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This post, poem, and commentary were written by Dr. Brucella Jordan, and presented at the WVRHC April 4, 2023
Norman Harrison Jordan was a native West Virginian, born in 1938 in the small coal mining town of Ansted, WV, which is in Fayette County. His family was some of the early African Americans who migrated from Virginia to work for the Gauley Mountain Coal Company around 1906. His maternal grandfather, William Rogers, had worked in an iron foundry in Virginia and his skills there contributed to his becoming Supervisor of the coke ovens in Ansted; an unusual position for an African American at that time. Norman was born in a coal company house which was just recently torn down.
His paternal grandfather, William Harvey Jordan, came to Ansted to work in the mines in about 1912. He was born in Black Hawk Hollow near Charleston, WV. So, Norman’s immediate family; his mother, father, and siblings were the 2nd generation of their family living in Ansted. Norman was the 4th child of nine children (4 girls and 5 boys).
His first memories of being aware of poetry were associated with two people; his grandmother and his elementary school teacher: When he was about 7 years old his grandmother was director of a church play and he had to recite a poem in it; she often included poetry in other church plays and programs that she directed and she wrote poetry herself.
Also as a child, he attended the segregated school in Ansted, and when he was about 10 years old he contracted Rheumatic Fever. After being released from the hospital he began being taught at home by a homebound teacher because he was too weak to walk up the hill to the school. His teacher, Mrs. Childs was a lover of poetry and included some of it in her lesson plans. They would often read poetry together and he became familiar with the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Phillis Wheatley, James Weldon Johnston, Edgar Allen Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and some of the other pre-1950s poets. He would memorize poems and was encouraged to write poetry by his teacher, and he did write some poems at that early age.
In the 1940’s and 50s there was an outmigration of African Americans leaving WV as some of the mines began to have less work and people began going elsewhere to find jobs. Norman’s family went to Cleveland, Ohio in 1951 where factory jobs were plentiful and where his paternal grandfather, who had already left West Virginia, was already living. Norman’s father and oldest brother had gone ahead to find work and a place to live before bringing the rest of the family. However, that process was sped up by the fact that Norman was injured in an accident. His older brother had found and was playing with the family gun and accidentally shot Norman in the face, just above his mouth; he survived of course, but his father came back to WV and immediately moved the family to Cleveland.
Living and going to school in a large city took some getting used to. His family moved into a house on the east side of Cleveland; East 88th Street. It was a neighborhood that had initially been all Polish immigrants; it was called the Sowinski area, but African Americans were beginning to move into it as whites were moving out of it.; and there were some racial clashes associated with that. Norman was also sometimes made fun of and picked on at school because of his somewhat country ways; he was still wearing overalls to school and he had a slight speech impediment, which could have been caused by the gunshot wound.
However, he was continuing to write poetry and it was during this time that he wrote what he has always considered to be his most popular poem, even till today; “Hometown Boy.” As a female I could relate to this poem because it was common for African Americans who had migrated north from southern states to have relatives from the south to come visit them and we always had certain impressions of them; their southern culture being different from those who had been born and raised in the north. And I would imagine that some of that inspired the poem Hometown Boy.
As a teenager in Cleveland Norman briefly attended High School, but despite his mother’s objections, he dropped out before graduating to join the Navy in 1955; he following in the footsteps of his two older brothers who had joined the military early. He was stationed on a small warship In the Navy and was able to travel a lot to different counties and he was proud of that. And he was able to read all of the books of poetry in the Navy library while also continuing to write poetry. He also briefly got into song writing because some singers heard about his poetry and asked him to write songs for them and he wrote quite a large number of songs during that time. But he had a bad experience with someone stealing the bulk of his songs. He became very depressed over that, which caused him to stop writing altogether for a while.
After being discharged from the Navy in 1959 and going back to Cleveland, his interest and focus returned to poetry. He began visiting the Cleveland Public Library and reading the poetry of international poets; the poetry of the Chinese, Cubans, South Americans and Africans really fascinated and inspired him as well as the poetry of American Beat Generation poets like LeRoi Jones, Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Diane Di Prima and Bob Kaufman. During this time he also decorated his car with some of his short poems and began reading some of his poetry on local radio shows. He was writing poems that were somewhat reflective of his personal life at the time. An example of the type of poetry he was writing would be:
“A Winter’s Night Walk.”
Fletcher and I will walk tonight
No one will hear us come or go
Nor will they hear the empty wine bottle
When it falls in the soft, silent, snow.
It was in the early 1960s when Norman and I met. What I remember from that period is that my family and I had moved onto east 88th street in Cleveland and I had noticed a young black man walking in the neighborhood who often carried a brief case, which set him off from the other young black men on the street. I would later learn that there were poems in that briefcase. At that time Norman worked as a Supervisor for the Ohio Dept. of Highways, he was about 25 years old, and still lived at home with his parents and some other siblings, and he and his brothers and a lot of their friends drank a lot of alcohol, something that he had begun doing when he was in the Navy and actually he was fast becoming an alcoholic at this time. But, he was different and I was attracted to him. We dated for a while and fell in love, but then I broke up with him because of his drinking.
The following poem is what he wrote when we broke up:
I have abandoned my past,
left behind five unanswered
and the ashes of a poem
I wanted to give to Brucella
INSTEAD, I gave her a toast
with five hundred barrels of wine
Soon afterwards he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, began making positive changes in his life, and we got married.
It was in the early 1960s that Norman’s style of poetry began to change and what really catapulted the recognition of him and his poetry at that time was the Civil Rights Movement. Norman was actively involved with the CRM in Cleveland in terms of social and political activism and he would soon also become one of the most prominent figures and a driving force in the Black Arts Movement of that era. As with most social and political movements such as civil rights, there is an artistic component in which artistically inclined persons express themselves regarding the social and political activities that are taking place. So, the Black Arts Movement (BAM) was the artistic component and expression of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM).
Norman’s writing began to reflect the realities of the Civil Rights Movement and he also became associated with a group of other young poets in the area who were doing the same thing. He, along with poet and publisher Russell Atkins soon co-founded that group into the Muntu Poets. They met regularly in writing workshops and performed throughout Cleveland’s metropolitan area. Also at this time Cleveland’s Karamu House Theater, which is the oldest African American theater in the country presented a program entitled “An Evening with Norman Jordan” in which his poetry was read on stage by their actors.
As his poetry became more popular, Norman would transition into becoming a major participant in the National Black Arts Movement performing with other poets like Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Haki Madhubuti, Sonja Sanchez, Askia Muhammad Toure, Maya Angelou, Quincy Troup, Eugene Redmond, and several others; they performed regularly together and he became friends with many of them. Also, he was proud to have met Langston Hughes, who included two of Norman’s poems in his anthology The Poetry of the Negro in 1965.
The poetry of the Black Arts Movement, like the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance movement tended to express the plight of African Americans and was more radical and often militant in nature. The 1960s was a time when more research was being done and the truth about African American history and culture was being revealed. People wanted change and were willing to do what was necessary to get it; whether you fit into the ideology of Dr. Martin Luther King or Malcom X or somewhere in between, as a black person you wanted to obtain equal rights. As Norman wrote in 1966 “A Man who is afraid to die for his freedom in already dead.” That was the feeling of the Black Arts Movement.
Read from Destination Ashes the poem “One for All,” as an example of radical poetry of BAM. His first book, Destination Ashes was first published in our apartment using a mimeograph machine and staples. The 2nd publishing of it was by Creative Copy, a print shop in Cleveland, and the 3rd and final printing was by Third World Press in Chicago that Don L. Lee AKA Haki Madubuti was owner of.
In the latter part of the BAM, Norman and I became interested in making other more personal changes in our lives. We both had been cigarette smokers, but we quite in our twenties, we both became vegetarians and began to practice yoga and meditation, his book Above Maya is more reflective of that time period. Above Maya was written as an experiment. Norman’s astrological sign is Leo and he had heard that a person is most creative during the month of their birth sign, so he wrote a poem every day during the sign of Leo (the latter part of July & beginning of August). The poem “August 8’ is probably the most popular poem from Above Maya.
Norman is the author of five books of poetry, two of them, Destination: Ashes, and Above Maya, were written and published during the BAM era. His poetry from that period, and later, has been anthologized in more than forty books of African American and American literature and one in Swedish, and he had performed at many colleges and universities across the country and a wide variety of other venues including New York’s Apollo Theater.
His most popular play is entitled “In the Last Days,” and was written during that time; it has been staged in several theaters including what they call Off-Off Broadway in the Bedford Stuyvesant area of New York. He was writer in Residence for a year at Karamu House Theater and he won a United Nations Playwrights award in which he spent a week along with other awarded playwrights in New York observing plays, writing and interacting with each other. A film about his life and poetry entitled “Dead Ends, New Dreams,” was made by Case Western Reserve University. And it is for these reasons that his poetry is most associated with the BAM. However, Norman, who was very proud of his association with the BAM has said that he was writing poetry before the protest poetry of the BAM (1960s & 70s), but after that he returned to writing poetry for his own enjoyment.
The late 1970s brought new and different experiences for Norman and I. After a brief period of marital separation and both of us living in different parts of the country; he in Berkeley, California and me in Tuskegee, Alabama, we joined forces again, renewed our relationship, and after a few months of living, rehearsing, and performing in Baltimore, Maryland where Norman’s play “In the Last Days” was being staged, we moved to Ansted, West Virginia. Why West Virginia? As I said earlier, it was the place of Norman’s birth and where he spent his pre-teenage years, he still had relatives living there on property his family owned, and it was the perfect place to live the lifestyle that we both were becoming accustomed to as raw food vegetarians practicing yoga and meditation, trying to live a healthy, simple, creative, and uncomplicated life.
In West Virginia, Norman and I soon began to connect with other artists and activists in the area. We found that the African American community had interest in preserving their heritage, in receiving equal rights, in establishing their identity and having their accomplishments as African Americans living in Appalachia be recognized and appreciated. We also saw that there was much to do in terms of preserving the rich heritage that African Americans had contributed to the state of West Virginia as a leading coal mining region. In addition, we became aware of the lingering aspects of racism that stemmed from segregation and had had such a devastating impact on many of the African American residents.
We, especially Norman, began to work more closely with people who were trying to bring about change. As Norman connected with the grassroots environment of the black community he also strengthened his ability to become more involved on other levels by going back to school and obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Fine Arts from West Virginia University and a Master of Arts degree in Black Studies from Ohio State University; both accomplishments and venues were instrumental in his acquiring new connections in the arts and African American history and culture in the state of West Virginia. After obtaining his degrees he worked as a Program Coordinator for the WV Dept. of Culture and History for about 10 years and he taught African American literature at WVU and Glenville State College as an adjunct professor.
He connected with the West Virginia Writers organization, and interacted with poets and other literary people such as Kirk Judd, Phillis Moore, Daniel Boyd, Ed Cabbell, Joseph Bundy, Elaine Blue, Ancella Bickley, Crystal Good and others. He became a member of the Affrillachian Poets and did readings at the Cultural Center, the John Henry Festival, and many other venues. He was very proud of having been published in the anthology, Wild Sweet Notes: Fifty Years of WV Poetry, and also receiving the Martin Luther King Living the Dream Award from the West Virginia Governor’s Award Committee in the year 2000.
I would say that while Norman was aware of social inequities in WV that he sought to address them in different ways than he had earlier. In 1991, he and I founded the African American Heritage Family tree Museum, and in 1994, along with the United African American Artists of WV, which he was a member of, founded the Norman Jordan African American Arts & Heritage Academy for teenagers; a week long summer arts and cultural heritage academy, which is still operating today. During this time he also started performing a characterization of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the person who started Black History Week in the 1920s, which eventually evolved to Black History Month. His poetry, on the other hand, tended to reflect more of the beauty of the state itself and the comfort that he felt living here. The two books that he published after being back in WV are Where Do People in Dreams Come From & Other Poems (2004), and Sing Me Different (2012).
Sing Me Different represents a different style of writing poetry, which Norman felt that he created. Probably the last major new project that he worked on with others, was a book entitled African American Heritage at the New River Gorge National River. It was produced by the National Parks Service and Norman was hired as a consultant and historian to interview African American residents still living in the New River Gorge area, then transcribe and interpret his findings. Each of the 7 chapters begins with a poem that he wrote for that section of the book. He really enjoyed working on that project especially meeting and interviewing the African American residents.
I want to end by reading a poem and commentary that I wrote about him after he passed away.
I’m still getting requests from people who want to publish his poems in upcoming books.
Some of Norman’s books are available on Amazon.
Seeing the Real You
I’m laying here thinking and remembering
Things my mind won’t let me forget
As I often do before sleep overtakes me
Things from the past of course
That’s what old folks do
Young folks daydream about the future
Makes sense I guess
For me lots of past
Not as much future left
I’m thinking about Norman
So much to remember about him but
This one thing I don’t want to forget because
It energizes me to think about it
As if I shared in that part of him
It was a privilege to be able to daily observe the activities and thought processes of a truly creative person. He was a poet who saw poetry in everything; in every day, night, activity; Life. Living and observing was a poetic drama that inspired him to see it clearly, play with it, and then interpret it to the rest of us in his writing and actions. I could see that working within him up-close and from afar. I write poetry, but I am not a poet; Norman was a poet. His life was poetry and I am blessed to have been able to observe it. Why am I writing this now – tonight? Because, although I remember it still, I notice that the memory of it is not as distinct in my mind as it was six years ago when he passed away, and I don’t want to forget how lucky I was to have witnessed creativity in motion.
Written by Hannah Johnson
When considering the impact of the Second World War, it is easy to focus on statistics and figures on a global scale. Over 60 million lives – civilian and military – were lost between the summers of 1939 and 1945. The United States alone, despite entering the war in 1941, suffered an estimated 418,500 losses.2 These figures can be described in a number of ways; staggering, overwhelming, perhaps even awe inspiring when one considers humanity’s capability for self-destruction. But they are also dehumanizing. In considering war on a global scale, the story of the individual is lost; and thus, their legacy as well.
Robert ‘Bob’ Scott was twenty-two years old when he, along with the rest of his company, were ordered to take Busham, Germany, on February 27th, 1945.3 By nightfall the next day, February 28th, Scott would be dead. Through primary sources gathered and stored in the West Virginia and Regional History Center, the details of his heroic actions that day are preserved. But most students who attend WVU, the university Scott graduated from and went on to teach at, will never know of Robert Scott. Those who do recognize the name likely remember seeing it engraved on a plaque outside Oglebay Hall alongside dozens of others as they rushed to their next class. But Scott’s story is one of value, a testament to not only those who lost their lives in the Second World War, but also the impact of a single, devoted individual in a world that’s seemingly tearing itself apart. This blog will attempt to encapsulate the story of Robert Scott, his sacrifice, and the legacy he left behind for his peers to embody.
Born in 1922, Robert F. Scott Jr. was raised in post World War I America. Originally from Pennsylvania, he eventually ended up in Kanawha county, West Virginia.4 While little is known about his upbringing, it can be surmised from his own writings and those of his parents that he came from a loving family, and one that supported his later academic endeavors. Scott attended West Virginia University, graduating with the class of 1942 and obtaining his undergraduate degree.5 An important facet of his time at WVU, and one that would later immortalize his story, was his relationship with Dr. J Clark Easton. Mrs. Scott, Robert Scott’s mother, wrote to Dr. Easton after Scott’s death stating, “[Robert] worshiped you, Dr. Easton. You were a part of our family. It was Dr. Easton this and Dr. Easton that.”6 This excerpt, among others, indicates a clear admiration on the part of Scott in regards to his professor and later colleague.
Throughout his time at WVU, Robert Scott not only obtained his degree, but also left a lasting impact within the History Department, particularly through his relationship with Dr. Easton. As most of the letters found in the WVRHC archives were correspondence between Dr. Easton and Scott, it is valuable to understand their relationship. After receiving news of Scott’s death, Dr. Easton wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Scott regarding their son and his passing. In this letter, Dr. Easton describes Scott not only as a pupil and peer, but as a dear friend. In regards to his academic endeavors, Dr. Easton notes, “Bob took every course I offered and was far and away my best student… his enthusiasm, industry, and intellectual grasp of historical subjects I have rarely seen equalled.”7 As this excerpt eloquently relates, Scott was an engaged, driven student that stood out among his peers.
When considering the loss of such a bright, promising individual, Dr. Easton goes on to write, “I cannot let this sad occasion pass without expressing to you my profound sympathy in your loss. We here in the History Department feel that we in part share this loss with you.”8 The loss of any young person is indeed a tragedy, but Dr. Easton’s words indicate a deeper sense of collective grief felt within the History Department and thus the University itself. Scott leaving such an impact, especially as someone as young and new to academia, indicates a connection to Dr. Easton and the University that went beyond a transcript and a diploma. It is important to keep this relationship in mind as the letters Dr. Easton and Scott exchanged are examined to not only piece together his story but also to retain a sense of the person that Scott was.
Another important aspect of Scott’s time at WVU, both as a student and a teaching assistant, was WVU’s involvement in the war effort as well as Scotts own decision to enlist. In broader context, West Virginia was a state that more than contributed to the overall war effort. As Belmont Keenly describes in “Soldiers and Stereotypes: Mountaineers, Cultural Identity, and World War II”, West Virginia “[ranked] fourteenth among the forty-eight states in terms of proportion of population who served. These figures put West Virginia in the top one-third of states as a percentage of the population who joined the Army. While many of these young men were drafted, many more chose to enlist.”9 West Virginia and her citizens were invested in the war effort, and this dedication logically bled over into higher education, considering that college age men were in the prime demographic to be drafted or to enlist.
An invaluable source regarding West Virginia University and its efforts during the Second World War is found in Dr. Easton’s own work, West Virginia University and the War, which was published in 1944.11 This piece explores the various ways in which WVU participated in the war effort, including images of students with captions such as “The smiling young lady investigates the setting point of TNT,” descriptions of nursing and first aid training, and information on how Air Corp Cadets trained in the classroom and at the Morgantown Airport.12 Through this source, an image of West Virginia University during this time comes into focus; a bustling campus, filled with not only dedicated students but also livened by the inner workings of service members in various stages of the pipeline that led to active duty and deployment.
Global context deepens our understanding of the changes WVU underwent during this time. By 1942 – the year Scott graduated from WVU – the war in Europe had undergone a number of significant developments. Not only had Germany invaded or allied with almost every nation on the continent – including the defeat of France and the near destruction of Poland – but the Eastern Front had also begun to play out as Germany set her sights on the USSR. The United States had also been pulled into the war despite all efforts to remain isolationist. The Empire of Japan had struck at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, unknowingly provoking the nation which would go on to be her undoing four years later.13 Thus, by 1943, the Pacific and European theaters were well underway, and the United States had become committed to not only the complete defeat of Nazi Germany but also of the Japanese Empire.
With all of this in mind, it’s understandable why a man in good health and in the position to serve, would enlist. Scott never mentioned in his letters why he traveled to Ft. Hayes on March 19, 1943, with the intention of enlisting in the Army. However, Keenly discusses a number of reasons that young men enlisted, expressing that, “While nationalistic fervor and delusions of military glory influenced a small number of West Virginians, many more found themselves joining the war effort for better economic opportunities and, in a few cases, because of the social pressure applied to young men to perform their patriotic duty.”14 This is to say, while it is plausible that Scott felt a duty to serve on moral or patriotic ground, it is also possible that he felt pressure – as so many others did – to enlist. Regardless of why, Scott’s enlistment on March 19 put him on a path that ended in Germany almost two years later.
Upon enlistment, Scott was sent to Fort Knox. There are several letters from this time that provide insight into his activities and the conditions at Fort Knox. Writing Dr. Easton, Scott remarks, “The army with its usual efficiency and accuracy has sent the [lot] of us West Virginia Tank Destroyers to the wrong camp. We were supposed to go to Camp Hood but oddly enough they sent us to Fort Knox… It is a hell hole… I propose to be transferred.”15 Despite the mishap and Scott’s desire to be transferred, no such proposal was ever approved, and Scott would remain at Fort Knox for almost a year.
In the same letter, Scott mentions Officer Candidate School (O.C.S.), and that his chances of becoming an officer were dwindling.16 With his transfer in limbo and his hopes of becoming an officer fading, Scott turned once again to academia. He writes, “I think I will go down to the Armored [unintelligible] Institute – which claims to offer high school and college courses – and offer my services… you have to do your best and get ahead in this army stuff or they will forget you completely.”17 In this excerpt, Scott demonstrates an understanding of his situation and the army he served in. He learned quickly that he had to make himself marketable. Unfortunately for Scott, it appears this opportunity was a dead end.
His recounts of training at Fort Knox were honest and highlighted some of the challenges soldiers faced long before they reached the front lines. In a subsequent letter, Scott describes, “I am usually as tired as a soldier can be and that is plenty tired. We marched in 115° heat yesterday for 10 miles and lost many men on the way. I lasted by will power more than anything. It was very tough.”18 Not all was lost, however, as he goes on to write, “Had my first chance to lecture today… they asked for a ‘vol’ to give a talk on first aid… didn’t think so much of it, entirely impromptu, but I have been receiving compliments all day since. Guess my days as an assistant have not been wasted.”19 While he didn’t secure the position teaching college courses, Scott made use of his talents while serving at Fort Knox.
In a third letter from 1943, Scott joked, “I am, fortunately, no casualty of the Battle of Fort Knox.”20 In explanation of his absence, he elaborated that he had “been living in the field for three weeks,” indicating that training was beginning to escalate at Fort Knox.21 He also mentioned that he had passed the “O.C.S braid” and hoped that his blood pressure wouldn’t keep him from passing the physical.22 This comment indicates that officer school may not have been out of the picture for Scott.
In a letter written to Dr. Easton in February of 1944, Scott not only confirmed that he would be attending O.C.S., but that he had undergone an operation that required him to return to Morgantown for “a couple of months recuperation period.”23 While the specifics of the operation are unknown, Scott appeared to make a full recovery and proceeded with officer school as planned. One interesting inclusion in a later letter discusses a two week course that Scott participated in, centered around operating military vehicles from “jeeps to medium tanks”.24 This is only a glimpse into the experiences that made up Scott’s time in the army prior to active deployment. In his preparation for war, he was introduced to a myriad of new skills and groups of people. Yet, a constant theme in his letters is a desire to return to WVU and the History Department.
This longing, coupled with idleness while remaining in the states, created a yearning to not only be involved in the activities of Morgantown, but also to join the fight. As Scott mentions at the end of a letter written in the summer of 1944, “You must write me and tell me how the summer goes with you. We know our plan until September or rather October 16 but after that who can say. I presume that if the invasion goes well we may go over about then. In a way I rather hope we do. Looks as if you may be much more right about the war. My prediction was 1945. Shows how conservative I am at 22.”25 He expresses a perhaps confusing sentiment, a combination of longing for his life in Morgantown and a restlessness brought on by the escalation soon to come in the war. In over a year of army service, Scott had been stationed exclusively in the states. A desire to be ‘in the fight’ would be understandable if not expected from those who’d been stuck in basic training and officer school. What Scott didn’t know was that he’d soon be in the fight, one that would take his life less than a year later.
Scott first arrived in Britain near the end of November, 1944.26 His departure is briefly recounted in his final letter to Dr. Easton. He writes, “you seemed surprised about my sudden departure for merry England.”27 As he’d written in the previous letter, Scott’s schedule had been uncertain beyond mid October. Serving as a lieutenant in F Company, 271st Regiment, 69th Division of the First United States Army, Scott was likely “billeted in Winchester Barracks” while stationed in Britain.28 He wasn’t there for long. On January 20th, 1945, the 271st Infantry Regiment sailed across the channel, landing on snow covered Normandy beaches the next morning.29 The Regiment entered Germany on February 10th, 1945, less than a month into their advance across the Western Front.30 Their rapid pace was due to the prior engagements and Allied victories in Western Europe which allowed the Regiment to meet the front as it entered Germany.
Within his final letter, Scott not only recounts the beauty of the German countryside, but also describes his interactions with the German people. He jokes, “German hospitality is not what it might be. One would almost believe that they do not desire our presence here. Oh well… really a pretty good fight up here.”31 With this sentiment, Scott harks on an aspect of the war that is often overlooked, but was pivotal to a soldier’s experience; that being relations with civilians. It was hoped that the German population would be relieved to see the Allies, to be ‘liberated’ from the current Nazi regime. However, as many Allied soldiers discovered, the German population was at best apathetic. Denazification would be a challenge faced by the Allied powers for years after the war ended.32
These being some of Scott’s last written words regarding the war, the rest of his movements up until his death on February 28th, 1945, must be surmised from the records of the 271st Regiment and eyewitness accounts. The Regiment moved through Germany towards what would be their first attack on February 27th, 1945, with the objective of securing a supply route via Hellenthal-Hollerath road.34 Higgins recounts that;
Company F, attacking Buschem and Honningen, was able to take half of Buschem before being pinned down by fire from nearby Honningen, and was ordered to hold its present position for the night… [G Company was then ordered to] close the gap between themselves and F Company. The Third Battalion was alerted that night, but not committed until next day. Next morning, E Company was committed to assist F Company, and the two companies cleared Buschem and went on to take Honningen. Two counterattacks were repulsed in the area.35
This excerpt encompasses not only the first attack that the 271st Regiment engaged in, but also the action in which Scott was killed. With a broad overview of the objective and the stakes, a better picture of the circumstances Scott and his men found themselves in comes together. In their first major engagement of the war, F Company was separated from the rest of the 271st Regiment and pinned down. While G Company attempted in vain to reach them, F Company was on their own. It was not until the next morning that E Company could assist them. Thus, on the morning of February 28th, 1945, Scott and his men felt a moment of relief. E Company had come to aid them in taking their objective despite the heavy resistance. But the price of that victory would be great, as it was for so many actions during the Second World War.
James Kidd, considered one of if not the last person to see Scott alive, sheds light on the specifics of their actions that day. In a letter to Dr. Easton he writes;
Lt. Robert. F Scott and I were commanding the leading platoons of an attacking company in a rapid advance… The men were having a difficult time climbing over the rough ground with a heavy load of ammunition. Enemy machine guns and ‘burp’ guns from our flanks made the going even tougher… I saw Bob about 75 yards to my right at the front of his platoon encouraging his men on… The last time I saw him alive he was turned half around, moving forward at the same time… shouted to his men something like, ‘Come on, can’t you keep up with me, an old man like me?’… The next day… I saw his body, lying at a cross road. It was a typical example of modern war, too terrible to describe for civilized beings.36
Kidd’s description of heavy resistance and machine gun fire line up with the report provided by Higgins. His recount also evokes a sense of detached loss so commonly found in the testimony of veterans. The death of Scott, while devastating, was considered ‘typical’. Kidd simply did not have the time or emotional bandwidth to fully process Scott’s passing at the time or perhaps even afterwards.
A further description of Scott’s fate, one that sheds light on his character, is shared in a letter by Mrs. Scott to Dr. Easton. According to ‘a Major General’;
The fighting from house to house was fierce. One of his men was seriously wounded and was lying in a sunken place in the road which was covered by machine gun fire and in danger of further injury. Without regard for his own safety Lt. Scott passed through the fire to the wounded man and when attempting to return with him was killed by machine gun fire.37
From this account, the circumstances of Scott’s death are even further understood. Not only had he been leading his men onto the road, but he had stopped and attempted to aid one of his comrades despite the immense peril of that action. His bravery and selflessness, even in his final moments, are something that no plaque or medal could ever adequately express. Genuine sacrifice on such a level defines the cost of the Second World War.
It could be argued that considering an individual’s experience in a global conflict does not give an accurate representation of the conflict’s true impact. That is to say, that one person’s story could not possibly define a war that claimed 60 million lives. And while Robert Scott’s story does not address every minute detail of the war or the geopolitics behind it, Scott’s story does encapsulate the tragedy of the Second World War. As James Kidd wrote, “[Scott’s] Silver Star commendation said something about ‘above and beyond the call of duty.’ Such is war.”38 Such a statement supports the idea that Scott’s story, while heroic, was not uncommon. Thus, one man’s story may not define a war, but it can certainly aid in grasping the impact of the conflict on not just an individual but a family, community, nation, or perhaps the world.
When considering legacy, it is often awards and accolades that first come to mind. And while Robert Scott was awarded a Bronze Star and the Silver Star, it feels hollow to remember a person purely based on the medals on their record.39 Scott was more than just a couple pieces of commemorative metal. He was a promising academic, a loving son, and a brave soldier even in the face of death. As Dr. Easton fondly writes;
Bob was one of my best students and an unusually fine fellow, as you know, and I was much upset by his death. It is one of the great tragedies of war that so many young men of promise should have to make the supreme sacrifice at the beginning of careers that would have meant so much to them and to the world.40
Dr. Easton’s emphasis on unknown potential is an important one. What might Scott or the millions of others killed in the Second World War have gone on to do? It’s a difficult question, and one that will never have an answer. Once again, the tragedy of war can be encapsulated in the loss of a single, promising individual, because the unknown potential of all of the lives lost in the Second World War would be beyond comprehension. Robert Scott’s story then, is not one defined simply by loss, but by his unknown potential. And while it is easy to distance oneself from history, whether by the passage of time or changes in society itself, there are themes that are pervasive throughout all time. Especially in an era of uncertainty and division, it is important that stories like Scott’s continue to be told. To remind us that despite differences in lifestyle, political opinions, or simply distant zip codes, everyone has the potential to do something for the betterment of society… and that that potential can be stripped away in the blink of an eye. All of this to say, if you take anything from Robert Scott’s story, it should be that you don’t always know how long you have or where life will take you. It should be one’s goal, then, to explore that potential as fully and freely as one can. Because not everyone gets that chance, and we owe it to those who’ve laid down their lives for our freedom and safety to pursue that potential for the betterment of our university, our nation, and our society.
1. “Robert F. Scott, Class of 1942”. West Virginia History OnView. Accessed November 5, 2023. https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/038857.
2.“Research Starters: Worldwide Deaths in World War II,” The National WWII Museum, accessed October 17, 2023, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/
3. John Higgins, “Trespass Against Them”: History of the 271st Infantry Regiment (Naumburg, Germany, 1945).
4. National Archives, World War II Army Enlistment Records.
5. “Robert F. Scott, Class of 1942”. West Virginia History OnView. Accessed November 5, 2023. https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/038857.
6. Letter from Mrs. Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, 1945.
7. Letter From Dr. J.C. Easton to Mr. and Mrs. Scott, March 24, 1945.
8. Letter From Dr. J.C. Easton to Mr. and Mrs. Scott, March 24, 1945.
9. Belmont C. Keenly, “Soldiers and Stereotypes: Mountaineers, Cultural Identity, and World War II,” (West Virginia University, 2009) p.44.
10. “Cover of, West Virginia University and the War’ by J.C. Easton, Associate Professor of History, West Virginia University”. West Virginia History OnView. Accessed November 5, 2023. https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/038857.
11. J.C. Easton, West Virginia University and The War.
12. J.C. Easton, West Virginia University and The War.
13. Gerhard Weinberg, A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II.
14. Belmont C. Keenly, “Soldiers and Stereotypes: Mountaineers, Cultural Identity, and World War II,” (West Virginia University, 2009) p.20.
15. First letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, p.1-2.
16. First letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, p.2.
17. First letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, p.2-3.
18. Second letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, p.1.
19. Second letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, p.2
20. Third letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, p.1.
21. Third letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, p.1.
22. Third letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, p.4.
23. Letter from Robert Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, February, 1944, p.1.
24. Vehicle training letter from Robert Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, 1944, p.1.
25. Invasion letter from Robert Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, Summer, 1944, p.2.
26. Higgins, “Trespass Against Them.”
27. Final letter from Robert Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, February, 1945, p.1.
28. “Robert F. Scott, Class of 1942,” West Virginia History OnView; John Higgins, “Trespass Against Them”.
29. Higgins, “Trespass Against Them.”; John Grehan, Liberating Europe: D-Day to Victory in Europe, 1944–1945 (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: 2014) p.182.
30. Higgins, “Trespass Against Them.”
31. Final letter from Robert Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, February, 1945, p.1.
32. Tony Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 (New York: The Penguin Press, 2005), p.57.
33. “69th Infantry Division – The Fighting 69th”. US Army Divisions. Accessed December 12, 2023. https://www.armydivs.com/69th-infantry-division.
34. Higgins, “Trespass Against Them.”
35. Higgins, “Trespass Against Them.”
36. Letter from James Kidd to Dr. J.C. Easton, May 8, 1945, p.1.
37. Letter from Mrs. Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, April 30, 1945, p.1.
38. Letter from James R. Kidd to Dr. J.C. Easton, May 8, 1945, p.1.
39. Letter from James W. May to Mr. and Mrs. Scott, 1945, p.1.
40. Letter from Dr. J.C. Easton to James Kidd, May 23, 1945, p.1.
Easton, J.C., West Virginia University and The War. Morgantown: West Virginia University, 1944.
Final letter from Robert Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, February, 1945, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Final Report: 1951 Army ROTC Armored Summer Camp. Fort Belvoir; United States Army Publishing Directorate, 1951.
First letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Higgins, John. “Trespass Against Them”: History of the 271st Infantry Regiment. Naumburg, Germany;1945.
Invasion letter from Robert Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, summer, 1944, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
John Grehan, and Martin Mace. 2014. Liberating Europe: D-Day to Victory in Europe, 1944–1945. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military. https://research.ebsco.com/linkprocessor/plink?id=b388bcba-db0b-3ff2-aba0-7c1e15f812d5.
Judt, Tony. Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945. New York: The Penguin Press, 2005.
Keenly, C. Belmont. “Soldiers and Stereotypes: Mountaineers, Cultural Identity, and World War
II.” PhD diss., West Virginia University, 2009.
Letter from Dr. J.C. Easton to James Kidd, May 23, 1945, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Letter from Dr. J.C. Easton to Mrs. Scott, May 7, 1945, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Letter from Dr. Easton to Mr. and Mrs. Scott, March 24, 1945, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Letter from James W. May to Mr. and Mrs. Scott, 1945, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Letter from James R. Kidd to Dr. J.C. Easton, May 8,1945, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Letter from James R. Kidd to Dr. Clark Easton, May 8, 1945, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Letter from Mrs. Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, 1945, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV, War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Letter from Robert Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, February, 1944, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
National Archives. World War II Army Enlistment Records. Research Group 64. National Archives: Access to Archival Databases (AAD), 2002. Digital: https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=2&cat=WR26&tf=F&sc=24994,24995,24996,24998,24997,24993,24981,24983&bc=,sl,fd&txt_24995=Robert+Scott&op_24995=0&nfo_24995=V,24,1900&cl_24996=54&op_24996=null&nfo_24996=V,2,1900&cl_24998=039&op_24998=null&nfo_24998=V,3,1900&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=1141309&rlst=1141309,6038806.
“Research Starters: Worldwide Deaths in World War II,” The National WWII Museum. Accessed October 17, 2023. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/students-teachers/student-resources/research-starters/research-starters-worldwide-deaths-world-war.
“Robert F. Scott, Class of 1942, West Virginia University, from St. Albas, W. Va.” West Virginia History OnView. Accessed November 5, 2023. https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/038857.
Second letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Third letter from Robert Scott to Dr. Clark Easton regarding Fort Knox, 1943, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Vehicle training letter from Robert Scott to Dr. J.C. Easton, 1944, A&M 2324, Easton WWII Material, WV War History Commission Recs, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia University Libraries, Morgantown, West Virginia.
Weinberg, Gerhard. A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 2005.
“69th Infantry Division – The Fighting 69th”. US Army Divisions. Accessed December 12, 2023. https://www.armydivs.com/69th-infantry-division.
Written by Dee Elliott
For this post, the WVRHC is looking at some of our zine and LGBTQ+ holdings that have been processed to be included within the Center. Within historical collections, the queer community is often underrepresented in their holdings, and even more so when it comes to transgender individuals being represented. In the state of West Virginia, there are more and more transgender people that are constantly looking for representation in both media and history. Elliott Stewart of Huntington, WV, provides this representation for not only teens, but anyone who lives or has grown up queer in Appalachia, an area notoriously difficult to identify as LGBTQ+ in. Stewart runs Porch Beers Press, a zine-focused publication group that focuses on various topics like fandom, food culture, and growing up queer in Appalachia. The WVRHC recently picked up a selection of publications from Porch Beers Press, providing a fascinating insight into what it’s like to grow up queer in Appalachia. Stewart even provides an “unapologetically queer” transmasculine perspective within the zines, which is an underrepresented group of people within the LGBTQ+ community itself.
Zines in general have been a popular way for people to create and distribute their thoughts on various topics or display their art in a non-traditional printed form. The very first Zine dates to May of 1930, when fans discussed science and science fiction in a publication known as The Comet, created by the Science Correspondence Club. Originally called “fanzines,” a combination of the words “fan magazine,” zines were used for this purpose, to talk about popular culture and early fandom. In fact, some of this included some of these publications included the earliest fanfiction in popular culture, which was primarily about Star Trek: The Original Series (1966) through original adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise created by fans of the show. Later, as it became easier for people to print and distribute their own zines through various means, more publications concerning activism for feminism and LGBTQ+ rights and lives came about, the latter of which Elliott Stewart now often writes about today.
Stewart’s collection isn’t the only set of zines within the holdings of the WVRHC. In fact, there are zines being processed to be included in the collections, as well as existing collections of zines that had been donated to the library before Stewart’s collection. Donated to the WVRHC by Bryan Richards in 2017, the Collection of West Virginia Zines (A&M 4283) reflects a set of West Virginia-based zines detailing art, poetry, music, and more. Authors and artists like Liz Pavlovic, whose art can be seen on and across several businesses and public works across not just Morgantown, but the whole state of West Virginia and beyond, are featured within this collection. In fact, the West Virginia Zine Collection has several digitized inclusions for perusal at the West Virginia and Regional History Center. Also included within the collection is an article on the Morgantown Zine Festival from October of 2017. There is also a collection of zines/underground press publications from Morgantown from 1991 to 1993, providing a fascinating look into the opinions of local authors on alternative music, movies, poetry, and more in the early 1990s.
Elliott Stewart continues to make zines today, recently covering topics in Porch Beers Issue 6 like his personal history with mental illness, deep diving into maladaptive daydreams, domestic violence, and schizophrenia. Zines like Stewarts allow a more personal, in-depth look into the feelings and thoughts of the author without having a publisher edit things too much. You can find out more about Porch Beers Press and the work of Elliott Stewart at https://bqueenbandit.wixsite.com/porchbeers. The West Virginia and Regional History Center continues to accept and process zine collections and hopes to expand their holdings for patron perusal and enjoyment!