because people would not normally think of the state of Kansas as being the keeper of artifacts from that period in our country’s history.

So I’m glad I came across you folks.

N. It’s interesting when you go through the exhibit to see how many connections there were between Lincoln himself or Lincoln and the assassination that appear in Kansas. Like John Wilkes Booth once performed Hamlet at the Union Theatre in Leavenworth which is ironic because then, Lincoln spoke there. Boston Corbett, who was the man responsible for shooting John Wilkes Booth in the manhunt afterwards. He became the Sergeant at Arms in the Kansas House of Representatives and was later sent to Topeka State Hospital after pulling his gun and threatening to use it in the Kansas House. He escaped from the State Hospital and then disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to him. The woman who wrote to Lincoln as a child and told him he should grow a beard later move to Kansas, to Delphos, Kansas and she’s buried there. And another woman named Vinnie Ream was a young sculptress from Kansas. As a teenager she moved to Washington DC and sculpted a bust of the President when she was sixteen. And then when she was eighteen she received a commission for a Lincoln statue that went into the US Capital. And Lincoln’s last sitting with her in her studio was April 14, 1865. And he left from there to go to Ford’s Theatre. So there are a lot of interesting connections.

B. Amazing stuff! 

N. Yeah. It’s so much fun.  

B. It sounds like you are a fan of that period. 

N. I am. I think Lincoln is very interesting. It’s fun that we have this exhibit up and it’s fun that we get to study a little more in depth about his connections to Kansas.

B. The exhibit is at the Kansas Museum of History in Topeka, Kansas. How long does the exhibit run until?

N. The Lincoln exhibit will be open until July 26, 2009.

As well, we are also in the process of raising funds to try to preserve some of our Lincoln artifacts. We have a banner that was used at one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We have a silk umbrella that was used to shield Lincoln from a snow storm in Utica, New York. And we have a dress that was worn at Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural ball. Those things are all in need of conservation and treatment. But it’s so expensive to do that, we have to have a grant and we have to have matching funds. So we are having a “Lincolns for Lincoln” campaign and if anyone would like to donate to help us get those artifacts preserved they can do so on our website.

B. If anyone is interested in donating to help this worthy cause, I’ve posted the information below.

Nikaela, this has been great. Let me ask you one last question before we end our conversation. Do you have any other things planned for the Kansas History Museum in the future?

N. Right now we are working on our permanent gallery. We’ve been in our building for 25 years and it’s kind of time for an update. So we’ve been taking it kind of a piece at a time and this summer we are working on a section about Explorers. But we’ve also recently upgraded our Trails section and a section on Bleeding Kansas, the period leading up to statehood and the Civil War. So, they are very interesting and much prettier to look at now than they were before. And we have an exhibit about the importance of the automobile in Kansas that should be opening with any luck after the first of next year.

B. Do you have anything opening for the latter part of the summer after Lincoln in Kansas ends?

N. Unfortunately when Lincoln goes down we are going to take a bit of a break because of the economy. So our main thing this summer is that we do a film festival each summer that’s outside on the lawn and we project up onto the wall of the building. This year we are exploring the Hollywood version of history and museum work. It’s always a lot of fun and people get a kick out of sitting outside to watch a movie even when it’s 110 in Kansas in July.

B. Nikaela. Thank you very much. It’s been wonderful talking to you and I look forward to catching up with you and the Kansas State Historical Society in the near future.

N. Thank you.

DONATIONS: If people wish to donate to the “Lincolns for Lincoln” fund they can go to the following URL:  There is a drop down menu where they can designate where they wish their money to go, and they should select “preservation of collections”.  Since the exhibit went up at the end of January, we’ve raised over $1000 towards the conservation of the Lincoln artifacts.  Most of that has been through coins in a donation box.  People love Lincoln!




“An Awesometalk With” Andrew Jampoler, author of “The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows”

April 24, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Author Andrew Jampoler

Author Andrew Jampoler

Andrew C. A. Jampoler is a retired US Navy Captain who, amongst his many achievements, served in Vietnam, worked at the Pentagon, commanded a land-based maritime patrol aircraft squadron and a naval air station. He also flew Lockheed P-3 airplanes in search of Soviet submarines during the 1970s and 80s. After retiring from the Navy, he worked in the international aerospace industry and then moved on to become a full-time writer.

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Andy, the author of three books: The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows (2008); Sailors in the Holy Land: The 1848 American Expedition to the Dead Sea and the Search for Sodom and Gomorrah (2005) and the award-winning Adak: The Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586 (2003). The latter was voted “Book of the Year” by the US Naval Institute Press in 2003.

Andy is a true storyteller, walking me through each of his three books as well as his current project Horrible Shipwreck (working title) which tells the tale of the wreck of the female convict ship Amphitrite in 1833.

He is a fascinating man with fascinating stories to share. I am very happy to bring you my interview with Andy Jampoler and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


B. It’s nice to speak with you Andy. I wanted to tell you that I’ve enjoyed our emails back and forth this week. Please let me welcome you to A Little Touch of History.

A. Hello Barry. It’s good to be here.
I was really dazzled by your site. It fascinated me. If you get a chance to read “The Last Lincoln Conspirator” you’ll see that one of the Gardner photographs is one of the illustrations in the book. Because they are such high quality, I zoomed in on the gallows. And I remember when I saw those at the Library of Congress I was just horrified by them. So when I saw your study it fascinated me. You’ve gone very far with those extraordinary photographs and I was very interested in what you’ve done.

B. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. It was a labor of love. I was very curious. After you’ve looked at the same photographs for hundreds of times, you want to look beyond the main images. And it was very interesting what I started to find within those pictures. I’m still studying the Rooftop View which I find to be the most intriguing of all the photographs because it has so much to see, especially beyond the prison rooftop overlooking the Washington DC cityscape of 1865.
You can clearly see the incomplete Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Institute. So now I’ve started to get my bearings because I’ve just discovered the US Treasury Building and, if I’m seeing it right, I think I can identify the White House as well. It’s been a lot of fun going through this process.

A. Well if that’s true you will have seen half of the principal buildings in the city of Washington. There weren’t that many and you’ve just mentioned about half of them.

B. The Library of Congress and the National Archives are terrific repositories for photographs, maps, documents and the like. Do you use both of those resources when writing your books?

A. I do…and I draw on them very heavily and they are enormously cooperative. The people at the National Archives are very welcoming and the material they have is extraordinary. If you have to use microfilm that is a little hard on the eyes frankly!

B. (laughing)

A. But they are very helpful. Their resources are stunning. And they, and the Library of Congress, compete to be cooperative. I’ve marveled at how helpful they are systematically.

All they get in exchange for their wonderful help is honorable mention in the front of the book. And what I’ve done in the last two books is… they have a speakers program at both places. In exchange for their cooperation I’ve participated in giving talks at both the National Archives and Library of Congress in compensation for their assistance. It gives me the opportunity to tell people how grateful I am for their help. I think both are great national treasures and it surprises me how helpful they can be.

B. You’ve written three books to date and are currently working on your fourth one right now. How is that going?

A. I’m approaching half way. It’s due at the publisher next summer which is to say, something like 15 months. I’ll be on time. Things are pretty much on schedule. I have a trip this summer to do some research that I cannot do here.

B. What is the subject of this book?

A. The working title is Horrible Shipwreck and it’s the story of a female convict ship in 1833. For the moment, it’s my consuming passion.

In late August, 1833 the convict transport Amphitrite sailed from Woolwich just east of London heading for New South Wales, heading for the convict colony in Australia. I begin the story by explaining the story to American readers the reason there was a convict colony in Australia. It goes back to the American Revolution. Until the Revolution convicted felons from Britain were shipped to the American colonies. As children, we learned that the colonies were full of what were called indentured servants. In fact for the most part these people were felons who were sent to the United States, pardoned as part of the process, but then sold into indentured service by the ship masters who had delivered them here. So it was an ideal solution for the British justice system. They got rid of their felons at no expense. They had no requirement to build a prison system which was something they weren’t interested in doing. There was no requirement even to pay for transportation. Well, when the Revolutionary War started, that outlet closed up. And suddenly Great Britain had no place to send their convicted criminals. And these people were convicted of all sorts of things. Small things, large things…mostly theft and robbery. But there was a desperate moment there in the late 1770’s when people tried to figure out “Well, what are we going to do with this tide of felons that are going to wash over society and overwhelm us if we can’t get rid of them anymore?” There was a great hunt started for a suitable convict colony. A number of efforts were made to find such places, for instance the West African coast and elsewhere. Quite rightly, and quickly, they concluded that that would be nothing but a death sentence. There was no place in West Africa where these people would survive.

B. Okay.

A. Then somebody remembered Cook’s expedition to Australia. And very quickly, without any further research, the decision was made in 1778 to launch the first fleet carrying about 1100 male and female convicts to start a new prison colony in Australia, in New South Wales at the time.

B. Andy, I’ve heard the stories of the criminal beginnings in Australia. At the time that this convict fleet sailed was Australia already colonized?

A. No. This is how it began. The program continued for many decades. Ultimately some 160,000 convicts from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales were shipped to Australia of which 20% to 25% were women. All along there was the intention that this would become a self-sustaining colony. Once again, Great Britain didn’t want to pay for this. In the case of Australia they had to pay for transportation. They had substantial upfront costs because there was no settled community into which these convicts could be integrated. So it began that way.

B. I see.

A. Well by 1833 they had been sending convicts to Australia for nearly 50 years and there had been no shipwreck. Not until the Amphitrite sails has any vessel been lost, although there have been a number of deaths from disease and other causes. There has been no vessel lost and no substantial loss of life other than some horrific fatalities aboard the second fleet due to maltreatment and things of that sort.

But Amphitrite sails from Woolrich and less than a week later she’s caught in a terrific channel storm along with hundreds of other vessels and is run aground outside the city of Boulogne-sur-Mer, the French channel coast. And in the course of roughly the next ten hours the ship is caught on the sands, she’s run aground deliberately but she’s caught on the sands and beaten to pieces by the storm surge, in plain sight of the city. Several efforts are made to alert the crew to what’s going to happen to them if they stay there and don’t leave the ship. Depending on what source you believe for a variety of reasons, the captain, the crew and his convicts are not permitted to leave and all but three die, all but three drown Saturday night, August 31, 1833. And when Sunday comes, the good citizens of Boulogne, about 6,000 of who are British expatriates, discover to their horror that bodies are washing up on the beach in dozens.

My book is the story of the ship, the shipwreck, the public outcry after the investigation the admiralty conducts, and what happened and why. And of course the fact that it’s women and children who were the largest numbers among the dead I think just kind of makes it more poignant and frankly a more marketable story for an American audience.

B. Absolutely. When you first mentioned it to me, I felt it was a story that will be quite appealing.

A. The early vessels that went to the convict colonies had both men and women aboard. That very quickly turned out to be impossible and unworkable. And consequently early on what happens is that all-female transports become the model. There is some financial advantage. They don’t have to put guards on them. The male transports are carrying security detachments because everybody’s afraid of mutiny. The female transports, the people conclude quite rightly, that there isn’t the threat of the ship being taken over by these women, so they are able to put more convicts aboard any given size vessel. So that continues until 1833 when the first of them, Amphitrite goes down in this horrific, highly public accident. All of this happens in clear sight of the beach front of the city of Boulogne right in front of the principal hotel in the city, which happens to be owned by a Brit.

Anyway, that story is due to the publisher next summer and I think it’s an interesting one.

B. Were there good resources available to you considering it was such a public tragedy?

A. The resources are quite good in some areas and I’m still exploring other areas. All the legal documents that resulted in the convictions of these women at trial are very complete. The court system in England, Ireland and Scotland ran much as it does today, on paper. And all of those papers are available so it’s possible to understand in great detail what these individual women were accused off, what they were convicted of, what they were sentenced to, and where and when. So the records there are quite good. The records about the ship are quite good too. There are several principal characters. The captain of the ship, there are some good records about him. I found his will for example which tells me about his family and his property and one thing or another. The surgeon superintendant aboard, the man who is actually in charge of the convicts, he is turning out to be the most difficult to research. And it’s one reason why I’m going to go to Edinburgh because he was a Scot and I think I’m going to have to press harder on some things there. I have an acquaintance in Scotland doing some research for me but I need more on a Dr. James Forrester and his wife. She was accused of being the reason why no boat was launched from the ship to take people ashore, because it is alleged that she refused to ride with common prostitutes in a boat.

The admiralty investigation was conducted by a Navy Captain named Henry Chads, about whom the documentation is very complete. His investigation is very well documented. And there was a woman on the beach, a Brit, Sarah Taylor Austin who played a very important role in the efforts to save the lives of these people. She’s an enormously colorful figure married to a well known failed British lawyer living in France at the time. And the biographical data on her is both fascinating and very good. And there were two Frenchmen who tried very hard to alert the crew to what was happening and to make sure they understood their danger. But the biographical information on them is adequate.

The newspaper coverage in English language papers and French language papers is very good. And especially the coverage stimulated by a British reporter named John Wilks Jr. who is the guy who essentially stirred up the public excitement by his reporting in the Times of London and in the London Standard. He’s an enormously colorful character. He was living in France because he had been ridden out of England as a result of a whole bunch of stock frauds that he traded.

B. (laughing).

A. And all that is very well documented too. So the answer is…the source material is certainly available to do a good job. And it’s my job to take that source material and do the best job that it’s possible to do.

B. I may have missed it but did the accident occur at night?

A. It occurred in late afternoon. During the course of the afternoon the captain found himself….in aviation you say, kind of “out of altitude and ideas and air speed all at the same time”. He had the same problem. He’s being driven on the French coast by a wind out of the northeast. His ship will not go into the wind such that he cannot get away from shore. So he makes the deliberate decision about mid-afternoon to drive her up onto a sandbar to anchor there. He then assumes that the tide will come in, the storm will abate, it will lift him up and he will be able to continue his voyage. What he doesn’t understand, and what the French fisherman at the port do understand, is that as the tide comes in, it will bring with it all the sand that washes around. And that he will be fixed on that bar as the water rises around him. And that the narrow channel that he’s in, he’s in the Pas de Calais, the Dover Strait, that focuses the wind, it focuses the waves and that essentially once he is on that bar his ship will be beaten apart as the tide comes in. They try to alert him to this. For whatever reason he discounts it and it’s exactly what happens. Over the course of the evening, let’s say between 10:00 pm and 2:00 am, Amphitrite is beaten apart and that is when the bodies start washing in.

B. So the captain initially beached his ship!

A. Yes. Exactly! He deliberately took her ashore and that’s not unheard of in those days.

B. So with was his knowledge base at the time, it was the thing to do?

A. Yeah, well he didn’t have any alternatives. He was being pushed ashore and the question was, was he going to manage it or was he just going to be driven sideways somewhere and broach and rollover and that would be the end of it.

B. I see. But the locals who knew the area knew that that was not the place to do it.

A. Two of them, one in a boat and one, incredibly, swimming, went out to his ship to tell him exactly what was happening. And depending on whose story you believe he rejected the advice, or ignored it or had such confidence in what he was doing that he just figured that he would ride it out.

B. How incredible…

A. In fact what they told him is exactly what happened. The next morning his ship was in 10 or 12 great big pieces washed up on the beach. As I recall sixty-three bodies were found, his was not among them. They never found his body.

B. Did anyone survive?

A. Three of the crew members were the only survivors. The bosun and a couple of the youngsters on the crew were the only survivors. Everybody else, 133 drowned in the storm.

B. Were the women chained or in cells?

A. No, they were not restrained. Originally, as the scenario unfolded, they were put below in the prison space in the hold. But during the course of the storm, either the deck split, the poop broke up or the hatches burst because at the end, the women were out on the deck and washed over the side and drowned.

B. This is going to be a great book. It’s a story that, as I hear you tell it to me, I’m quite fascinated by. I know you said you have a deadline next year but what is the release date?

A. Well, it’s the same publisher and they typically take between ten and twelve months to go from when you deliver the manuscript to when the bound book comes out of the printer. And they really move pretty fast. That’s good time for the process that the manuscript goes through. My guess is that it will be in spring 2011; maybe late spring 2011; early summer…something like that. It often depends on the publisher. They publish about 70 to 80 books a year. It kind of depends on where in their schedule they’re going to put it.

B. That is one book I really look forward to reading Andy. Let’s move on to your most recent release, your third book which came out just last October 2008.



A. That’s the one we met over, so to speak, and is called “The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows”. When I was researching my second book Sailors in the Holy Land” I read in the biography of the American consul in Malta that in 1866 he attempted to arrest one of Lincoln’s conspirators passing through Valletta.

B. Really! (laughing).

A. And I said to myself “Now that’s crazy. How could that possibly happen?”
And I put that idea aside until I finished “Sailors in the Holy Land’. Then I came back to it to try to find out who was this Lincoln conspirator passing through Valletta in 1866. And it turns out it was true. It was young John Surratt, son of Mary Surratt, the woman who you know better than most, who was hanged for her part in the conspiracy. John’s story is the story of the last Lincoln conspirator. The title focuses on the fact that he was the last to be arrested, the last to be tried and last, by many decades, to die. He lived until 1916. He died in the arms of his family, his wife Mary Victorine Hunter, the second cousin to Francis Scott Key, the man who wrote the words to the American national anthem, and his children.
So it’s the story of Surratt’s flight through Canada, through England, across France to Italy where he joined the Papal Zouaves, the army of Pope Pius IX where he hid out for eleven months. He was discovered there and arrested. He escaped arrest, that’s the story anyway. The reality is he was freed by his jailors. Fled overland to Naples and got on a ship. Passed through Malta and here’s where William Winthrop tried to arrest him and got all the way to Alexandria, Egypt before he was caught.
In Alexandria, he was caught, jailed and a navy vessel was sent to pick him up. On November 26, 1866 United States Ship Swatara sails for Washington with Surratt in chains in the corner of the Captain’s cabin. He will spend six weeks chained while being brought back for trial. The book takes him through his trial, through the subsequent legal proceedings in ‘67 and ‘68. He is quite astonishingly freed in 1868 and after unsuccessful careers successively as a teacher and public speaker; he ends up being an auditor for a steam ship line in Baltimore called the Old Bay Line operating steam vessels from Baltimore to Richmond and Baltimore to Norfolk. He will spend more than 50 years as the auditor for that company dying just a few years before WWI begins.

It’s another one of these odd things that not many people know about and when they hear about it they tend to be disbelieving…the idea that he did all these things all by himself in his 20s. He spent a year in the Pope’s army. He was arrested in Egypt of all places.

B. Andy, Who actually arrested John Surratt? During those days, I’m not quite sure what the protocol was and whether or not they issued an international warrant for him.

A. Well, it’s better than that. Surratt as he traveled through Canada and Britain and Malta was under the protection of British law. And it was very unlikely that he would have been arrested and extradited by the Brits. But when he arrived in Egypt he no longer had that protection. Egypt was a part of the Ottoman Empire. And the Ottoman Empire and the United States, several decades before, signed a treaty that provided that American citizens in the Ottoman Empire were subject to American law as executed by American diplomatic officials in the country. So when he stepped off the ship in Alexandria, he was met by the American Consul in Alexandria, Charles Hale, who simply arrested him. Hale asked that the Egyptians jail him until he could be extradited; he could be shipped back to Washington. He put him in an Egyptian jail for three weeks which must have been a real experience in 1866. And then when Swatara showed up the day after Christmas ’66 they loaded him on board and shipped him out. So he had unwittingly exposed himself to American law.

B. Now I have read one of Surratt’s published speeches from when he was doing his public speaking tour discussing his version of the events that transpired around the time of the Lincoln kidnapping plot and subsequent assassination. He must have been a good speaker because he comes off as being very ‘believable’ regarding what he told his audience about his involvement, which he claimed was fairly minimal. And yet what I find interesting is that historians generally believe that John Surratt was John Wilkes Booth right-hand man. What are your thoughts on this?

A. Well this is a complicated question. The prosecution at his trial tried to make the case that he was in Washington on Easter weekend, 1865 and participated directly in the assassination of the President. Surratt’s defense was the he was in Elmira, New York that weekend casing the Union prison holding Confederate prisoners of war in preparation for a possible prison break. And during the course of the trial, there were witnesses swearing to both sides of that. But the jury who heard that voted 8 to 4 to acquit him. The prosecution did a very bad job presenting their case. The defense did a good job presenting their case. And the New York Times finally concluded that regardless of where the members of the jury came from, and there were seven Southerners and five from the North on the jury, regardless of where you came from you could not have concluded that the prosecution had made a persuasive case. And in fact they didn’t. I personally, for what that’s worth, don’t think Surratt was in Washington. He clearly was Booth’s right hand man. He was his chief recruiter. But he was not in Washington, not in Maryland after the last day of March. I think that Booth’s decision making coalesced, came together, during the first two weeks of April. Remember they had that failed kidnapping plot in the middle of March.

B. Yes.

A. At the end of March Surratt goes to Richmond as a courier and he will spend all of April on a courier mission. And he will not be in Washington when the assassination of the President happens, when the assault on the Secretary of State happens, when the bungled plot to kill the Vice President happens and when the planned attempt on General Grant’s life never transpires because Grant takes a train out of town that day. And he’s nowhere to be seen.

I think in that fact Surratt was deeply involved with Booth’s plotting with respect to the kidnapping. I think the case has never been proven that he was aware of Booth’s assassination intentions. And I think it is more probable than not, that he was, in fact, in Elmira, NY when the assassination happened. I would even go farther than that. I would probably say that he was in fact there. I found that witnesses that identified him as being there very persuasive and at least half the prosecution witnesses that said he was in Washington were clearly lying for whatever reason.

B. Was there a reason why the prosecution decided to take that approach?

A. Poor judgment!

B. I guess (laughing)!

A. I think the prosecutor Carrington, the District Attorney, was just not a very smart man. He had the assistance of three other attorneys. The principal one was as civilian, Edwards Pierrepont, a New York attorney. And I think Pierrepont was a grandstanding, publicity hungry, a status conscious sort of guy who did just a very bad job putting the case together. Despite that fact, the judge George Fischer clearly believed in Surratt’s guilt and conducted the trial in such a way to make the prosecution’s case easier to present. He was so biased that even the newspapers were commenting on it. His charge to the jury for instance, at the end of that first trial, was outrageous.




Prosecutor Edwards Pierrepont

Prosecutor Edwards Pierrepont

B. I guess that’s a good point. Were there not two trials of John Surratt?

A. No. There was one trial. The subsequent legal proceeding never went to trial. There were three indictments altogether. The first one went to trial. The second one the grand jury signed and sent forward. The third one the grand jury refused to sign. But there were a year’s worth of legal proceedings that did not rise to the level of a trial under a new judge, Andrew Wiley. And it was the last of those proceedings at which Wiley dismissed the proceeding and set Surratt free.
And that’s the story of the last Lincoln conspirator. Kind of a neat story, I guess as much as anything, because people have never focused on young John Surratt and his epic escape. There’s a mid-western newspaper at the time that said “Compared to Surratt’s escape, John Wilkes Booth’s twelve days was just a highway man’s ride”!

B. (laughing)

A. Well, I mean that’s silly because Booth was just the giant figure of all this. But in fact, he was only on the road for twelve days and Surratt almost for two years (chuckling).

B. What was your second book about Andy?

A. The second book was called “Sailors in the Holy Land”. And it is the true story of the American Expedition to the Dead Sea in 1848. Another one of these odd bits of history when you say to yourself “Well why would the US Navy have any interest at all in the Dead Sea in the middle of the 19th century”?


B. It is a question mark (chuckling).

A. When I first heard about it I didn’t believe that. So drawing on my navy experience I said “Of all the salt water on the earth that is the least likely place for the US Navy to operate” but I was wrong! In fact, the spring and early summer of 1848 there were sailors in uniform under the American flag, under arms exploring the River Jordan and the Dead Sea and quite unexpectedly all but one of them returned alive. It was a great success. It ended up answering some interesting scientific questions about the peculiar body of water. Everybody knew there were some odd things about the Dead Sea they just weren’t quite sure why and it was all caught up in Old Testament and religious imagery and everything else. But that book came out of a lot of reading I did and when I came across Mark Kurlanski’s book called ‘Salt’ a paragraph that said something about the navy’s expedition in the Dead Sea. I said to myself “Well, when I get time I’m going to look into that ‘because I don’t believe it”.

B. It’s funny how just one word, or phrase, will trigger you to start looking into something.

A. That’s not the story of the first book. “Adak”, the story of the ditching Alfa Foxtrot 586” off the Siberian coast in 1978, that’s a story I kind of grew up with. None of us who flew that airplane believed that you could survive putting it down in open water under the conditions that Jerry Grigsby did and live through it.

B. I guess we should give a quick summary of what your history was which related to this flight. You were a flyer in the US Navy?

A. I was. I got in the Navy right out of school in 1962. I started flight training immediately. Got my wings the day President Kennedy was assassinated in ’63. On that same day, he was in Dallas shot by Oswald, I was at Corpus Christi listening to all that on the radio at the Navy Exchange at Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas.

B. No kidding. Wow. You heard that live!

A. Oh yeah.I went to my first squadron. It was a P-3 squadron of Lockheed Turbo Props that the Navy used and was just buying. They were brand new airplanes for ocean surveillance, maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare. I flew that airplane in three squadrons, on the East coast, the West coast and most places where there is salt water. There are places in the South Pacific and South Atlantic I didn’t get because the Soviets didn’t send their submarines there.

Lockheed P-3 "Orian"

Lockheed P-3 often called the Orion

B. Was there a reason it had to be salt water?

A. Well we were looking for submarines.

B. Oh I see.

A. Anywhere there was salt water that the Soviet Navy operated submarines in, the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic, the North Pacific, the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. All those places we spent a fair amount of time working over making sure we knew where they were and what they were up to.

B. That was a pretty volatile time right around then too!

A. Well, it was an exciting time. The Soviets were building what was demonstrably the world’s biggest submarine fleet. Certainly the most threatening aspect of their naval force was that fleet. And we were working very hard, along with the Royal Navy and other friends and allies, to understand what they were doing, where they were doing it and how well they were doing what they tried to do.

I was fortunate that the ‘70s and ‘80s, we were very, very good at what we did. It was the golden age of air anti-sub warfare and I had a lot of fun with it. My last squadron was one which I commanded from California in Moffett Field in ’76 to ’78 and then returned to Moffett Field to command the air station in the early 1980s. In ’86 I retired. I tell people that I spent the next 15 years learning to be a capitalist. And it’s true. In the naval service you’re not dealing with making the payroll or selling the product or any of that. So for the next something years I did. And that worked out well enough that about ten years ago it became possible for me to write full time.

B. I understand that you worked in the Pentagon as well. When did that occur?

A. I worked in the Pentagon a number of times. It got to the point that I was going back and forth from the squadron to the Pentagon. At first I was on the staff of Chief of Naval Operations, both on his staff and personal staff. I next ended up on the staff of the Secretary of Defense, on his personal staff. And the last job was, again on the Navy staff in the Plans, Policy and Operations Office of the Navy Staff in the mid ‘80s. I may be one of the few people who enjoyed every assignment I had in the Pentagon. It’s traditional that people complain about it. I found it enormously interesting. I thought that the people I worked with were smart, dedicated and trying to do a good job and I thought it was a useful thing to do.

B. I want to get back to your first book, but mentioning the Pentagon, 9/11 comes to mind and I want to know what your feelings are on that and if you knew some folks in there.

A. No, that was far enough away from me. I’d worked in those offices. I knew the geography. I have a pretty good idea what it would have been like inside of that building at the time. By the time that happened, the people who were inside were a generation behind me. My sympathy, my horror and my unhappiness was generic rather than specific.

B. What years were you in the Pentagon?

A. The first Pentagon assignment was ’70 to about ’74 doing different jobs. I was back there during most of the Carter administration through the late ‘70s, early 80’s working for Secretary Brown. I was back there again ’85 and ’86 on the Navy Staff. Altogether about nine years or so! Seems like a long time in one building. But there were four different jobs, very different people and all of them I thought were worth doing.
Beyond that, I spent a year in Vietnam and a bunch of time flying airplanes. I did some time at school and some graduate work for a couple of years.

B. Were you in Washington in ’83 or had you already gone to California at that time?

A. No, I think I was already in California. I was at Moffett Field then for Moffett Field’s 50th Anniversary. The air station was built as a WPA project during the depression and its 50th anniversary we celebrated in ’83 with a spectacular 3-day weekend and air show and carried on vitally. So I remember that date pretty clearly. I still have two bottles of wine in the house with labels from Mirasou Vineyards celebrating Moffett Fields 50th anniversary. My guess is that stuff would just taste awful.

B. There’s probably some serious vinegar in there (laughing).

A. I think it could peel paint (laughing).

B. (laughing)

A. But the bottles are beautiful and it’s a nice memory.

B. That’s terrific. What was the plane that you flew that related to the Adak story?



A. It was the same airplane, the Lockheed P-3. It’s really called the Orion. It was a four engine, land based turboprop, 127,000 lbs when we started and ended up being about 132,000 pound airplane with four turboprop engines altogether about 17,000 horsepower. Just a great airplane! Full of expensive equipment and normally carrying a crew of between ten and twelve.

B. Now you had mentioned before that this plane was not meant to float.

A. Yeah, think for a moment. This is not a seaplane. This was originally an airliner. It’s designed for pressurized cruising at altitude. It doesn’t have a keel; it doesn’t have any of the kinds of things that make a seaplane into a seaplane. And it’s what makes the landing of the US Air aircraft in the Hudson River so stunning. The idea that he could that and survive it and get everybody out…I mean that’s an authentic miracle.

B. I understand. Wow.

A. For the same reason when Lieutenant Commander Jerry Grigsby in end of October, ’78 put his airplane down into the open Pacific in thirty foot seas, the idea that it would hold together at all, long enough for people to get out of it, is just amazing. It took extraordinary skill and frankly a fair amount of good luck too.

B. How long was that plane in the water?

A. It sank in about two minutes. The survivors’ stories vary between two to four minutes. Your sense of time is really skewed under those kinds of stresses. But they hit the water, broke up just behind the cockpit and just in front of the tail and sank very quickly. Before it went down, 14 of the 15 men aboard had time to get out. And 13 out of those 14 managed to get into a raft. Tragically, the pilot Jerry Grigsby did not. He got into the water, he was swimming towards the raft but he was never able to catch it. Under the wind and the waves at the time there was nothing the guys in the raft could do. And Jerry drifted off to sea and he was lost at sea.

B. This was a storm that took the plane down?

A. That part of the North Pacific around the Aleutians has some of the nastiest flying weather or for that matter steaming weather in the world. It’s very very tough because that very cold dry air comes off of Siberia and hits the relatively warm moist air of the Bering Sea and it just spins up storms that are just ferocious. Those storms come tracking down through the Gulf of Alaska and tear up the North Pacific and Jerry had the misfortune of being operating right on edge of that such that when he went to put Alfa Foxtrot 586 down in the water he was facing 25-30 foot seas.

B. Now he put it down for what reasons?

A. He had a problem with the No. 1 propeller. It translated itself into four separate engine fires. The first two engine fires he could put out. The aircraft has fire extinguisher systems that will put out two fires on any one side. The third fire blew out. When the fourth one flared up, he realized that he was out of options, a little bit like the captain of Amphitrite. He’d run out of options and had to do something decisive and what Jerry did was, before the wing burned off and killed them all, he put the plane into the water. And everything flowed from there.

B. Did this happen right when the storm hit?

A. No. There had been a storm out there the whole time. They were going out from Adak for a flight that was scheduled to be 9 hours. That weather was there and stayed in the Aleutians for the next couple of days. As a matter a fact while the search and rescue flights were being flown looking for them the weather moved down the Aleutian chain, from west to east, and progressively closed the Air Force base and the Navy bases and things like that, tremendously complicating the conduct of the search and rescue missions.

B. Although Jerry Grigsby didn’t make it, how many men were in the life raft at this point?

A. There are now thirteen in the raft at about two or three o’clock Thursday afternoon. Thirteen of them have made it into two rafts. There are nine guys in a seven-man raft and four men in a twelve-man raft.

B. Are they lashed together?

A. The rafts blow apart. After just a few minutes they blow a couple of miles apart and they don’t see each other. Over the course of the next twelve hours three of the young men in the nine-man raft die of exposure. And it’s pretty clear that the rest of them had just a few hours to live. Meanwhile, there is a frantic effort to rescue them. And that effort includes an appeal from Washington to Moscow for assistance because there are no American flag vessels or US Navy ships in the North Pacific around them. It turns out there is a Soviet fishing trawler, the Mys SInyavin. Mys SInyavin is directed by the Soviet Fisheries Ministry to turn around and sail to the wreck site. And she is led to the rafts by a US Coast Guard airplane that has been flying on top of the rafts.

B. Oh, so they know where they are?

A. They know exactly where they were. They just can’t get them out of the water. And the water is going to kill them. The nearest Coast Guard cutter is 2-1/2 days away. It’s a Coast Guard cutter, also out of Adak, Alaska, Hamilton class cutter, and she’s not going to get there until Saturday morning. This is now Thursday night. So the Mys SInyavin turns around, heads back to the wreck site and manages in the middle of the night to collect the ten living men, who are hours from death at most, and the three bodies. They will spend a week in the Soviet Union in two hospitals, one in Kamchatka, the Kamchatka Peninsula and one on the Soviet mainland. And then quite remarkably and quite surprisingly they are released. And they are home Saturday, nine days after they hit the water with the three bodies of the young crewmembers who died. So the story is about a ten day story. What makes it exciting is that the sources on that were very very good. I have in fact, among other things, the tape recordings of the emergency radio transmissions between the aircraft and the ground in 1978. And when you listen to them it is breathtaking. One of the young crewmembers, the tactical coordinator, is talking to Elmendorf radio and at 200 feet above the water, he is telling Elmendorf that, okay, they are going in. They’ve stretched this out as long as they can. He’s sitting at a window. His station has a window. He’s sitting above the water, looking at these horrific waves, the horrific wind, telling them that they have 15 of them aboard, that they’ve got life rafts, that they’re all wearing survival suits. And his voice is so calm and so collected that he sounds like a sports announcer watching a ballgame. You would think that there would be something in his voice that would tell you he thinks he was going die because he had every reason to believe he was. And it’s not. The kid’s just out of college. It’s just an extraordinary demonstration of professionalism and coolness that, every time I hear that transmission, and I’ve probably heard it 150 times, I marvel at it.

B. I assume that when you do a book tour you play that tape during your talk. It must be breathtaking for folks who hear that.

A. I play that tape and play a number of sections from it. I begin with that because it’s just so arresting to hear that. And then I explain to people “Okay, this is what you heard. Now let’s listen to it again”. And as I say, every time I go through that I get a lump in my throat. Matt Gibbons is the guy whose voice that is. Matt lives on Half Moon Bay in California now. He works for a technology company called Novellus. You look at Matt today, he looks like…do you know the American cartoon character Elmer Fudd?

B. Yes (laughing).

A. Okay. Matt looks a little like Elmer Fudd. And what you don’t realize looking at Matt is here’s a guy of exquisite courage. I mean just extraordinary courage. And it’s all wrapped up in this quite ordinary body. Interestingly enough, I mentioned to you that Jerry Grigsby died. He was never able to swim to a raft. Two years later, Matt married Jerry’s widow. They live today, happily, more than thirty years later, in California where this is still a big part of their lives, this whole memory.

B. Have you met most or all of the survivors?

A. All of them. With one exception they all cooperated very generously while I was writing the book. One of them was in my squadron for a brief period of time. The navigator was in my squadron before he went to this squadron. And the guy who wrote the Navy investigation for this I knew. The commanding officer of the squadron was a contemporary of mine so I knew him too. So it was a story in the family and it was possible to tell it especially persuasively, especially convincingly because I had flown the airplane most of my life. I’d operated out of that part of Alaska. I had flown off the Soviet coast where they were flying. And I kind of understood a lot of what was going on there although I won’t pretend to you that I have any experienced anything remotely like what they went through which is just an extraordinary event.

B. That’s pretty amazing.

A. It’s a neat story.

B. And you’ve picked four rather amazing stories. I can’t wait to see what’s up your sleeve next, Andy.

A. I haven’t even begun to think about it. I’m deep in Amphitrite and her women. What I try to do is to always be working on a book and in the intervals around the edges of that, I generally write a periodical article each year. There has been one published in Naval History Magazine every year for the last, I don’t know how long. And they’re generally 5000-6000 word features on exciting adventures. The American expedition up the Congo [B. Note: This article was voted Feature of the Year by Naval History magazine in 2006]. The American expedition down the Amazon. Henry Eckford, an American ship designer in the 1830s, who ended up quite improbably running the shipyard for the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul. They’re stories that are odd and they’re interesting and it gives me a chance to take a midway break from working on the book to dip into something else for a couple of weeks and then refresh and revitalize until I get back into it.

B. When you retired from the Navy, what rank were you at?

A. I was a Captain.

B. And you also spent some time in Vietnam?

A. I spent a year in Vietnam on the MACV staff at Ton Son Nhut. My graduate degree was in Southeast Asian Politics. I’m a graduate of the School of International Affairs, because I expected to go to Vietnam, I concentrated on Southeast Asia.

So when I finished the degree program, as expected I ended up going to Vietnam and I spent a year in Psychological Operations. It was our mission to persuade the members of the North Vietnamese Army in the Republic of Vietnam to surrender and to persuade the members of the Viet Cong to rally to the government. And you can tell by the way the war came out how successful I was in that. Which is to say, not at all!

B. (laughing)

A. And I spent many years reflecting on that failure. And I finally concluded that you can’t get people to quit if they think they’re winning. And there is no reason why they thought that they weren’t winning, because they were. It was clear to them, and consequently all our persuasion, all our dropping of leaflets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, all our propaganda broadcasts, one thing and another we were doing. We were just going through the motions. We were having no effect whatsoever.

B. At the time, did you know that?

A. At the time, I suspected it but I didn’t know it, and I wasn’t going to quit trying. As you can tell, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. And it was very ill conceived, the effort we made. And we used to drop 12 or 13 million propaganda leaflets at a time. There must be parts of Laos today that you can still walk hip deep through propaganda leaflets assuming that they haven’t disintegrated into paper mache. And that effort was just silliness.

B. But at the time, it seemed to make sense (laughing)!

A. Well (laughing) Lord knows we were trying! One of the things we tried to do is we decided that people were not picking up leaflets because they’d get in trouble if they did.

B. Oh, okay.

A. So people said, “What would they pick up. They’d pick up money, wouldn’t they”? So there was a program where one side of the leaflet was printed with money. Printed as if it were a piaster or a North Vietnamese dong or something. So then we realized “Hey, that’s really dangerous”! You start that stuff then you encourage people to counterfeit your money and now all kinds of stuff unravel. So, we went from that to the idea of “Why don’t we print propaganda on tobacco leaves!”, because all these guys will pick up tobacco to make cigarettes to smoke. But you start trying to feed tobacco leaves through high speed printing presses…

B. (laughing loudly).

A. I want to tell you the mess you can make is just stupefying! Modern equipment or what was modern then, can’t handle something like that. So there are a lot of things we did that, that when I look back on, I say to myself “Gee that was silly!” But there are more important criticisms than what I’m saying.

B. These are the stories that the general public never hears (laughing). I don’t think they’re stories out of school. They’re just things that happened.

A. We set up a propaganda radio station in the Highlands of Pleiku and people started saying “Hey, wait a minute. Who’s going to hear this? There aren’t enough radios around.” So the decision was “Alright, let’s buy some really cheap radios, fix tuned to this station and just air drop them.” And then there was decision made that said “Okay, we have to make sure that there is no way that these radios can be traced back to us.” So a some expense, we had a bunch of radios made (little things about the size of a pack of cigarettes), we had a bunch of these things made and paid quite a bit of money to make sure that there was no component in the radio that identified its origin. You know, Made in…made here, or made there. And then we started scattering these things up and down Vietnam. Well, unless you believed in the Radio Fairy, there’s only one place these things could have come from…

B. (laughing)

A. …the United States! So the whole concept of dropping these mysterious radios that nobody knew where they came from was silly because everybody knew where they came from.

B. Considering the channel that they were locked in on…

A. There was one player in that part of the world with enough money to do that…

B. & A. (laughing).

A. Anyhow, I’ve had a lot of time to think back on this stuff. It was odd. Very odd. And more than odd it was in many respects, tragic.
I felt very strongly as a young man. One of the parts of the deal was if you were a commissioned officer in regular Navy, if there was a war going on you were honor bound to serve. And on the strength of that I’ve never regretted what I did but I have looked back with a certain amount of bemusement as to just how it all came out.

I hope that gives you a sense of maritime adventures that I’ve been working on and writing up and how it is I got from the rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586 to the trials and tribulations of John Harrison Surratt Jr. and finally to what tragically happened to the women aboard the convict transport Amphitrite off the beach of Bologne in 1833.

B. This has been fascinating history and I’m really thrilled that you shared it with us. It has been my pleasure to talk with you and share these great stories with my readers. Andy, thank you so much.

A. I’ve enjoyed meeting you over the ether. I’ve enjoyed talking to you and I appreciate your interest and attention.

B. Thank you.



I want to thank Andy for this interview and look forward to our continued conversations in the future.








Updated April 06, 2009: Barry Cauchon

Here is what I am currently working on for A Little Touch of History.

A: “The Lincoln Conspirators Execution Photos: A Study in Detail”. is now posted. Click on the following link to start at Chapter 1 to read the whole series.

B. “An Awesometalk With” 2nd Lieutenant George Hauck, 8th Air Force Group, World War II, Prisoner of War. I have posted my interview with Mr. George Hauck  (March 31, 2009) who was an airman during World War II. While returning from a bombing raid over Germany in 1944, his plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner. George is a very charismatic man and our talk was extremely enjoyable. You will enjoy his story and his openess about his experiences.

C. “An Awesometalk With” Andrew Jampoler, author. Andy is a retired US Navy Captain who has written three books and is working on his fourth. I completed this fascinating interview with Andy on March 26 and you won’t want to miss the stories he had to tell. Andy’s first three books are “Adak, the Rescue of Alfa Foxtrot 586”, “Sailors in the Holy Land: the 1848 American Expedition to the Dead Sea and the Search for Sodom and Gomorrah” and “The Last Lincoln Conspirator: John Surratt’s Flight from the Gallows”. Currently his fourth book, in progress, is called “Horrible Shipwreck”, the wreck of the female convict transport “Amphitrite” in September, 1833. I was riveted as I listened to Andy’s description about all four books and his life in the military. Look for this AWESOME TALK sometime in April, 2009.

D. “An Awesometalk With” Steven G. Miller, Lincoln Expert specializing in the hunt for Booth and his capture at Garrett’s farm. Steven was also an expert witness in the 1993 court case to exhume Booth’s body in Baltimore. My conversations with Steven have been fascinating and he is a wealth of information. If you have been following some of my postings, Steve has contributed to some of my stories (look for his reposted article called “Who Was The Boy At the Hanging”.  Steve has a lot to share and you won’t be disappointed. The interview was recorded on April 4 and will be published sometime in May/09.
E. “An Awesometalk With “Laurie Verge, Director of the Surratt House Museum”. Laurie has been very helpful to me and our plan is to do our interview during the week of April 6 to 10.
F. The History of the Construction of the Washington Monument – In progress.

G. What’s In A Picture? A Look Beyond the Main Subject – The plan is to study a series of photographs over time and look beyond the main subject. The first one I will review Alexander Gardner’s Rooftop View of the Lincoln conspirator executions from the Washington Arsenal Penitentiary on July 7, 1865.  My focus in this photograph will be the Washington DC cityscape seen above and behind the roof top.





Current interviews posted on ‘A Little Touch of History’.

“An Awesometalk With” HAROLD HOLZER, Lincoln Scholar (posted on November 10, 2008)

 “An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian (posted on December 08, 2008)

“An Awesometalk With” ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the ‘Abraham Lincoln Research Site’ (posted on December 30, 2008
“An Awesometalk With” LAURA FRANCES KEYES, Mary Todd Lincoln performer (posted on January 26, 2009)  
“An Awesometalk With” ROBERT KRAUSS, 509th Composite Group Historian (posted on December 16, 2008)


“An Awesometalk With” GEORGE HAUCK, WWII Veteran and Ex-Prisoner of War

March 31, 2009: Barry Cauchon


Sometimes I interview a guest on ‘An Awesometalk With’ that has a very interesting life story to share. They have experienced history personally in a way that few of us can relate to. That is because, unlike most of us who learn about history from books, movies or television, they actually participated in it firsthand. 


Retired 2nd Lt. George Hauck of the 8th Air Force Group, WWII.

Retired WWII veteran, 2nd Lt. George Hauck of the 8th Air Force Group.


Well, on March 14, 2009, I enjoyed over an hour of excellent conversation with just such a person. His name is George “Mickey” Hauck. George is a retired WWII veteran, 2nd Lieutenant from the 8th Air Force Group (nicknamed “The Mighty Eighth”). George’s daughter Arlene Berry contacted me about her father and his honorable past. She informed me that he was one of several officers originally trained (around 1943-44) to participate in the atomic bomb attacks on Japan in 1945. But as his training was an ‘alternate’ approach to the standard way bombing runs were planned back then, this ‘new approach’ did not find favor and was eventually scrubbed.


George’s story doesn’t end here. On November 21, 1944 he was aboard a B-17 on his first bombing mission over Germany. The attack took his crew over Merseburg, Germany and after a successful run they were returning to their home base at Thurleigh, England. With only 50 miles to go, the plane was hit by German anti-aircraft flack and caught fire. George and the rest of the crew had to bail out while still over Germany. He was captured that same day and eventually imprisoned in Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany (a prison camp for American and British air force officers) where he was assigned to the North Compound 3, Barracks 5 (Block 305) Room 11. He spent a little over 5 months there until the Russians liberated the camp in early May, 1945. George was evacuated to France by mid-May, 1944 and shipped home a short time later.


Currently George and his wife Adelaide live in Punta Gorda, Florida. Their daughter Arlene also lives in the area while her sister Gay lives in New Jersey. George and Adelaide will celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary on July 25, 2009.




B. I’m very proud to have Mr. George Hauck with me today and welcome him to A Little Touch of History.


G. Hello Barry.


B. Hello George. How are you?


G. I’m alright!


B. It’s nice to finally get a chance to speak with you George. Your daughter Arlene has told me a lot about you. Let me first start off by telling everyone that you are going to have a birthday this month.


G. That’s right. I’m going to be 89 at the end of this month, the 31st of March.

My wife already had her birthday…for her 90th year. Arlene has the same birthday as my wife’s.


B. What day is that?


G. That’s Valentine’s Day!


B. Well Happy Valentine’s Day and a belated Happy Birthday to both Adelaide and Arlene. And to you George, let me wish you an early Happy Birthday greeting as well.


G. Thank you.


B. George, before we talk about your past, can you tell us what are you doing nowadays?


G. I belong to the Legion and Ex-Prisoners of War. I’ve been their chaplain for I don’t know how many years, the Ex-Prisoners of War. That organization is down to 15-18 people now. We don’t get that many more coming to a meeting. They don’t come that often.


These are all ex-prisoners of war, or their wives. If it wasn’t for the wives we wouldn’t have an Ex-Prisoners of War meeting. There wouldn’t be enough people there.


B. I’d like to ask you how you got into the Air Force. How did it happen?


G. I enlisted. I was a welder and I wanted to join but my boss wouldn’t let me join. Finally he let me take the test.


B. Did you train to become a pilot right away?


G. I enlisted in the Cadets and after much ado; fifty-two of us took a test in the post office in Newark, New Jersey. It was a written test and a physical. And when they got done after two days of that, they called two names, another guy’s and mine. The two of us passed and we then waited a couple of months for something to happen. Everything was slow and you couldn’t do anything about it.


B. I guess you were anxious to get involved?


G. Well yeah, there was a war going on! I was a young guy … you know … Go, Go, Go!


B. Do you remember what year that was George when you enlisted?


G. I think it was ’42. I wouldn’t bet my life on it … or yours.


B. (chuckles).


G. But I think ’42. Then one night I went to Nashville which was a center where they decided what you were going to be. Then you’d take a bunch of tests and then you’d wait for another week or so. Anyway, I was qualified for all three (pilot, bombardier and navigator). And then I went to Montgomery, Alabama which is still an army base. Then I went to Arcadia where I learned to fly an airplane. That was a Stearman. That’s a plane that most pilots today would have a hard job flying because it was a twin-wing airplane. The height of the second wing is really high and its top heavy. The wheels are fairly close together and when you land a lot of people ‘ground loop’.  A lot of people washed out even then. But that was a nice airplane. If I was a rich man and 50 years younger, I’d buy one.


George Hauck (1942 or 43)

George Hauck (1942 or 43)


B. Eventually after that, you got into radar and navigation.


G. It’s a long story. Have you ever heard of General LeMay?


B. Yes, General Curtis LeMay. He ran as George Wallace’s running mate in the 1968 Presidential race.


G. He was a Four-Star General at the end of the war. But in ’42 he was the head of the B-29s. Originally, the B-29 had five enlisted men and five officers onboard. And General LeMay was going to change that. He was going to get rid of the enlisted men and every one of the five officers was going to be qualified to do every job. In other words, the guy that was the navigator could pilot, the pilot could navigate. You know! And it never came to pass. And I was so mad about this. Don’t ask me why he picked me but I was one of them that went to various schools for training.


B. So you took that training to be the all encompassing airman!


G. It was LeMay’s group! You did what you were told! If you are in the army and they give you a piece of paper that says you are going to ‘so and so’, you go there and that’s it.


B. And so it was General LeMay’s group that you joined which eventually ran the Pacific Operations against Japan.


G. I never got there. See that’s the joke, I never got there. After two years of going through all kinds of schools, and every time I went to a school, after I was there for awhile, they would be short of an instructor. And I’d instruct for a couple of months. Then they’d send me to someplace else. I went to gunnery school, navigation school, bombardier school….


B. You could have done it all.


G. Well yeah, that’s what I was doing! It was a crazy thing. But they figure they were going to bomb Japan some day. They hadn’t done it yet. And they were going to have to have enough good crews to do the job. Their idea was alright. But the guys who did it actually had a regular crew of five enlisted men and five officers.


B. Right, so initially you were training for it…


G. Yeah I never did it.


B. …and then they went and changed it.


G. No they didn’t change it! They had the system that they already had!


B. Oh I see, they used the regular system. Your system would have been the one they replaced it with.


G. It came up that they decided to bomb Japan. And they bombed Japan with the regular crew; you know five enlisted men and five officers. And the second plane that they did that, hardly anybody knows the name anymore and I can’t even remember it now.


B. Bockscar (laughing). I know that because I recently wrote an article on it.


G. Yeah but nobody knows that.


B. Nobody knows that (laughing).


G. (laughing) Go to a bar and say “Name me the 1st plane that dropped the bomb on Japan?” and what will they say. Somebody will answer. Somebody will.

And then say “Who’s the second plane they sent to drop the bomb?” and then nobody will put their hand up.


B. No idea!


G. They’ll be sitting there (laughing). You might be there and then you’d put your hand up and you would know.


B. I’d be the lucky one because I had researched it (laughing).


G. Just think how many planes were training for that mission. When you stop and think about it. One airplane dropped one bomb. And then Bockscar dropped one bomb. They were about 4-5 foot long, 3 feet high. They were a funny looking thing. They were an oddball looking thing. You would think of a bomb with a point and a tail, fins and round. This thing looked like a watermelon. It was a horrible looking thing.

But that was the end of the war and all this training, including me. That was the end of it.


Fat Man dropped by the Enola Gay on Hiroshima.

Fat Man dropped by Bockscar on Nagasaki on August 12, 1945.


B. While you were doing all your training, how did that fit in with you going to England and eventually going on a bombing run over Germany?


G. I was already in England at the time. LeMay’s group was all together in England. But while we trained, the Germans kept bombing England just like they did before. And guys in our Air Force were getting shot down. You’d be surprised how many fellows in the Air Force got shot down. I hardly flew any missions. I got shot down really early in my career as far as that goes.


B. The date that Arlene gave me was November 21, 1944 which I guess is about 10 months before the Japan atomic bombings.


G. That’s it. Yeah, that’s about the time. The only reason I was a prisoner for that length, and no longer, was the war ended in Germany.


B. And that was in May of 1945.


G. You know for the two years that I spent going to these various schools, I was so mad at General LeMay for keeping me from going to combat. But he saved my life because thousands of guys got killed in Europe. And if he hadn’t of had me in training stuff I would have been sent over to Europe early. God knows what I would have been doing but it’s likely that I would have been flying a B-17.


B. When you did go over to England, was it also in 1944 or were you there earlier?


G. A little earlier. I don’t remember a date. I wasn’t there long. Even over there they sent me to a school to brush up on radar. And the radar they had me use was like a frying pan compared to a real radar. They only had crap over there. They didn’t have anything decent.


B. With regards to the bombing missions, how would they be run? Would they send out hundreds of planes all at once?


G. It depended on what kind of mission you’d be going on. If you were going on a long mission to a very important target you had lots of planes. You might send not only a 306th Bomb Group but there might be ten airfields cleaned out of airplanes that could fly that day. And that would mean a couple hundred airplanes anyway.


B. On your particular mission was it daytime or night flying?


G. Well we didn’t fly nights. The American Army Air Force did not fly nights. The English did fly nights. They said they picked that because they said it was tough. “It was tough, my butt”!


B. (laughing).


G. The English chose that because their chances were much greater of coming back alive. There were never thousands and thousands of English prisoners in a German Stalag, believe me!


B. You had completed your mission and were actually on your way back to base when you were fired at. What do you remember of your particular flight? 


G. Well, we were going home. We had two engines that had been blown apart and only two were running. I figured we’d land on the beach in England if we were lucky. That’s the way I planned it.


We were flying along on our two engines. It was alright, we had everything under control. A B-17 could fly on just two engines. We were losing a little altitude but at the rate we were losing altitude we were still going to get to England. So what the heck did we care. We didn’t care. As long as you put two and two together and it made four that’s all you cared about, as long as you got back to England.


B-17s in flight. (Courtesy of the USAFR)

B-17s in flight. Image courtesy of the United States Air Force.


B. What was your altitude on your way back?


G. Well we started off on our bombing altitude. I don’t know what it was. It was pretty high, 16000 – 17,000 feet maybe. And then we got banged up with our engines knocked out. So we started losing altitude all the way home. And then I look down and I see this railway car, sitting there in the middle of a green field. And I see a guy running to it. I say to myself “What the heck”! And all of a sudden he fires two shots and one of them went right through the wing. And you know what’s in the wing, don’t you?


B. (chuckling) Your gas.


G. Well that’s where the gas should be but at this stage in the flight there’s not much gas there. It’s all vapor. So when that shell he fired went through the wing, it just burst into flames. And so now, instead of an airplane that was going to it make England we had to get out. And it was easy to get out. Just walk over to the door and jumped out.


B. How many of you were on the crew?


G. Originally there were eleven. We had an observer with us. There were eleven of us originally, I’m pretty sure.


B. And you all had to jump out?


G. Well yeah. Everybody had to jump out. Earlier in the flight, we had thrown out the navigator because he was wounded and had a big hole in him and we didn’t think he’d make it. So I put a piece of parachute in his back so he wouldn’t bleed to death and threw him out. You know what! He was back home and married before I got back home.


B. (laughing)


G. He was wounded and wasn’t any good to us, or the Germans, so they sent him back. They did that to a lot of people. The Germans took care of his wound. I don’t mean they didn’t do that. They took care of his wound and then sent him back to the United States because he couldn’t be a combat man anymore.


B. So you bailed out.


G. So I bailed out. Everything is quiet. Nobody is there. And I look down and to this day, if I see a collie running and he’s ‘happy’ barking, I can hear him. I could hear this collie barking with a bunch of kids. That part of the country didn’t get bombed so the kids could be outside playing.

But I turn around and look, and here’s my airplane right on one of the houses, with the big tail sticking out, flames coming out. I figure “Uh oh. How you doing? Happy days! Come to my party!”


They were all afraid of me. So a German guard, an old guy with a Volksgewehr [rifle] came out to meet me. And all I kept saying was “Nein pistole. Nein messer” [No pistol. No knife]. Because I didn’t carry a gun. Everybody else carried guns but I never did. And my Colonel said “Why don’t you carry a gun?” And I said, “Cause I come here to fight the Germans in an airplane. I’m not going to take my 45 and sit down there and fight with them. I can’t win them that way”. I had no gun. No weapon on me. I never did have one. I never trained carrying a gun. In gunnery school I carried a gun but that was part of their deal.


So other than that, it wasn’t bad. I sat around and they hit me a little bit but not much. The record doesn’t show it so I never was hit according to the officials, but that’s alright. And so they weren’t bad to me. They had me sitting in a corner and they’re talking German naturally. I don’t know what they’re saying. If I spoke German I would have had them standing or sitting next to me having a conversation. But they just kept saying “Amerikanisch, Amerikanisch” [American, American]. They hated my guts because I was bombing their country. And at this stage of the game even they knew that their country was sorely losing. Their big cities were all bombed to hell.


B. You were in a small town with one soldier who captured you?


G. Well he was an old timer. They used to have old men, 55 or 60 years old, too old to go to fight, or had a problem. So these men would be stationed places to watch for air force men coming down on parachutes. That was his job.

Well he had a gun and I didn’t. So after a few minutes of him holding me, a soldier came. In his coat he had a ribbon and that ribbon meant that he was wounded. It was like a purple heart. He could speak a little English so I talked to him a few minutes. So I said “Zigarette?” [cigarette] and I pointed to my pocket. And he picks up his rifle and holds it towards me. So I put my hands up to show him I’ve got nothing other than my cigarettes. So I gave him my cigarettes. So he had a smoke. I had a smoke. And the old guy had a smoke. I gave them both a couple of cigarettes.

Then once we got into the little town I saw maybe 15 to 18 people standing around. Just like you’d see a picture of a country road. I used to think of it as one of the roads from a Longfellow poem with dirt roads, a side railing and a gateway to go in. That’s what the little town looked like.


B. So it was very quaint.


G. But once we got close to them, “Oh man”, they flew into the houses like crazy. “Terriflieger” [terror flyer]. That is what they were calling me. They were kids. They were scared to death. And then when I got in this room, they sat me in one corner and they sat in the other corner. Everybody got his gun out and was sitting there like a big hero you know. And I’m sitting there with no gun. And I’m glad I had no gun. Maybe one of those heroes would like for me to have a gun. You know!


B. (laughing)


 G. I don’t know how long I waited then they took me. Finally I got to Kassel, Germany which was an interrogation center.


B. Did you get caught with the rest of your crew?


G. No. In fact I never saw them again. When they were taken to Kassel, they were staying in a regular building like in England. They all slept in bunks and everything. I was taken to the same town, same prison, but they were going to interrogate me where the others they didn’t bother with. So every day for 30 some days, I was never in my cell a whole day. Never! All the time I was there, they’d come, open the door and say “Out, Out, Out”. They’d give me my belt. I’d put my belt on. I’d put my shoes on and down the hall I’d go to an interrogating officer. I was going to see him every day but not steady. Some days I’d go back to my room. They’d lock the door. And then a little while later the guard would come back. We got to know each other and we would talk. He had his family somewhere in Prussia. He told me. He had a wife and a daughter.


B. So for 30 days while they interrogated you. Did they treat you fairly, like soldier to soldier?


G. In the beginning when I first got there, they were like growling at me. And after awhile it was a ‘buddy buddy’ thing. They knew me. I knew them.


After a couple of days after I was there, I would meet with a German captain. In my opinion he was an old man. He must have been maybe 50. Well a man of 50 to a guy at 20-something…he was an old man you know! After awhile we got pretty ‘buddy buddy’ because I’d see him everyday for almost a full day. I was in his office a couple times a day. I’d go down there and spend an hour with him. Then go back to my prison cell. The cell was my personal one. Nobody else was in there.


He knew my father’s first name. He knew what he did for a living. He knew where we lived and in what town. He knew all the fields I was at in the United States. He was reading them to me off of a piece of paper. That’s why they took me there and not the rest of the crew. You see I had been to all these different places because General LeMay was eventually going to have me go in a B-29. So all this information didn’t do them any good because I had been moved back to a B-17 and then shot down right away so it didn’t make any difference.


The amazing thing was that there was one guy talking to a German guard and the guy said that he came from St. Louis. And this German guard said “You come from St. Louis. Do you know where… (I don’t know the actual name of the street) … Do you know where 5th Street and 7th Avenue is?” And the guy said, “Oh yeah. I know where that is. That’s where Heinz’ Butcher Shop is.” And the guard said “I’m Heinz!”


B. (laughing).


G. That’s the kind of intelligence they had. That’s how close they could know you. They knew everything about you. It’s amazing. And people ask, “How did they do it”? You’ve heard of the German Bund. It was an above ground organization of US German citizens. They were United States citizens who were German. These people would collect magazines and newspapers from all over the United States. Remember, the United States had a whole lot of Germans all over the place. So they would get all these newspapers and magazines, and in those days, everybody wrote to them. So if someone became an officer, your wife, mother or somebody would send it to the newspaper and they would publish it in the paper. And the Germans were getting the newspapers and magazines every day of the week. And somehow they would get them out of United States. Then somebody in Canada or Mexico would smuggle this information to Germany. In Germany, they had people who did nothing else but check the information. So for instance, they did nothing more than check out the name Hauck. And every Hauck that came up they’d find out what he did and how he did it and so they knew everything about you. And so when they were interrogating me, they could tell me my father’s name, which when you consider how many air force men there were, that’s a lot of guys there, and they could tell me my father’s name. And they would tell me my grandfather’s name. And they weren’t wrong, they were right!


B. That’s pretty amazing intelligence.


G. Well that’s what they did. That was intelligence. They spent weeks and weeks and weeks on it. We thought that it was a bunch of crap. But that’s what really kept them going for half of the war, until we bombed the hell out of them. Then their intelligence didn’t do them any good.


And then, all of a sudden one day he said to me, “Well, I guess you’ll be leaving now”.


B. So after your 30 days at Kassel, did they then take you to Stalag Luft 1?


G. Yes, Stalag Luft 1.


Hometown newspaper clipping reporting George's capture.

Hometown newspaper clipping reporting George's capture.



George's wife received this telegram dated January 13, 1945 officially informing her that her husband had been taken prisoner (that's almost 2 months after the fact). Luckily she had been contacted by a ham radio operator prior to that. If not for him, she never would have known what happened to her husband until this cold telegram arrived.

George's wife received this telegram dated January 13, 1945 officially informing her that her husband had been taken prisoner (that's almost 2 months after the fact). Luckily she had been contacted by a short wave radio operator (mentioned above) prior to that. If not for him, she never would have known what happened to her husband until this telegram arrived.


B. And you were there for about 5 months. Was it a difficult adjustment to life in a prison camp?


G. It was very organized. We had a guy who was an ex-fighter pilot who was our German commanding officer. And he ran the camp in military fashion. We were all in individual barracks and had our own American commanding officer. In fact, my commanding officer was named Belinski. He was the ace fighter pilot of the European theatre. He was a rat, and no good but he was still the commanding…


B. (laughing).


G. Well he was a Lt. Col. when I met him, and when he retired ‘God knows’ how many years later, 20 years maybe, he was a full Colonel. And he became an officer by going through the cadet program. Anyway, that’s the guy who was there running our part of the camp. We were all just military and everyday we had two formations where everybody in the camp had to get out and stand in line. I think we had four groups in our prison camp. And every group had to get out and stand in line and the German officer would come and he’d holler “Attention” and we’d stand at attention. And they’d count us and he’d have guys go into the barracks an there was not supposed to be anybody there. And so we use to play games on them. In the beginning we would go under the bunks. The guy on the bottom bunk would get picked to hide under the bunk on the floor. And the German soldier who was sent into the barracks to do the count would poke his head around and then come running out yelling “nein” because all of a sudden, with their count, something was wrong. There was supposed to be 590 of us. I don’t know the number. I’ll just use that number. And it ended up that when they got done that they only had 528. And then they go back and all of a sudden you see all those guys coming out.


B. (laughing).


G. After awhile it wasn’t that easy because they learned to look in all the hiding places.


B. I guess you had to fight a lot of boredom and I guess that was one way to do that?


G. I don’t know if you would call it boredom. I guess it was. We didn’t have a lot to do.


B. Did you have reading material at the Stalag?


G. Sometimes we would get magazines and stuff but they might have been a few weeks old, or even a couple of months old. But we had some things. Once in awhile we would get a couple of bibles. Everything came through the Red Cross. They may have had nothing to do with it but they would deliver the stuff and portion it out to us.


B. What else did you do to keep busy?


G. I became the so-called cook after awhile in our room.  In the beginning we would get a full Red Cross parcel which was enough that you could live on it well for one week. One man, that’s what it was made for, just one man. The United States made it. The Germans they didn’t make it but they passed it out to us. But then after awhile, they sort of slowed down on the deliveries. We didn’t know this until the end of the war but the building that they stored these in turned out to be full of packages (chuckling). I weighed about 135 to 140 pounds when I got out. ‘Cause we weren’t getting anything to eat. It’s easy to reduce. If I put you on a diet with not food I can kill you without shooting you. It’s easy.


For Easter, 1945 George "Mickey" Hauck (the cook) prepared a wonderful meal. Here is the cover of the actual menu.

For Easter, 1945 George "Mickey" Hauck (the cook) prepared a wonderful meal. Here is the cover of the actual menu.



... and the inside of the menu.

... and the inside of the menu.


B. In general, did the guards treat the prisoners well?


G. Yeah, yeah. Once we got into regular prison it was no problem. In fact, every compound had one or two German guards who did nothing but walk around between the barracks. If they see a bunch of guys talking, they’d walk over near them. They could understand English well. And the guy we had didn’t even look like a good enough soldier to be a soldier in the German army.


B. (chuckling).


G. And when the war was over we learned that he was a secret commandant of the German underworld in North Germany. The guy we had in our compound. We don’t know what happened to him because he left before the allies liberated the camp.


B. I know that your first, and luckily only, Christmas spent there was in 1944. Your daughter Arlene sent me a picture of a teddy bear that you somehow sent to your newborn daughter Gay, whom you had not seen yet. Can you tell us how you were able to do that?


The teddy bear George sent to his newborn daughter Gay while he was imprisoned at Stalag Luft 1

The teddy bear George sent to his newborn daughter Gay while he was imprisoned at Stalag Luft 1


G. It was through the Red Cross. I never had it or touched it. I saw it in a pamphlet and I said “Oh, I’ll take one of them”. And then in the United States, they would send it to her and take the money. I don’t know where they got the money. From the army I guess.


B. And so there was a system set up for the prisoners?


G. The Red Cross had a terrific system set up for all kinds of things. In fact they had a guy come around every once in awhile, a civilian, who was supposed to be checking on us to see how we were getting along. But a day before he came, the Germans would give us nice blankets to put out which we never had before. And we’d fold them a certain way, because he was coming. And we had pans of food and all this stuff. And as soon as the inspection was over guys came around with boxes and picked up all the stuff and the blankets. You know, that was done.


B. (chuckling) So a lot of it was for show.


G.  It was all show! Yeah. They didn’t abuse us. Of course we had guys killed because they were trying to escape.  You know that happened.


B. I imagine prisoners always had a need to attempt an escape. Was it organized or did prisoners try to escape on their own?


G.  Did you ever see Stalag 17? If you saw Stalag 17, we dug tunnels. We did this. We did all these things. And we always had guys who would escape and then get caught. Not right away. They come back and they’d put them away in a solitary confinement cell. But these were guys who were doing it all the time.

People were getting shot. You know, you’d hear a gun going off. Sometimes the guy was aiming at someone who was near the white line. They had a white line that was 25 feet from the fence. I wouldn’t bet my life on it but I think it was 25 feet. It was 18 inches high of barb wire. And that was so you wouldn’t go over that. And if a ball or something rolled over that, we’d stand there and all of a sudden the guard would look and we’d point down. And after a half a day, or maybe a whole day, maybe he wouldn’t let you get the ball. The next shift, that guy might let you reach in and get the ball. It was that close that you could reach it. But if you reached down without permission he could shoot you.


B. There was a very specific rule about not crossing this line!


G. There were all kinds of rules you know. But it wasn’t always the Germans who gave you a hard time. 

There was a dining hall, but we never got to go to the dining hall. When the ex-World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Schmeling (1930-32) came to the prison camp one day we were going to go the dining hall to see him. Our commanding officer said “Don’t go”! So our commanding officer went! “That horse’s butt”! But a few people, the higher ranking American officers, they went. There were about 50 Americans sitting there.


Ex-Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Schmeling (1930-32) visited Stalag Luft 1 in 1945

Ex-World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Max Schmeling (1930-32) visited Stalag Luft 1 in 1945


B. Did he give a demonstration of boxing?


G.  Who knows what he did! I didn’t go! (laughing)

I wasn’t rank. I might have been rank but not that kind of rank (laughing).


B. (laughing). When the prison was liberated by the allies, the Russians in particular, how did they move the men out of Germany?


G.  We flew out of prison when we were liberated by the Russians. There was an air base right there. I could see planes land there during the war. Not many of them though. When we were liberated I can’t remember how long it took…a week, 10 days maybe. We were taken over to the air base in trucks that the Germans had naturally. And then we got in an air plane. I was in a B-17 with 40 other guys. There were no guns on it or anything. And we were all sitting close together. Ordinarily, there’s only about 8 or 10 guys on a B-17 on a bombing mission. But there was about 40 of us all jammed in. In Germany, there were over 100,000 American ex-prisoners of war here to be evacuated.


B. Did they fly you back to England?


G. No they flew us back to France. We were in Le Havre. And then a little later they tell us we are going back to America. There were boats right there in Le Havre. Le Havre was a big port. And so we walked down and I see all these crummy ships in the harbor. And amongst all these crummy ships there was a little dock that they made. And sitting next to it is this huge German ocean liner, [the Europa]. It was crewed by an American crew. This was the ship I got and I was lucky as hell. In about six days I was back in New York.


The German ocean liner Europa was captured by the allies in May,1945 and renamed Liberte by the French. It was used to carry soldiers back to the United States. George was on the first trip across the Atlantic.

The German ocean liner Europa was captured by the allies in May,1945 and renamed Liberte by the French. It was used to carry soldiers back to the United States. George was on the first trip that sailed to New York City.


B. So you went home in style on an ocean liner.


G. That’s right. In fact, I met most of my crew on the ocean liner. They were down in the bottom and I was up in a room sharing it with four other officers. I never knew these officers before. They were flying officers and prisoners of war. But I didn’t know them in prison.

So I would get my guys and bring them up to where I was staying. And they’d take showers and eat. I would go to a place, like a bar there, and I’d ask for cigarettes and ice cream. My men liked to have ice cream. And I’d bring it all back. And they would stay in my room, all day long, about six of the men that I knew. And they’d smoke cigarettes like crazy and eat ice cream and eat some kind of sandwiches. And then at night time, they had to go down to where ever they were staying in the bottom. I didn’t have to go to bed. There was no checking on where I was. I could have walked around the deck if I felt like it, which I didn’t do, because there was nothing out there to see because it was black. There was no ship with us, we were alone. We were going like the wind. After all, we were on one of the fastest ships in the world at the time. It was big.


B. Have you met any of the Germans that you knew since the war ended?


G. Well I didn’t really know any Germans. The only guy I knew was the Captain, the old guy at Kassel, but by the time the war ended it had already been a year since I knew him and never saw him again after that. And any of the guards I knew in Stalag Luft 1 were all in prison camps after the war. As far as I know they never came to the United States. So no, I’ve never seen any of them.


B. Well George this has been absolutely terrific. I want to thank you so much for sharing your experiences with me and my readers. And please thank your daughter Arlene for setting this up. She has been great. I’ve appreciated it and enjoyed it our talk thoroughly.


G. Me too Barry. Okay. My daughter Arlene also says goodbye.


B. All the best to you both.


G. God bless you. Good bye.


B. And to you to. Bye now.



Happy 89th Birthday Dad. We love you and appreciate your service to our country.

Happy 89th Birthday Dad. We love you and appreciate your service to our country. (from left to right: Arlene, George, Adelaide (above) and Gay).


I want to personally thank Arlene Berry for setting up this wonderful chat with her father and a very special thank you to George himself. You are ‘one of a kind’ good sir and I am blessed to have had the opportunity to share some time with you. God bless you and your family. Barry.









If you are interested in other WWII interviews, please read the following from Robert Krauss, historian for the 509th Composite Group (the group that dropped the atomic bombs). 

“An Awesometalk With” ROBERT KRAUSS, 509th Composite Group Historian (posted on December 16, 2008)



“An Awesometalk With” ROGER NORTON, Webmaster of the ‘Abraham Lincoln Research Site’

Welcome to another edition of “An Awesometalk With”. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Mr. Roger Norton, the creator and Webmaster of the Abraham Lincoln Research Site website. Mr. Norton contacted me in early December, 2008 in reference to an interview I did with Dr. Thomas Schwartz (see “An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian). It turns out that Dr. Schwartz was a former student of Mr. Norton’s. It’s a small world.


I can tell you that I genuinely felt honored by his email as I am a fan of Mr. Norton’s website. I believe it is one of the best sites on Abraham Lincoln online today.

As you will read, Mr. Norton considers his site ideal for students, teachers, families and the general public. It contains accurate and easy to understand information, and he genuinely enjoys sharing it with anyone interested in President Lincoln, his family and their times.

I hope you enjoy our chat.




NOTE: This interview was constructed from several written correspondence between Mr. Norton and myself over the course of several weeks.


December 30, 2008

BC: Welcome Mr. Norton. It’s nice to be able to share your thoughts with my readers today. I’d like to begin by asking how your website got started.

RN: I taught American history at Herrick Middle School in Downers Grove, Illinois, from 1966 – 1994. When I retired from teaching, I looked for a way of staying in education without being in a classroom. In 1996 I created a website on the Lincoln assassination. Within a short period of time, the site was enlarged with stories about Lincoln’s life. Then I added a site on Mary Todd Lincoln. The entire website was named the Abraham Lincoln Research Site, and I invited people to e-mail me with their questions concerning the 16th president, his assassination, and his family.

BC: It really is a wonderful research site. And being that it just celebrated its 12th birthday on December 29, 2008; I imagine that it is still going strong and is as popular as ever?

RN: After a few years, search engines began listing my Lincoln pages near the top, and the number of visitors rose dramatically. The site, which is currently composed of 87 different Lincoln-related topics, is averaging about 1.4 million visitors a year.

BC: Wow. I had no idea that you were generating those kinds of site visit numbers. That’s awesome!

RN: It will celebrate its 12 millionth visitor (since 1996) early in 2009. February is always the busiest month. The web pages have a counter at the bottom which is a link to the site’s statistics.

It’s my estimation that I have replied to over 40,000 Lincoln-related e-mails since 1996. About half of these e-mails come from students, and about 10 percent come from overseas. Lincoln is especially popular in Europe and India.

BC: I understand that you had to change you web address earlier this fall. Did you lose readership because of this? And what caused the problem?

RN: Barry, right now my visitors are WAY down from a year ago because one of my web servers quit the business on October 31, and I had to switch about 2/3 of my site to my other server (and thus have new URL’s). I have currently lost many of my good placements in Google, Yahoo, etc. Right now I am averaging about 1,564 visitors a day; a year ago in December it was about 3,100 a day. Over the next few weeks [the 2008 holiday season], the number will grow considerably lower because schools are not in session. Then it will pick up again in January.

BC: What a shame about your loss of search engine placement. I know that it takes a long time to build up that kind of placement and get into the upper listings with the major search engines.  

RN: I am hoping that I will regain my Google placements within the next several months, but I know it may be a year or more before my number of visitors returns to the levels it used to be before the URL changes. All my stats are at

BC: Mr. Norton, can you tell us a little bit about your personal history and how you first got interested in Lincoln?

RN: I was born September 19, 1943, in Oak Park, Illinois, and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. I attended Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. I then attended Indiana University where I received a Master of Science in Education degree.

As a youngster growing up in Illinois my early interest in Abraham Lincoln came from the stories told by my grade school teachers. In the 1960’s I became particularly interested in Lincoln’s assassination with the publication of a book entitled “Twenty Days” by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr.

My interest in the assassination led to my mock trial unit in the classroom.

BC: To clarify, as a teacher, you would have your own students perform the mock trial of the Lincoln conspirators as part of their curriculum?

RN: [Yes.] Each year in December I explained to my classes that we were going to reenact the trial following Lincoln’s assassination. I picked prosecution and defense attorneys before the winter vacation. Each attorney was given a copy of “The Day Lincoln Was Shot” by Jim Bishop. Additionally, the lawyers were given a list of their witnesses and told to prepare testimony for them. The lawyers were advised that the local library had a copy of Benn Pitman’s transcription of the original trial. The lawyers had the entire two-week vacation to prepare their case.

After vacation each class elected a judge, and I picked the witnesses and defendants through volunteers. The jury was thus composed of the shy students who preferred not to take part in the oral simulation. We tried only six defendants [rather than eight]; Michael O’Laughlen and Samuel Arnold were dropped as some eighth graders had problems getting a grasp on those characters. As my classes averaged about 33 students, many of the original witnesses were not used, and in some cases students were required to play more than one role.

After a few preparation days for the witnesses to learn the lines written by the attorneys, we started the trial. In contrast to the actual 1865 trial, the defendants were allowed to take the witness stand. I allowed the trial to go for around ten class periods. Then, after final statements, the jury was excused to vote on the six defendants. Oftentimes the verdicts were different from 1865, particularly in the cases of Mary Surratt and Samuel Mudd. However, the only times Lewis Powell was ever found innocent was when William Bell (William Seward’s butler) did a poor job of testifying.

BC: That is a fascinating school project Mr. Norton. I can’t imagine how beneficial it was for the students. Was this something that you developed yourself, and for how many years did you run this mock trial?

RN: No, when I started teaching another teacher on the staff was doing a mock trial unit, so the idea didn’t originate with me.  For several years I experimented with different trial simulations including the one that followed the Boston Massacre.  Eventually I decided the Lincoln conspiracy trial was my favorite, and over the last 24 years of my teaching career that’s the one that was done in my classroom.

BC:  You also mentioned that some of the outcomes were different from the actual trial. I am particularly interested in knowing what the outcome was for Dr. Mudd. Would you elaborate on that for us?


RN: The majority of time Dr. Mudd was found innocent.  But in those days books such as Dr. Edward Steers’ “His Name is Still Mudd” had not been published.  Most Mudd biographies were either neutral or sympathetic towards the doctor.  When my student lawyers researched the case they had trouble finding reasons he might be guilty.  Steers’ book opened a lot of eyes with its persuasive arguments about the doctor’s complicity with Booth.  I would recommend both Steers’ book and Michael Kauffman’s “American Brutus.”  Kauffman takes a different view than Steers, and readers can decide for themselves what they think of Mudd’s guilt or innocence.  Both authors present convincing arguments.  I exchange e-mails with both authors (both of whom have helped me with my website), so I will keep my personal opinion private.

BC: Returning to your current Abraham Lincoln Research Site, where do you produce and maintain it?

RN: I operate on a computer in our den which contains several bookcases holding about 350 books on Lincoln and family. In essence I am a “research librarian” who only deals with one topic. Questions from students are mainly related to research and help for homework. Questions from adults cover a myriad of topics ranging from clergymen seeking a Lincoln quote for a Sunday sermon to travelers wondering why there is a statue of Lincoln in Parliament Square.

BC: I like your site a lot, Mr. Norton, as I can see many people do. Is there a simple formula as to why that is?

RN: I believe the site’s appeal is due to the fact that it is written mainly for students, teachers, families and the general public. Lincoln scholars would find little new by reading my research; my goal has been to bring Lincoln and his legacy to students and the average American.

BC: In case my readers are unfamiliar with your website, I wanted to let them know that all your information is free. This is not a pay-per-view site.

RN: The Abraham Lincoln Research Site is a not-for-profit website. I operate it simply because I enjoy the subject matter and the ego satisfaction of helping people. It has been a truly wonderful retirement experience.

BC: It certainly has been beneficial to untold numbers of students and other researchers. You must be proud?

RN: Lincoln‘s life story is an inspiration for all Americans as his accomplishments and perseverance to succeed in life were phenomenal. The purpose of my website is to share his experiences and character with as many people as possible. I think this is especially important nowadays in a country that is deeply in need of positive role models.

BC: I couldn’t agree with you more Mr. Norton. I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts with my readers and look forward to speaking with you again in the future to see how you and your website are doing.

Thank you.


If you would like to visit Mr. Norton’s website please click on either of these attached link.

Abraham Lincoln Research Site 







Other posted interviews to date:


“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 


 “An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian 

(posted on December 08, 2008) 


“An Awesometalk With” Robert Krauss, 509th Composite Group Historian 

(posted on December 16, 2008) 




December 16, 2008: Barry Cauchon


Today I have the pleasure of presenting “An Awesometalk With” Mr. Robert Krauss, Historian and Photo Archivist for the 509th Composite Group.



Robert and Amelia Krauss

The 509th Composite Group was created to plan and execute the deployment of the first atomic bombs against Germany and Japan. Upon completing their missions, many feel their efforts brought a quick end to World War II.


Mr. Krauss has spent quite a few years in the company of many of these airmen and their families and has one of the largest, if not the largest, collection of photographs relating to the 509th.


Mr. Krauss has been the acting Chairman of the 509th Reunion Committee since 2001. He publishes a bi-monthly newsletter and manages his website “The 509th Composite Group” at And he has written a book, “The 509th Remembered” which is a wonderful testament, containing over 350 pages of information and photographs on the men, the planes and the circumstances that made up the 509th.


It was an honor speaking with Mr. Krauss and I hope you really enjoy our chat.






BC: Welcome Mr. Krauss to A Little Touch of History.


RK: Thank you. It’s nice to be here.


BC: How long have you been involved with the 509th?


RK: Well I first got heavily involved in 1990 when we went to one of their reunions. And I say we, because my wife and son, who was 10 years old at the time, all went to Wendover. At the time it was the largest reunion that they had had. There were well over 300 people there. There was one more in 1995 in Albuquerque that also had that many. And that was probably the two peak reunions of the 509th. After that the numbers just kind of went downhill. And now of course it’s very slim because of their ages. I spoke to one within the last hour that’s 92. They range from as young as 84 to 92-93.


BC: Are you a veteran yourself?


RK: No. I was never in the service.


BC: Are you a historian by trade?


RK: No. I guess it’s hard to define. I guess years ago when people had an interest in this sort of stuff they would refer to themselves as amateur historians. But you know, I’ve never really seen a class for historians. So, I guess at some point, if you do it long enough, you become a historian and people start gravitating towards you. So I just call myself a historian now.


BC: I was at a conference this past weekend and they listed me as a historian just because I write a blog on history. And well…I’m still struggling with that one. But maybe in a few years from now I’ll accept that.


RK: Well, I think that’s what happens. It comes with age. And my age, by the way is 65. So I am probably a tad older than what the 509th children would be, the ones that we see coming to reunions.


BC: In 1990, was it just something that you wanted to go to just out of interest?


RK: No, I guess I probably should have finished that statement. I first started somewhere in the late 1980s. I worked as a buyer over the years, a purchasing agent. And it’s always been a high pressure job. And so looking for relief, I’d go to the library during lunch hour. I had an interest in World War II and picked up a book on the “Enola Gay” one day and started reading about it. I was fascinated to learn that there were more than just the “Enola Gay” and the “Bockscar” and I just wanted to learn more about it.

So through correspondence with one of the “Bockscar” veterans in Chicago I got the idea that I could go to their reunion. I mean they wouldn’t kick me out if I went (laughing)…that sort of thing! So I wrote to the reunion organizer, who at the time was George Marquardt, an airplane commander. In fact, he was the photo airplane commander on the first mission and then he was the Kokura weather plane commander on the second mission. But at any rate, George said “Fine, come on out”! But I went as a visitor, not as an attendee. I found out I could have registered, but I didn’t. We just went as visitors. I became an official attendee in 1992 at the next reunion. But in 1990, I met a lot of the guys and started learning a lot about the planes and crews. And so what I started doing was collecting images of the crews and the planes and as I was doing this, I realized, nobody else was! So this just continued on until my collection became quite large.


BC: I understand, if I read your bio correctly, that in 2001 you chaired or had starting chairing the reunion?


RK: Right. That’s correct! I think it was in 2000, that there was a reunion in Kansas City. The fellow who ran the reunion, his name was Gerry Feldman. And Gerry was a Bomb Wing veteran. About March or April, 1946, the 509th Composite Group disbanded and became the 509th Bomb Wing. These guys were the ones that did the experimental bombing at Bikini. They also did the operation called Crossroads, Test Able and Test Baker. One was above ground, one was below the water, targeting captured and surplus ships and measuring the effects of radiation to animals on board the ships.


BC: Okay.


RK: At any rate, Feldman was a veteran of Operation Crossroads. So that made him a little bit younger. Well, at the business meeting, when the time came for having another reunion, nobody was volunteering to be the chairman. And I had remembered that I really enjoyed Wendover when I went there in 1990. So I just said to my wife “Do you mind if we do a reunion”? And she looked at me and said, “Yes, I do mind”! And I said “Well, I’m going to do it anyway”!

BC & RK: (Laughing)


RK: Let me give you a little background on that. The President of the Wendover Historic Airfield happened to come to this reunion and he spent a lot of time with me because I set up a memorabilia display. And so we were talking on the side saying that if something were to happen he’d be happy to co-host the reunion. So I knew that I would have help being that we kind of had an inside there. I mean it wasn’t all out of the clear blue sky type of thing. We had never run a reunion before. But we did it and they attendees enjoyed it so much that they kept asking us to do it over again. And so we have done every reunion since. Except for 2007 in which we had to take care of some health problems. Another group ran that reunion but we did it again in 2008 and we were elected to do it again in 2009.


BC: Terrific. And you’re glad to be doing it?


RK: Yeah, it’s a labor of love. All these veterans now over the years have gotten to know my wife and son. And I want to say that we look at them as family and I think they look at us the same way.


BC: That’s terrific. It was funny that you were a buyer in the 80’s. I was also a buyer in the 80’s. There must be something about history and buying (chuckle). What were you buying?


RK: Well, I started out in 1970 just out of pure luck. A fellow who ran a foundry, a General Manager, hired me as a foundry buyer. So I was buying commodities for making castings…cast iron castings. In ’73 I quit that job and went to work for a valve manufacturer. And that’s what I was doing. I was a casting buyer. In 1974-75, those were days where you had to plan because castings were on allocation. Lead times were 35 weeks.


BC: Wow.


RK: And then around ’78, all of a sudden the curtain came down about these 35 week lead time. People were canceling orders left and right, almost like what you are seeing now with the economy.


BC: You’re out of that business now? You’re retired?


RK: Yes, (laughing). Well not voluntarily did I retire. I hit the retirement age fortunately, but the last company I worked for, like most of the manufacturing companies I worked for, closed. I was a Buyer and Stockroom Supervisor for a Division of SPX Corporation who was a major supplier to Ford Motor Company. And our particular plant was making magnesium die castings which went in the steering column of the Ford Taurus. At any rate, Ford decided to go to China with their castings and that did us in. So they just closed the plant. And I was within a year of retirement. 


BC: I understand that you wrote a book called “The 509th Remembered”. Is it a commemorative book that you wrote for one of those reunions?




RK: That’s how it started out. We thought that the reunion at Wendover in 2001 was going to be the last one. And so what we did was … I came up with this idea of doing this commemorative book of Wendover stories. We gathered all the information and all the stories we could find that had been printed about Wendover from what the fellows had written to me. Plus letters they had written. I also used pictures from my collection. So we came up with about a 75 page to 100 page booklet. And it was 8” x 10” and it was nicely illustrated and so on. That basically was the foundation for our book. And so when we did the reunion in the following year we solicited more stories. I never really thought that it would ever end up as a hard cover book. I never planned on being an editor.


BC: (laughing)


RK: It was a joint thing. My wife typed every word in the book. There’s probably 380 pages. Something like that.


BC: I was just going to comment on how large it had grown.


RK: Yeah, it’s that big!


BC: Currently, is this the last version or are you still getting material coming in?


RK: Well (laughing) we do a newsletter in which we try to put out every two months. And there are still some people sending letters. And some of them are worthy of putting them in the book. But at this stage of the game, I’ve got a good inventory of books out in my pole barn and I don’t know that I want to add more to the book.


BC: I guess would that mean scrapping those to reprint?


RK: No. I would wait until they were all sold. But the trouble is right now with the economy as such, that sales of the book are just very negligible. I mean it’s very down.


BC: I’d like to put on my blog that people can buy your book right from your website.


RK: The Enola Gay 509th.


BC: Yeah.


RK: That’s the site. And there is a section there where you can order autographed photos or models or books. And the book is featured there.


BC: Perfect.


RK: We had had a military book publisher contact us but we would have had to give up the rights to the book. So we decided not to do that. The only way we market the book is through the website and appearances. I occasionally will put some on eBay.

But typically, what we try to do is get one of the veterans to go to a show with us. We do military collector shows, appearances at schools, gun shows, patriotic air shows, that sort of thing. You know, the places where we’ll find people who are interested in World War II history.


BC: How many of those do you do a year?


RK: We average about eight. Eight shows a year I think is what we are doing.


BC: Veteran wise, as you said earlier, they are getting on in age and some of your friends have probably passed already…


RK: A lot of them.


BC: How many are still able to travel?


RK: Now are you talking about people we take to sign books?


BC: Yes.


RK: Right now, we’re down to the “Enola Gay” navigator, and we take a veteran of the “USS Indianapolis”. And those are the two fellows that we’re working with.

And with regards to the “Indianapolis”, if you are involved in any kind of research on the atomic bomb, you’re going to come across the Indianapolis. You know, it’s such an amazing story what those guys did and what they went through.


BC: Did you write about that in your book?


RK: No. We didn’t write about the story of the Indianapolis.

There were two fellows in the Manhattan Project, Dr. James Nolan and Robert Furman who rode on the “Indianapolis” with the bomb parts for the first bomb. The division of the 509th called Project Alberta, made up of 54 scientists, were kind of the brains behind both bombs. And these guys were stationed on Tinian. Nolan was a medical doctor and his concern was radiation and he was attached to Project Alberta.  


Bob Krauss, Bob Furman, Amelia Krauss, Mary Ann Ferebee (widow of Tom Ferebee) and Dutch Van Kirk

RK: Bob Furman just died. Nolan died a long time ago. Furman never was really clear about what he did. It sounded like after he got on Tinian, after the “Indianapolis” docked, he basically just stayed there until the second bomb was dropped and Japan surrendered. And then he became a leader of one of three teams that went into Japan. They were looking for the Japanese atomic scientists. So that’s the only thing I address. I have Nolan’s story and a little story from Bob Furman, as well as a picture of the Indianapolis, but I don’t go into what happened.


BC: I forget the name of the famous book on the “Indianapolis”.


RK: Oh probably, if it’s an older book, it’s probably “Abandon Ship” or “All the Drowned Sailors”? Or if it was more recent it would have been “In Harm’s Way” by Doug Stanton.


BC: “In Harm’s Way”! Yes, that’s the one! When you say recent, did that come out in the last 10-15 years?


RK: Oh yes. Stanton’s book came out about 2002, I think. Matter of fact, Stanton contacted me and there is a photo in there that I’m credited with. It’s the picture of Chuck Quinn’s crew, the guys who flew in the Lockheed Ventura that discovered the men in the water.


BC: And the gentleman you take around, Mike …


RK: Kuryla.


BC: Kuryla. That’s how it’s said. I wasn’t quite sure how to pronounce it.


RK: It’s synonymous with gorilla!


BC: Oh, okay (laughing) that helps!

And ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk, is that the other gentleman you tour with?


RK: Yes. 


Lorain and Mike Kuryla, 'Dutch' Van Kirk, Amelia & Bob Krauss

BC: Where do they live now?

RK: Well Van Kirk lives in Georgia and Kuryla lives in Chicago.


BC: Do they tend to just travel in the Northeastern part of the States?


RK: Yes, pretty much. Right now we’re going to be doing an appearance with Mike on the weekend of December 13th. We are going to be out at the New England Air Museum. And then we’re doing a gun show on the same weekend. New England Air Museum being on the Friday and the gun show, being about 50 miles away, is going to be Saturday and Sunday. We’re following a routine that we did with ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk a year ago. So we kind of tested the waters with ‘Dutch’ (chuckling) and now we’re taking Mike.


So basically we’ve gone up and down the east coast. We’ve gone from Massachusetts all the way down to Ft. Myers, Florida. It’s about as far south as we’ve gone.


BC: I would think, from a personal point of view, that there is a tremendous interest in these gentlemen and that history. Are you finding that it’s still there? My audience tends to be more high school & college students and teachers. So I’m getting a real crossover. It’s funny that the “Bockscar” story that I wrote, out of 60 stories, is still #3 on the list.


RK: Really! Let’s see. How to answer that question! What I’m finding is the greatest interest is from people in my age bracket, the sons of the veterans.
And if they bring their children, or grand children …you know, they’re trying to teach them. When we do an appearance, the actual WW II veterans really want to relate their experiences to the veteran that we bring.


But from a marketing standpoint, it’s people in my age bracket. We find that when they go and talk at a high school, these kids are not being taught this history in school. ‘Dutch’ has said this to me, and so has Mike, and I’ve been with them to witness this. And so what happens is they have to put some of this material into perspective for them. They almost have to start explaining WW II and ‘Dutch’ does a very good job on that. We show a 15 minute video and in that video it talks about how WW II was an effort from everybody. Men, women and children were all pitching in during WW II. The generations that are growing up now, they don’t see that.


BC: I imagine that is the uphill climb. I’m finding the exact same thing. I was talking to quite a few teachers from the Western Southern Tier, New York, and they all say the same thing. It’s a real battle because the kids are bored. They’re a little out of touch with history. Everything’s current and fast paced and history for them is what they ate last week.


RK: Right. Times are different today. You know, when I was a kid, I collected stamps. And if you look back at the stamps from 1960 and earlier, and I’m going to use this as an example, there was a lot of history on stamps. And that’s how I learned history. I loved history. I was very good at it in school. I mean I didn’t really have to study it, I enjoyed it. I was not a WW II historian at the time. I read American history, mostly Civil War.

When I was growing up, the WW II veterans wanted to get the war over with. Lots of those guys didn’t want to talk about it. A lot of them gave their medals away, their patches, their uniforms and all that sort of stuff. I think only in the mid- 1980s or so, people started realizing this stuff was valuable. And collectors came onto the market. Now all this material is very highly collectible and valuable.


You know what I like to point out is when I started trying to find these veterans it was very difficult because during the Viet Nam War process, there were a lot of anti-nuclear movements going on. And most of the fellows, specifically from the “Enola Gay”, and some from the “Bockscar”, had unlisted phone numbers. Their addresses were very difficult to obtain. And what would happen was if you could find one of them and you gained their confidence, they would pass you along to another guy. So what I found, when I was trying to locate these fellows in the 1980s, was that it was extremely difficult. Not like it was later in the middle 1990s when it became very easy to locate them.


The first fellow I found, I can’t remember how I located him, was George Caron who was the tail gunner on the “Enola Gay”. And a lot of these fellows hadn’t gotten together in all these years. But George knew where Ray Gallagher was. Ray was the Assistant Flight Engineer on “Bockscar” and so I met Ray in 1990 at Wendover. And he looked like he was kind of a grumpy guy but he and I turned out to be fast friends. He worked for AT & T. I don’t know what his background was schooling-wise, but he really was a common man. He didn’t have a great mastery of the English language. But he really put it into perspective for me back then. He said “In order to understand the use of the atomic bombs, you had to live those times”. Basically he echoed what I’ve heard from every other fellow. They all wanted the war to be over with. And Ray felt that they saved many lives by dropping those bombs.


BC: I do want to hear more about that, but how long had these gentlemen been in the war? Had they been there from the start, maybe four years or five years or so?


RK: How do I answer this one? Okay. The 393rd was training in Nebraska. And Tibbets had been picked in 1944 to head up the 509th. So Tibbets went to the 504th Bomb Group and chose the 393rd. He took the 393rd Bomb Squadron out of the 504th, took them to Wendover, and then at that point, they started adding more men to it. They became a composite group which was totally a unique group. They had their own transport planes. They had their own doctors, their own veterinarians. They needed nothing, absolutely nothing! If they had to go off base to get something it was entirely secret.


BC: And this group was together, from start to finish, a little over a year?


RK: That was it, yeah! Really from September ‘44 to about December ’45 is when they came back. They were brought back to Roswell, New Mexico. And that’s where they were discharged from. Most of them were discharged between December ’45 and March of ’46.


BC: How many were in the group in its entirety?


RK: I’d hate to have you quote me on this but it’s 1700. About 1770 or something like that.


BC: So let’s get back to your original story about Ray Gallagher, before I interrupted you. I was pretty fascinated with that.


RK: Well, you had asked about the experience that these fellas had. It’s hard to say how the men were picked. I don’t know who picked them and I don’t know if they had some sort of committee or how all these guys came to Wendover. Ray was probably one of maybe about 25 men. To understand better, we have to go back here a little bit…. 


Paul Tibbets in the Enola Gay

Paul Tibbets flew a B-17 over North Africa. And he had 40-some odd missions. This is where I’d need to go to the reference books. But he had a lot of missions over North Africa. And his navigator was ‘Dutch’ Van Kirk, his bombardier was Tom Ferebee. And so what happened was that Paul was brought back to the United States after he flew all these missions to become part of the training program for the B-29…the training and development. He was stationed down at Eglin Field. And while he was down at Eglin Field that’s where he met guys like George Caron, Ray Gallagher, Don Albury, Chuck Sweeney and Jim Van Pelt. The list goes on. Tibbets put out the word that he wanted these guys brought in and so that’s how Ray Gallagher got into the 509th, which is kind of unique too, because Ray wore eyeglasses. He was put on the crew of “The Great Artiste”, which was the original crew plane, with Don Albury. Ray was given dispensation because of the fact that he wore glasses.

Does this all make sense to you, I hope? (chuckling)


BC: Yes, (laughing)


RK: But at any rate, Fred Bock for example, was flying an airplane on December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. And he was flying B-17s from the US over to India in early ’42. So here was a guy in the war for 5 years with all that experience. But then there were new guys in the 393rd that had just come into Fairmont, Nebraska when the 509th was put together…when the 393rd was pulled out of Fairmont to go to Wendover.


BC: When the final decision was made, for the series of planned bomb droppings, I understand that the first two were not the only ones planned?


RK: No, there were four cities originally. Nagata was one that’s never really been talked about. The first target was Hiroshima, second one was supposed to be Kokura, third Nagasaki and fourth was Nagata. I think that was the order. There had also been some conversation about Tokyo.

BC: So on the second bombing mission they were supposed to hit Kokura? But instead they went to Nagasaki because it was…?


RK: Obscured by cloud cover and smoke.


BC: Nagasaki would have been the third target anyway?


RK: Correct.


BC: Did they run into any opposition during those first two missions?


RK: You know there’s a book by Norman Polmar, which he wrote on the 50th anniversary, I think, of the “Enola Gay” … when the “Enola Gay” came out at the Smithsonian. I think it’s just called “Enola Gay”. This fellow Polmar is a historian that they seem to use on the History Channel for all sorts of things. And in his book he states that Jacob Beser said that Japanese fighters came up, and they banked and departed. According to Van Kirk, that’s totally untrue…totally untrue! So that never happened! The planes were specially built and could fly higher and faster than the Japanese could.


BC: The Pacific conflict has always intrigued me, and getting to know more about the 509th is a real treat. Thank you.


RK: It’s such an interesting piece of history. The more I read and the more I met these fellows it just became fascinating. But it took awhile for me to get these missions straighten out. For instance, who flew what plane? Because none of the planes flew with nose art on them, the only way to know what plane you were in was if you looked at the serial number on the tail.


BC: Oh really.


RK: Right! And the only guys really concerned with that would be the navigator and the flight engineer and the assistant flight engineer. And they switched planes quite a bit.


BC: How many planes flew on those runs?


RK: The 509th had 15 planes total. But there were over 80 special planes built. Two planes that I know of stayed at Wendover. As well there were two crews that stayed at Wendover and were assimilated into the 509th when the 509th came back to Roswell. They then moved these two crews from Wendover to Roswell.


BC: On the first Hiroshima run, how many planes actually flew in that mission?


RK: Seven.


BC: Oh wow, I never knew that.


The Enola Gay and pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets


RK: Well, to start, there were no escorts. So, an hour before the strike plane went out, they sent out three weather planes. And those planes…one went over Hiroshima, one went over Kokura, one went over Nagasaki. And they were to report the weather back. Then the “Enola Gay” took off and it was accompanied by “The Great Artiste” and “Necessary Evil”. “Necessary Evil” was the photo plane and “The Great Artiste” was the instrument plane. The “Enola Gay” got the word “No dense cloud cover. Okay to bomb primary”, so they headed straight to Hiroshima. And as those planes were coming back, the “Enola Gay” and the other two were heading out. Passing back and forth they didn’t see each other visually.

And then there was another plane that was on Iwo Jima. They had a bomb pit on Iwo Jima for emergencies and that was McKnight’s plane. I can’t remember which. I usually have to look at the book for this one because he flew two different planes. Neither one was his crew plane. His crew plane had an engine out.

And his crew plane was top secret. I think it was the “Big Stink” on the first mission. And that plane was sitting on Iwo Jima with the engines running, with two security men on board.


BC: And the purpose of that plane was to…?


RK: Well, if the “Enola Gay” failed for any reason they would land on Iwo Jima and transfer the bomb to that plane.


BC: Oh I see.


RK: But the “Enola Gay” crew would still carry the bomb.


BC: Okay. So the crew would literally just switch and take off again?


RK: Right. You were aware of the fact that the bomb was loaded from underneath?


BC: No actually.


RK: Well, what they did was they trailered the bomb from the bomb assembly hut. They put this trailer over the bomb pit and if you remember the service stations years ago, they had one big massive cylinder that would raise the car up and then down. Basically that’s what they did. They’d lowered this trailer down into the pit then they backed the plane over with a tractor, like a caterpillar tractor. Actually it was a Cletrac, was the name of it. Anyway they backed the plane over the pit and then they raised the bomb up. And that’s how they loaded it. There were two pits on Tinian and there was a pit at Wendover as well. But they didn’t load any bombs over there with fissionable material in it.


BC: Was there a reason they had two different, I’ll call it, type of bombs for the first two runs?


RK: Well yes. If you took all the Uranium that Oak Ridge could produce, it took two years to produce it. I’m not sure how you make Uranium but it took two years to produce all the Uranium for that first bomb. And they just couldn’t manufacture any more of it. So therefore they went to the Plutonium which was more readily available and easier to manufacture. Plutonium, I believe, came out of Hanford, Washington, that plant. But Oak Ridge took two years to come up with the Uranium.


BC: Did this also include the tests that they ran in the deserts?


RK: Yes, that’s correct?


BC: It makes you wonder if they would have been ready two years before if it didn’t take that long.


RK: No, they wouldn’t have. I’m better at the 509th history rather than the bomb and Einstein’s letter. But I think Einstein wrote to Roosevelt in what, 1939 or 1940 asking that they do something because the Germans were looking into it.


BC: Well, Mr. Krauss, this has been extremely interesting for me!

It’s been great. I know we barely touched upon so many possible aspects of this subject but I am so happy that we did get a chance to speak. As we have discussed, we’ll plan on doing a “Part II” to this interview in the near future. I really appreciate your time. It’s been a pleasure.

RK: Not a problem.


BC: And I look forward to talking to you again.


RK: Okay. Take care.


BC: Thank you. You too!




NOTE: Mr. Krauss and I will be doing a live follow up interview early into the New Year. I encourage you to send me your questions or observations so I can present them to him at that time.


And remember, the only place you can purchase Mr. Krauss’ book, The 509th Remembered” , other than at live appearnces, is on his website at I have my copy and it’s a terrific reference book (my favorite kind!). If you are interested in the men of the 509th and want to learn about what it was like for them to be a part of this dedicated team, I encourage you to order one today. If you do order a book from Bob and Amelia, they would love to know if you found out about it from this article. Please be sure to let them know.





Other posted interviews to date:


“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 


  “An Awesometalk With” Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Illinois State Historian 

(posted on December 08, 2008) 







Thank you.


“An Awesometalk With” DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ, Illinois State Historian

December 08, 2008: Barry Cauchon


I am pleased to present another interview from my feature “An Awesometalk With”. For this talk, my guest is Illinois State Historian, Dr. Thomas Schwartz. 


Dr. Thomas Schwartz surrounded by the Lincoln family at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Dr. Schwartz has been the Illinois State Historian since 1993 and lives and works in Springfield, Illinois. He was instrumental in helping to make the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum a reality.


With Illinois and the rest of the country celebrating both President-Elect Barack Obama’s election and the bi-centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, there is much happening in Dr. Schwartz’ world right now. So due to his overwhelming schedule, Dr. Schwartz could not do a live interview with me but was kind enough to respond to my written questions.

So now, I present to you, Dr. Thomas Schwartz.




BC: Congratulations Dr. Schwartz on your 15 year anniversary as Illinois State Historian. I’d love to hear about your role as the State Historian and about some of your proudest accomplishments.


TS: The title Illinois State Historian was given to Paul M. Angle, the great Lincoln scholar of the 1930s and 1940s in lieu of a pay raise while he served as director of the Illinois State Historical Library, now the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. It went from overseeing the everyday operation of the library to a more protean role of administration of Lincoln projects and research as well as coordinating with fundraising efforts by the Foundation. I suspect the proud achievement was moving the library from the cramped quarters under the Old State Capitol to the multi-structure facilities that comprise the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Transforming the Lincoln Legal Papers into the larger Papers of Abraham Lincoln was also an important milestone. Acquiring the Taper Lincoln Collection would have to be the most recent accomplishment that occurs once in a lifetime.


BC: As we have now completed the US Presidential elections and prepare for the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 2009, I’m interested in your perspective on what the mood is in Illinois.


TS: The mood in Illinois right now is cautious optimism. The election of another President from Illinois, Barack Obama, has been cause for great celebration. But the global economic recession had everyone being a bit apprehensive about the future. We are in a rather ironic situation in that we have wonderful events planned to celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln at the same time we are closing historic sites, some Lincoln-related, because of budget cuts.


BC: Are there special activities planned for 2009 that you would like to highlight?


TS: People can go to and see what is going on in Illinois throughout 2009. There are so many great things that I cannot begin to name them all.


BC: The bi-centennial of Lincoln’s birthday has prompted a publishing flurry of new books on Mr. Lincoln. Dr. Schwartz, are there any that you would recommend?


TS: There are a significant number of Lincoln titles that have been released and that are scheduled for the next year. Many are collections of essays that tend to be uneven, a number are monographs that provide an update on a topic that has already received treatment. So while you have many fine books being published, they all have a certain déjà vu about them. A number of fine illustrated books are in the queue: the Kunhardt’s, “LOOKING FOR LINCOLN” and the National Geographic Society, “LINCOLN’S EXTRAORDINARY ERA”.


BC: Your office is in Springfield, Illinois at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum and houses one the best overall collections of Lincoln related materials in the world. Can you tell us a little bit about that collection?


TS: The library was established in 1889 to collect the written history of Illinois.  Abraham Lincoln is an important subtopic in Illinois history. Being located in Mr. Lincoln’s hometown made it easier for family and friends who knew Lincoln and had original letters and artifacts to donate them to the library. Over the years, the collection grew in size and importance. Governor Henry Horner who served from 1933 to 1940 bequeathed his impressive collection of printed materials about Lincoln to the library. Some of the best Lincoln scholars of the 20th Century were employed by the library. They include Paul Angle, Jay Monaghan, Harry Pratt, and James T. Hickey. Benjamin Thomas was a trustee of the library along with Oliver Barrett, Lloyd Lewis, Ernest East, and Irving Dilliard. The Taper Collection is the most recent significant acquisition.


BC: In your opinion, what are some of the best Lincoln artifacts or documents in the collection? 


TS: The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum collection can show every important aspect in Lincoln’s life through a document.  We have the earliest known written document by Lincoln with his sum book page, one of five handwritten copies of the Gettysburg Address, a Leland-Boker signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, one of thirteen signed commemorative copies of the 13th Amendment, a paragraph from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in his hand and a draft printing of his First Inaugural Address that was circulated to a few trusted associates for comments.  Of artifacts we have a stovepipe hat, wallet, presidential seal and portfolio, bloody gloves from Ford’s Theatre, clock from the law office, nameplate from the Lincoln Home, and the other cufflink from Ford’s Theatre.


BC: What sort of things will your office be focusing on in the next five years?


TS: We have a number of publications coming out for the bicentennial.  We have worked with the Lincoln-Douglas Debate communities to develop signage about the debates. The Looking for Lincoln program is an independent group that we have partnered with for over a decade to help develop historically accurate signage about Lincoln’s relationship with numerous communities throughout Central Illinois. More and more material will be placed online for searching and use. The Papers of Abraham Lincoln will be placing the images of Lincoln’s legal career online in the next month or so. And of course, the Civil War sesquicentennial will start in 2011 continuing through summer of 2015. There is no shortage of work here.


BC: I’m a proponent of good outreach programs. Would you highlight some of the outreach programs that Illinois engages in?


TS: The ALPLM received an NEH grant to create a series of educational learning stations that are traveling the country on Lincoln. This traveling exhibit also comes with a collection of essays on Lincoln’s life written by leading scholars. A mobile exhibit also has traveled throughout the country that is contained in a semi-truck and expands into 900 square feet of exhibit space highlighting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. We have a series of educational trunks and posters available through our Education Department as well as teach materials that can be downloaded from the Internet. THE JOURNAL OF ILLINOIS HISTORY is the journal of record for Illinois history and is published quarterly. There are numerous partnerships we have with the Looking for Lincoln program, the Abraham Lincoln Association, and numerous public colleges and universities.


BC: What historical figures or events personally interest you?


TS: I don’t have any particular favorites since the whole historical enterprise fascinates me. The one thing that becomes readily apparent to any serious student of history is that no matter what time period you study, there are extraordinary individuals and events that can be found. It is simply a matter of making the time to find them.


BC: In your role as Illinois State Historian, have you had an opportunity to meet any famous statesmen from modern history? If so, who did you meet and would you describe an instance that really stood out as a special moment for you.


TS: I have met Governors and Presidents as well as foreign dignitaries, Hollywood directors, actors and corporate leaders. But the people that have left the greatest impression are those who are not actively self-aware. These people do things that benefit their neighbors and community and yet they expect nothing in return.  They shun the limelight and go about helping as most of us breath. We don’t actively think about breathing, our bodies do it. These are the folks who really make a difference. 


BC: What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies or sports that you enjoy?


TS:  My job can be all consuming if you let it control you.  There is so much to do and so little time in which to do it.  But life requires balance.  I still have a teenage son who occasionally does not feel embarrassed to be seen in public with me.  Cathy, my wife, likes to go on trips with me. Reading fiction and non-US history is great fun.  Like all big kids, I like to play in the dirt and have helped on some archaeological digs exploring the Illinois frontier period.  I also enjoy music, mostly classical and jazz.


BC:  Dr. Schwartz, my last question relates to the education of history. What was your experience with history as a young student? Is there anything that you would like to say to students who are struggling with getting interested in history?


TS: People bemoan the fact the young people don’t seem interested in history. It is not something to worry about. History requires perspective and the perspective comes from life experience. It is difficult for children or teenagers to have a deep appreciation for history because most lack empathy that typically comes with life experience of success and failure. As people get older, they begin to see why history matters and often regret the fact that they didn’t pay more attention to the stories told by their grandparents or parents. I had the good fortune to grow up surrounded by family and extended family who like to get together, eat, drink and tell stories. History was easier for me because it was transmitted in the life stories of the people I loved. The breakup of the modern family has made it more difficult to encounter history in this way. But I really think history, like a fine wine, requires some age before it really matters.





I want to thank Dr. Schwartz for sharing his thoughts with my readers. It’s exactly what I had hoped it would be. 

It takes a lot of time (voluntary, I might add) to sit down and answer these questions. I appreciate it very much and hope my readers enjoyed the interview as much as I did.

All the best to you and your family Dr. Schwartz and have a Happy Holiday season.




Other posted interviews to date:


“An Awesometalk With” Harold Holzer, Lincoln Scholar

(posted on November 10, 2008) 


“An Awesometalk With” Robert Krauss, 509th Composite Group Historian

(posted on December 16, 2008)