KOKOMO, Ind. — R. Doorn Tower was just out of high school and studying at the General Motors Institute in Michigan when he was drafted into the Army. It was 1944, and he’d just turned 18.
While he was overseas, Tower traipsed across Europe, fighting out of foxholes and bunkering in a forest for a long, cold winter. Through the rest of his life, he would never forget his time in the military.
Decades later, one of his children, Kristen Snoddy, a lecturer at Indiana University Kokomo, is putting her father’s war experience to use in the classroom.
Snoddy is using a memoir Tower wrote before his death in 2003 to enhance her class World War II film and literature class, which she will teach for the second time this spring. Snoddy is taking a sabbatical this semester to work on the class, and she’s using her father’s history to do it.
“The purpose of the course is that we have names that are synonymous with WWII – generals, of course Adolf Hitler – but we really try to stress the impact and the contributions of the everyday person,” Snoddy said. “My dad is a good example of that. I can use his story to help students understand the sacrifices that people like he made.”
The memoir, titled “What did you do in the war, Grandpa?” is geared toward a young audience. It explains what his experience was like in a way that won’t traumatize readers, Snoddy said.
“So he wrote it with the idea that it was for the grandchildren,” Snoddy said. “There’s a sense of honesty there, but he doesn’t go into a lot of detail. You would grow up awfully fast. Think about him just being an 18 year old kid and what he went through.”
Using his memoir, Snoddy went on two European trips this year, once over the summer with another professor and once this fall with her sister, tracking her father’s movements through Europe and learning more about what he did during the war. She visited Normandy, where he landed a few months after D-Day, and several small towns he mentions in his memoir.
“It was extremely moving to be where our father was,” Snoddy said. “It was a blessing because it allowed (us) to actually stand some places that he stood and just appreciate what that meant.”
While he was away, Tower sent countless letters to his girlfriend, Joyce Marie. He initially wanted to propose before going overseas, but she told him to return home and then propose. He returned on February 9, 1946, and he proposed on Valentine’s Day.
Several years later, the two sat down and re-read all the letters they’d sent each other while he was overseas. Then, they tossed them into a fire.
“I think they thought they were personal and a time in their lives that was certainly significant, but they felt in some ways they were putting that to rest,” Snoddy said. “I certainly respect that. In some ways, it would have been a wonderful keepsake to have those letters, but I respect their wish to keep them between themselves.”
Snoddy hopes to connect with a publisher to turn her father’s memoir into some sort of non-fiction young adult book, either a biography or possibly a graphic novel. She also hopes to upload her father’s story to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, which allows people to upload information related to veterans.
She said she’s also looking forward to presenting her updated course next semester, and she said students have seemed especially interested in it.
“Sometimes I think this generation, the grandchildren of these veterans, there’s some criticism that they don’t care enough about history, but I saw the opposite,” Snoddy said. “This is a war that their grandparents fought in, and they’ve heard bits and pieces about it but they want to know more about it. So that has motivated me to obviously whenever I can to increase my knowledge, ability to teach the course.”
Source: Kokomo Tribune, http://bit.ly/2wtODW9
Information from: Kokomo Tribune, http://www.ktonline.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the Kokomo Tribune.