Fall 2023 Veterans History Project Interviews
The students in Dr. Lauren Rule Maxwell’s Fall 2023 graduate Advanced Composition class conducted oral history interviews with a diverse group of U.S. veterans to learn about their military experiences. In addition to conducting interviews, the students incorporated the veterans’ stories into a range of writing exercises, including abstracts and feature articles, which appear with the interviews online.
Click on the hyperlinked headings below to see video recordings of the interviews, which also will be archived in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. It is our hope that, by capturing these histories, the interviews will do justice to the veterans’ stories while paying homage to their legacy and the principled leadership they inspire.
Many people deserve thanks for helping make this project a reality. In particular, we’d like to thank Lawrence Galasso, John Stabinger, and the staff of The Daniel Library.
Interview of Elise A. Cromwell by Delores A. Belin-Burns, November 3, 2023
Early in life, Elise had a self-fulfilling prophecy of Military Service. Army Private First Class Cromwell was born October 30, 1960, in segregated South Carolina at the Medical College Hospital, now known as the Medical University of South Carolina. The older African Americans of her neighborhood, who suffered poverty and discrimination, expected young people to get an education and secure good employment to improve themselves and their community. The elders in the community would pose the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Elise’s consistent response was a desire to join the military. In the interview, she explains, “I wanted to be a part of the military to help my parents out of poverty, to help others through nursing, and to travel the world.” She successfully accomplished all these goals.
After high school, Elise enlisted before her 18th birthday with her parents’ permission. Serving in the Army with dignity and honor for three years, she traveled to Georgia, Alabama, Texas, and Germany, receiving an honorable discharge in 1983. Following her discharge, Elise shifted her focus toward pursuing a career in nursing, driven by her determination to help people. She has since devoted more than 40 years to the health profession and currently holds the position of Surgical Nurse at her birth hospital, serving others as a master’s level Registered Nurse.
Among her many accomplishments, Elise takes extraordinary pride in her financial contributions to her parents, which significantly improved their quality of life. Upon completing her basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, an allotment was drafted to support her parents. Elise’s journey is an inspiring story of resilience, perseverance, and courage.
Interview of Ashlyn Howard by Kathleen Cooper, November 3, 2023
Ashlyn Howard is a person of both great determination and great character. Having joined the Army right after enrolling in college, she secured the post of HR specialist in the Army reserves stationed in Fort Jackson during her senior year of high school. After attending basic training, she had a hard time adjusting back into everyday life. Because of this, she decided to leave the University of South Carolina, ultimately leading to her deployment to Iraq. During her time there, Ashlyn worked as an HR personnel and was charged with keeping track of more than 4,000 people every day.
While the first part of her deployment went well, there was an attack on their base in January of 2020. This proved to be a turning point for Ashlyn: The historic attack helped strengthen her resolve to serve in the military. She has risen through the ranks and achieved the designation of Sergeant by the age of 20. Ashlyn is currently working as a paralegal while also attending The Citadel as an undergraduate, majoring in marketing and business development. She plans on attending law school in the future but is looking forward to working in marketing for a while first.
Interview of Jesse “Cody” Hudson by Eleanor Mead, November 1, 2023
Born in Virginia, Veteran Jesse “Cody” Hudson has a heart for service and passion to do good. Once a troubled student, Cody spent his early years reacting negatively. From skipping class to getting into fights, it was clear that Cody needed a different track. Influenced by his grandfather, Lieutenant Commander Robert Little, 19-year-old Cody joined the Navy looking for structure and direction in his life. A lover of submarines, Cody was excited to become a Nuclear Electrician since he enjoyed studying the inner workings of machines and found enjoyment in learning about nuclear science.
During his service from 2016 to 2023, Cody moved from Virginia to New York for training and then to Washington to join the division of the USS Louisiana. Spending half of his time going underway and the other half in dry dock in Bremerton, Cody worked not only as a Nuclear Electrician but also as a Sponsor Coordinator and Work Controls Lead. During this time, Cody received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and many stellar evaluations from superiors. At the end of his sea tour, Cody was given orders to Charleston N.T.P.U and left with the Louisiana Captain’s personal number for recommendations. Now instructing at the same module that trained him so many years ago, Cody came back to Charleston with a sense of what it really means to be in the military and what new enlisted sailors need to prepare for. It was at this time that Cody discovered his love of teaching and counseling and started to make plans beyond the military.
Throughout the interview, Cody speaks about managing his medical condition in the military and issues that arose. Now medically retired, he reflects on the complex romanticization of the military that he associates with his grandfather’s stories of service while balancing the frustrations of his own experience. Now living with me, his wife, in Summerville, he embarks on his next chapter teaching and counseling young adolescents in whom he sees so much of his younger self.
Interview of Claude Hurst by Payton Caldwell, November 5, 2023
United States Marine Claude Hurst, Jr. remains part of an elite class of veterans who participated in one of America’s deadliest conflicts. Born April 15, 1958, in small-town Ceredo, West Virginia, Hurst was a quiet kid with only two goals in mind: finishing school and chasing girls, even the ones he couldn’t catch. Because he grew up around Ex-Marines, Hurst quickly became enamored with the idea of war and the adventure he could embark on if he enlisted in the ongoing U.S. conflict with Vietnam. He quickly learned, however, that war was nothing like what he had read about in books or witnessed on film.
From spending his days filling sandbags, operating on tanks, and eating rancid rations dating back to 1945 to encountering an aggrieved officer with no respect for West Virginians, for Hurst, Vietnam was anything but paradise. His only means of escape were the moments when he and his fellow troops would get together and play 60s rock songs on their guitars—a hobby he picked up when he was 11 years old. As most veterans note, the war and Vietnam as a place changed Hurst, both for the better and for the worse.
Today, Hurst is approaching over 50 years of marriage to his high school sweetheart, Marvine. The pair have three daughters together—Melanie, Randi, and Marsha—and six grandchildren: Michael, Taylor, Erika, Emily, Tanner, and Ana. Despite being plagued by PTSD, Parkinson’s Disease, and a lingering sciatic nerve injury in his leg after being wounded in combat, Hurst, now 75, still has not allowed himself to slow down. After retiring as a Special Education Teacher from the Wayne County School System and being part of the Huntington Nickel Plant team for 35 years, Hurst spends his days writing about his experience as a former member of the military. To date, he has published a collection of short stories, Adventures in Hell: Volume One, and a short book, The Ravings and Savings of a Vietnam Veteran. In this interview, he mentioned having enough material to write a longer piece, but that it would “take some time.” Hurst also meets weekly with a Vietnam Veterans Group; the men get together and tell funny stories about the war, play guitar, and sing songs, just like in the old days.
Hurst is nothing short of a catalyst—his will to remain assertive, despite his ailments, and his decision to enter the service make him an ideal candidate for anyone wishing to learn more about the Vietnam War and about living life in a small town. It has been my honor to share his story.
Interview of Paul Langevin by Regan Hodges Farfone, November 7, 2023
Lt Col Paul J. Langevin served in the United States Air Force as a flight nurse in Bosnia as well as in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Born into a military family, Lt Col Langevin lived all over during his father’s time in the service as well as during his own deployments. He retired in 2016 after 20 years of service.
This interview covers Lt Col Langevin’s successful career, lessons he learned along the way, and challenges he feels the U.S. Military is currently facing. He explains what makes a good member of the Air Force and how misconceptions about his branch of service have formed. Lieutenant Colonel Langevin shares how the Air Force has evolved, the challenges surrounding recruiting and holding people accountable, and the importance of maintaining discipline within the unit.