Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Our Interns and Their Stories

Kaitlin Scesney

During my internship at the Center, I acquired invaluable experience that will serve me well throughout the rest of my professional and educational careers. Growing up, history was a passion of mine. From an early age, I knew I wanted to study the past to honor the stories and lives of those who lived before me. My experience at the University of Tennessee has taught me how to research and comprehend challenging texts and break down complicated historical concepts engagingly. As students, we were always taught how to do it in the confines of a classroom. The internship enabled me to gain the added step necessary to obtain employment following graduation and practical application of what I have learned over the past four years. We were taught about the importance of incorporating modern technology into the context of history. The purpose is to give everyday people a chance to learn more about local history through an immersive and revolutionary storytelling medium. This allowed interns to utilize Hodges Library’s special collections, where I, among others, could examine archival materials and primary sources related to the confrontations we were studying. We were guided in preserving such materials and digitizing information pages to integrate into our digital humanity projects.

Honestly, one of the best parts about the center is Dr. Magra and research assistant Matthew Kelley who gave the internship a personable feel. Both of them valued the interns’ opinions and gave us a lot of flexibility and respect while working there. I truly felt as if I was a part of the center and all that it stands for. Participating in this internship allowed me to expand on my passion for the subject and develop new skills in history and writing. I am grateful that I was able to share this passion and gain first-hand experience of what it is like to be a historian in the real world.

Sequoia Conkling

When I first read about the internship opportunity at the Center for Tennesseans and War last semester, I was instantly interested. As a freshman, I hadn’t yet gotten the opportunity to really dive deep into researching something that interested me, and so I thought the internship sounded like a great opportunity to really see what being a historian was all about. After completing this semester, I can say with certainty that I was right to be so excited. At the Center, it felt so good to be encouraged to discover what I was truly passionate about, instead of simply completing set assignments. I am so grateful that we were trusted enough to pick our own topics, and really make the projects our own. I feel like this semester has solidified not only my interest in becoming a historian, but also my interest in telling womens’ stories that have been so long ignored.

This semester has also left me feeling much more confident in my research skills. Prior to
this, I hadn’t really done much in depth research, so I was a little wary going in. However, I was
given such good insight into the research process, that now I feel confident in my ability for
future projects. I know that I have lots of research ahead of me, so now having these skills will
be so beneficial in the long run.

I also really enjoyed the camaraderie that I felt with my fellow interns this semester.
Since history isn’t such a dominating major, it’s hard to find other students who also find history
fascinating. That’s why it felt so good to spend time in a room with people who are also
passionate about uncovering stories and trying to bring them to light for future generations. It
certainly made me feel confident that this is what I am supposed to be doing, and for that I am
the most grateful.

Sam Konsavage

The internship was a great learning experience and provided many resources to excel in my history goals. Dr. Magra and Matthew Kelley were consistent and helpful throughout the entire internship. They allowed great freedom in our research and provided clear guidance. The center did a lot of great things for the local veterans, and I was glad to be a part of it. The internship was an enjoyable time, and I met great people who have made an incredible impact on my life in the short time we had together.

Kane Mathes

My experience during the internship this semester has been nothing short of amazing. I was afforded the opportunity to learn more about a family friend who sacrificed so much for our country. I was also able to make friends and have a place to laugh and bond with fellow history students. However, the best part of this experience was being able to tell the story of Tennesseans who gave so much to our country and see the other projects about many other veterans from our great state. The internship has without a doubt been one of the best opportunities I have had in my four years at the university and I would strongly encourage any other history majors to partake in the internship.

Jonathon Sharp

The internship at the Center for the Study of Tennesseans and War has been a great opportunity to further my skills as a writer and researcher. The projects I had the opportunity to work on were lots of fun to complete, and the feedback I received from Dr. Magra and Matthew was invaluable. Researching Edward Westcott and military photographers was immensely rewarding, and I was fascinated by the ways in which these veterans served their country. Not only did I learn a lot about the people I was researching, I also learned a lot about the processes of history and the ways in which historical works are completed. My experience at the Center was a great one, and it has been only of my favorite classes at UT!

Jackson Scott

On November 23, 1809 a man by the name of John Pickanes received 287 acres of land. This land grant was not a veteran land grant, however, it does hint toward the time of Tennessee history where land was being parceled out to early Tennessee settlers. The acreage was in Blount County and the grant was signed by the governor, Willie Blount. John Pickanes’ descendants would never leave either Blount County or Knox County. A couple decades later, a certain James Scott received a federal pension in 1832 in Knox County. This pension was for his time in the Revolutionary War. He served in North Carolina fighting the British then moved to the Karns area of Knox County later. Years later, on June 14, 1986, a certain Paula Pickens (the name had
changed by then) and Monty Scott would get married and have a son on August 26, 2000. That son was me. John Pickanes was certainly one of my ancestors; James Scott’s story is a bit more hazy, although we believe this to be the right James Scott.

After looking at my family history, I saw an opportunity with the Center for the Study of
Tennesseans and War. I could have a better understanding of the time of my ancestors, the early
history of my state, and record the story of veterans. So, I chose to focus on William Blount. He
was the half-brother of the man who signed John Pickanes land grant. He also has Blount
County, Blount Mansion, Blount Avenue, and Blount College (now the University of Tennessee
– Knoxville) named after him. Blount was the paymaster for the North Carolina soldiers during
the Revolutionary War. After the legislature realized they could not pay the soldiers with money,
they turned to land. So, they parceled out Tennessee for veteran land grants, specifically in
Middle Tennessee which they called the Cumberland District. Blount was then chosen to be the
governor of the Southwest Territory, the precursor to Tennessee. The North Carolina legislators
and specifically William Blount made and organized Tennessee, my home. Learning more about
Blount, veteran land grants, and Tennessee was extremely valuable. This internship allowed me
to acquire knowledge about veterans and record their stories while also exploring my own
personal history. It was an experience that was irreplaceable.

Drake Nettle

Being an intern at the Center has been a positive experience in more ways than one. First, the internship helped me attain a greater respect and understanding for the people who served in the military. Their service and sacrifice to something bigger than themselves is worthy of respect and coverage, so it is enriching to work with a program that promotes their stories. I feel like I have become a better researcher and historian during my time working at the Center, especially since the program promoted using archival works within Special Collections. Moreover, the Center has encouraged me to help veterans in my community, including cleaning veterans’ gravestones in the local cemetery. The stories of veterans are not confined to the pages of a textbook, but rather, they come to life when you see their memorials or visit Veterans’ Day events. I am grateful for these numerous opportunities the Center has granted me.

Finn Wheeler

When I first heard about the internship at The Center for Tennesseans and War, I was immediately interested in the opportunity to get some real research experience.  I was given the opportunity to do research on a subject that I was interested in, World War One and the individuals that fought in it. Specifically, my project was on Alvin C. York, one of the most famous and well decorated American soldiers of World War One. He is most famous for capturing over 130 German soldiers in one day. I found York’s story to be very interesting, and learned a lot more about World War One during my research. My time with the Center has been great, and has given me perspective on work that I would like to do with history in the future.

Peyton Snyder

Historians and history fans alike tend to fixate on the bigger, more dramatic episodes in our nation’s past. What is often lost—and what I have come to appreciate since working at the Center—are the details of everyday experiences; the minutiae that color our lives. While our main goal at the Center is to document the veterans’ experiences in wartime, our interviews house a treasure trove of significant anecdotes and telling details from bygone eras. Americans today might scarcely recognize the America of the 1920’s and 30’s. Shoes, for instance, appear to have held considerably more significance than they do today. Growing up in Louisiana, Jules Bernard (b. 1922) recalled that, on Sunday mornings, his neighbors would trudge barefoot down dirt roads their whole way to church; to keep their shoes clean and minimize wear, they’d wait until they arrived to put them on. Grady Corley (1916-2008) declared that, during the “misery” of the Great Depression, to have a good-fitting pair of shoes was the true mark of fortune. In his youth, Chattanoogan Charles Coolidge (b. 1921), one of the last four living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II, seems to have disregarded footwear altogether, scurrying barefoot across the industrial city to make some pocket change selling magazine.

Because many of the Center’s interviews have been conducted with veterans from East Tennessee, they reveal that domestic life in the region has evolved dramatically in the last century. Several readily admitted that they’d never lived with electricity until they moved into their barracks at Fort Bragg and Fort Oglethorpe. In the years leading up to World War II, only a handful of privileged Knoxvillians could speak fondly of pilot lights dangling from their kitchen ceilings. Outhouses were a ubiquitous phenomenon. Countless interviewees chuckle before joking that blustery Appalachian nights encouraged some of the quickest bathroom trips in the Volunteer State’s history. Running water, evidently, was only to be found in the more affluent communities in Knoxville and Chattanooga. Wages, too, have increased drastically. Coming from an environment where unskilled labor earned you less than a dollar a day, many Tennesseans positively jumped at the opportunity to enlist; privates in the US Army were paid $21 a month in December 1941. I marvel at how much has changed.

Looking back almost 80 years since the start of World War II, I find that these details of daily life—often forgotten or unappreciated by modern-day people—transform the way I view our past. A particularly witty WWII veteran and Knoxville native, incidentally named Benjamin Franklin (1925-2012), declared that his was in fact “the Desperate Generation,” and America has certainly come a long way since then. My time at the Center has instilled a deep sense of appreciation for these nuggets of historical context. If we are to truly understand our own history, we must record everything. Otherwise, we might take for granted the comforts of modern life: fitting shoes and in-house commodes.

Miranda Campbell

In my family, we like to tell stories. My favorite activity as a child was to curl up next to my mother or one of my grandparents and ask for a story from when they were little. They were all true stories, but that never seemed to make them any less interesting or exciting. I feel much the same when I work at transcribing oral histories for the Center. These are all stories that need to be told, to be written down, and preserved. They provide unique glimpses into the past, glimpses that we would never get to experience if not for the work of the Center and places like it.

Some of the stories may seem mundane, not centered in the thick of the action, but they all carry a visceral nature of how the veterans tell their stories. Interviewed veterans remember little things like how terrible the rations were, the trickiness of delivering ammunition in North Africa during the latter-half of World War II, how “Overcoat Charlie” got this nickname (he never was able to find an overcoat that fit him), or wishing that he had been able to keep that piece of paper with a message from President Eisenhower wishing the overseas troops well. In all of this, I seem to come back to those moments, which shine through the violence of military conflict.

Although the Center’s main objective is to collect, preserve, and share oral histories from veterans, it also undertakes compelling work in other venues. I have spent time attempting to locate soldiers [names] within the memorial lists that have attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to aid in future memorial projects. Looking through the long list of East Tennessean names, I discover that many of them have no stories to accompany their memory. Some that are lucky enough to have additional information, such as Staff Sargent Jeppie Payne, who died during the Vietnam War. Payne extended his tour of duty so that his son, also enlisted at the time, would not be shipped overseas. There are countless stories of men who died trying to save a member of their unit and countless more with no explanation at all.

Oral histories from veterans are important not merely for all the information they provide about military structure, leadership, and strategy, but to get a better understanding of how large-scale conflict affects both those who serve and those around them. While it may seem counterintuitive to study war and society together, they move throughout history in tandem. Our work at the Center is incredibly important because stories matter. History is built on stories and to gain understanding of the complex strands of history you need as many stories from as many points of view as possible. The Center helps us accomplish this goal.

Bryson Williams

War is bloody, vile, and cruel.  Those who have seen combat first-hand will echo this statement and likely see it as an understatement.  When studying war, scholars often are consumed with the macro-details of conflict.  Massive battles and decisions made by brass at the top of the chain of command typically steal the spotlight and dominate the content we read when studying war.  While the victory at Normandy and the decisive strategies implemented by Admiral Nimitz are defining characteristics of US military history, we frequently overlook the impact that war has on a micro-level.  According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, roughly 57 million Americans have served in the US Armed Forces during a time of conflict.  That is 57 million different experiences, 57 million unique attitudes, and 57 million diverse stories to be told.  The Center does its part to ensure that as many of these accounts as possible do not slip through the cracks into forgotten history.

While working at the Center this semester has provided me with a newfound appreciation for all that have served our nation.  While I am confident that the overwhelming majority of service members would not bat an eye when faced with a life or death combat situation, most do not see the opportunity.  We traditionally view bravery and valor as attributes of those decorated with medals and ribbons, but chest candy comes only with an opportunity to showcase those traits.  Working at the Center has reinforced the fact for me that every veteran possesses these qualities, but not always in the traditional sense that we see in war movies. 

I had the privilege of transcribing an interview with Captain Robert Moore, US Army, who left for one of the deadliest combat zones in all of Vietnam in 1968.  Willingly putting himself in that sort of danger takes a great deal of courage, but what really stood out to me is the fact that Captain Moore volunteered to serve overseas knowing that he may not return to his wife and two children.  Captain Moore sustained injuries, faced near-death encounters, and lost good friends during his year in Vietnam.  Despite the terror he saw overseas, he still recounts that the separation from his family was worst of all.  Captain Moore will likely never have a movie made about his life or a statue erected in his honor, but the true beauty of the work accomplished at the Center is that his stories and experiences can live on and give him the recognition he deserves for valiantly serving this country. 

My time at the Center has also offered me an appreciation for who these service members are as human beings.  As a Navy veteran myself, I am aware that military life can sometimes be mundane and repetitive.  Some of my favorite stories I heard were not of courageous acts on the battlefield, but instead those about the daily lives of service members and how they passed the time between missions.  For example, I had the great honor of interviewing Henry Cooper, a World War II Army veteran who served in Burma.  At ninety-five years old, Mr. Cooper was still as full of life as ever, and even told us about his bond with pet monkey in Burma.  Whether it is playing a game of spades on the mess deck, pulling pranks on your Officer in Charge, or taking a primate in as a pet, the Center’s research allows us to hear stories about the unparalleled friendships, comradery, and unforgettable memories formed while serving, reinforcing the US military as the greatest fraternity in the world.

The accounts of veterans are precious and widely taken for granted, which is why the Center’s website offers access to dozens of these interviews in both audible and transcript form, readily available for viewing.  It is of unequaled pertinence that these memories stay available to the public as a reminder of the sacrifices made and effects that war has extending beyond the battlefield.

Zachary Brooks

Most history is forgotten. That is true whether it be the conquest of by the so-called “sea peoples” of the late Bronze Age or the experiences of layman twenty years ago. Most of the past is relegated to the dust bin of history; the Center endeavors to rescue the pages of history hitherto left to fade away. The Center tells the stories that we never get to hear. Instead of dealing with war’s geopolitics and the great men who conducted them, the Center relates the stories of the men and women on the ground. They tell our stories.

To listen to and transcribe these stories is an immense privilege, especially for an historian in training like myself. The Center has given me the unique opportunity to see history from a whole new perspective. Instead of using primary sources others have gathered, I am creating the sources that future historians will utilize in their research. Though transcribing interviews can be frustrating due to the foreign nature of military vernacular, the frequent rewinding, and the strict format the experience has been instrumental in improving my abilities as a historian.

Perhaps my greatest take away from my experience at the Center is the power of oral histories. The oral histories act to bring the experiences of veterans to life. Conflicts such as the Vietnam War transition from a controversial War in America’s past to an intense, very real drama, filled with more heartache and humor than any Hollywood movie.

The Center has allowed me to contribute to a field that I am extremely passionate about as well as enrich myself. Though much of history is lost to us, my experience at the Center is one I will not soon forget.

Sam Allender

My work and time at the Center is precious to both myself and the academic realm of history, but most importantly to the American veterans whose life stories I have the unique honor of transcribing. As part of my duties, I listen to interviews and hear the veterans recall their service, their early life, and their life since leaving the service. This allows for a vivid painting and understanding of how war has interacted with them and changed the way they were brought up, or how they carried on after the war. I have had the privilege to work on the interviews of two World War II veterans, both of whom are now in their nineties. While sometimes a struggle to transcribe due to occasional hiccups resulting from age such as memory loss, this work is extremely important, as these veterans’ memories and experiences are able to live on through these records.

One of the two veterans, James “Bud” Mynatt, was a bomber pilot in the Army Air Corps and flew during the D-Day invasion. Born in Fountain City, Tennessee, Bud enlisted while still in high school and entered service immediately following his graduation. He flew both the B-24 and B-25, only switching to the latter after his B-24 “Great Speckled Bird” (named after its many patched bullet holes) was shot down over France. This hero from the Knoxville area returned to civilian life afterwards and started the first Mercedes-Benz dealership in Knoxville. This particular interview and life story has stuck with me as a reminder that veterans are normal people put in extraordinary situations who have grit and determination. It is here that the oral interview and transcribing process show their worth, since veterans such as James Mynatt deserve to have their life experiences permanently recorded for future remembrance, appreciation, and study.

The Center provides a place for memories to live on. The introduction of modern technologies has made this work not only easier to complete, but also more accessible by those who wish to learn. The Center’s website has hundreds of completed transcriptions so that other students, researchers, or everyday people can easily access these veterans’ stories. It is important these memories stay accessible, as a reminder of the difficulties of conflict, and a reminder that the people interviewed have experienced more than most would in a lifetime. Their memories must live on, and the Center has the unique privilege to bear that torch.