Tag Archives: Dee Perguson

“I can’t describe this storm”

Damage near Key West from the 1935 Labor Day hurricane

Damage near Key West from the 1935 Labor Day hurricane

Hugo.  Andrew.  Katrina.  Ike.  Harvey.  Irma.   These names no longer bring people to mind, but rather destructive hurricanes that have visited the United States.  The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections offers many firsthand experiences of these terrifying weather events.  We have already mentioned Andrew in a previous blog, but here are a few more accounts of hurricanes, both named and unnamed:

It was a vicious storm, seemed as tho the world had come to an end. . . .  I wanted to make a dash for the mainland but by that time our car was flooded and it’s a good thing we didn’t start as the storm returned with such greater fury that we would have no doubt been blown in the bay. — Lena Standrod, Miami, Florida, 1926

Miamians know what these hurricanes mean, therefore they know how to make thorough preparations. . . .  The big leaves on the palm trees fluttered on the trees like feathers in a breeze.  Few coconuts fell; they have a good supple stem I suppose.Dee Perguson, Miami, Florida, 1944

Hugo’s aftermath is far more powerful than his presence. . . .  Outside the scene was shocking.  It looked like a war zone.  The German lady up the street said it reminded her of Berlin after the war, except there weren’t any bullet holes.John Lee Disher, Summerville, South Carolina, 1989

After the murderous hurricane that struck Galveston, Texas in September 1900, a traumatized Ellen (Temple) Parker wrote a heartbreaking letter to her sister. “At 2 o’clock Saturday Sept. 8, I looked out and saw the gulf water backing up 32nd Street,” she recalled.  She summoned her husband home from work just as the waves and wind intensified, but he was stranded, unable to secure a carriage or horse at any price.  “I was entirely alone with the children until the worst of the blow was over,” she wrote, “and did not know what second our house would go” and her “babies would be at the mercy of the water and flying timbers.” Praying and reading to her children to stay calm, she fought the urge to “scream with fear” over the fate of her husband.  The family home lost several windows and much of its roof, but stood.  Ellen’s husband finally made it home the next day and they evacuated to Fort Worth.  “Mary,” Ellen declared to her sister, “I can’t describe this storm.  What you see in the papers is not over drawn; if anything it was even worse than the papers put it.”  Thankful that the family had escaped with their lives and at least some of their belongings, Ellen faced her next challenge: to recover her nerves and “get to be myself again.”

Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections.  For more of our firsthand accounts of hurricanes, tornadoes and storms, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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V-J Day: “It has passed like a tornado”

Happy warriors: Dee Perguson and Chester Travelstead

Happy warriors: Dee Perguson and Chester Travelstead

Kentuckians heard the first report on August 13, 1945: the war with Japan was over.  Stationed at a center for returning servicemen in Miami, Florida, Ohio County native Dee Perguson reported that “a scream rose to the roof” among his fellow soldiers listening to the radio.  On duty at an air base in India, McLean County native John Owens witnessed joyful men “firing off flare guns, machine guns, pistols and hollering at the top of their voices.”

Unfortunately, the report was premature and quickly retracted.  As surrender negotiations continued, Perguson stayed close to the radio, “hoping to hear the longed-for news.”  Angry at both the false report and Japan’s apparent recalcitrance, he declared himself “all in favor of dropping some more atomic bombs to help them decide to accept.”

Still, when the surrender was confirmed on August 15 — Victory in Japan Day — Perguson had a hard time believing that, at last, “the United States is not at war.”  Navy officer Chester Travelstead, stationed in Seattle, agreed.  Writing to his mother, WKU music teacher Nelle Travelstead, of the atomic bomb, the negotiations and the surrender, he remarked that “It has passed like a tornado.”

But there was little calm after the storm.  First came the celebrations.  In Miami, Dee Perguson witnessed streets filled with people and cars, a Navy band playing, Russian trainees bellowing out songs, and soldiers and sailors trading hats in a communal expression of joy.  Bars and liquor stores had closed the moment the surrender was announced, but “many people who had prepared for the day had their bottles.”  In Seattle, Chester Travelstead wrote, “Everybody kissed everybody.  Paper was thrown from the buildings by the wagonload . . . . The horns tooted a constant din; people shouted and ran.”

Then came the avalanche of work, gathering force since V-E Day, that would be necessary to accomplish the orderly demobilization of millions of soldiers.  The day after V-J Day, Travelstead found himself deluged with directives and orders.  Perguson, working in one of many Miami hotels commandeered by the military, expected to be kept busy either reassigning soldiers who remained in service or providing occupational counseling to veterans returning to civilian life.  And both men were thinking about where they stood in the long line of servicemen eager to get their discharge papers, go home and get on with their lives.

Letters of Kentuckians about V-J Day are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click on the links to access finding aids.  For other collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“A Better Person for the Experience”

Dee Carl Perguson, Jr.

Dee Carl Perguson, Jr.

Graduating from high school at age 16, Dee Carl “D.C.” Perguson, Jr. (1921-2010) left his home in Horse Branch (Ohio County) in 1938 to attend Western Kentucky State Teachers College (now WKU).  He earned a bachelor’s degree in history, then entered the U. S. Army.  Perguson served in North Africa and Italy, where he was wounded in January 1944 and sent home to recover.  Earning his master’s degree in 1947, Dee began a life of teaching, travel and volunteerism.

Highlighting the personal papers of Dee Perguson, now part of the collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library, are his correspondence and diaries.  Begun while Perguson was a student at WKU, his diaries offer a detailed account of college life in the shadow of World War II.  During his military service, Perguson kept up a faithful correspondence with his parents in Horse Branch. After being wounded in action, he tried to reassure them.  “My injury is not really bad,” he wrote.  “Two bullets hit my arm, one bone is broken in my upper arm.  Done up in my plaster cast I am in fine shape” and, he continued, “probably a better person for the experience.”

Perguson’s post-war correspondence details his political, church and volunteer activities during his career as a high school teacher in Seattle.  He also kept journals documenting his year in England as a Fulbright Scholar (1949-1950) and his travel to the Soviet Union and Central America.  Ever the historian, Perguson also wrote retrospective essays about his youth and family in Horse Branch.

Click here to download a finding aid for the Dee Carl Perguson, Jr. Collection.  For other collections relating to Ohio County, World War II and more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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