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History project examining key role of Washington’s 161st Infantry Regiment finds rare WWII footage

Sometimes you just get lucky.

Orlan Svingen
Orlan Svingen

Washington State University graduate students Laura Briere and Jared Chastain, along with their faculty adviser, historian Orlan Svingen, were in College Park, Maryland last spring looking for information about the storied 161st Infantry Regiment when they stepped off the elevator on the wrong floor.

It turned out to be a fortunate mistake.

They’d hoped to find old photographs and other paper documents from the Washington National Guard regiment’s World War II deployment but stumbled onto something even more dramatic. Specifically, an old film reel containing never-before-publicly viewed footage of the unit’s fierce, island-by-island march across the Pacific.

“I wasn’t expecting any video clips,” says Briere, a school teacher from Richmond, Virginia working on a history master’s at WSU in Pullman. “We had gone there hoping to find documents, paperwork and maybe some pictures.”

They came away with so much more.

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WSU Insider

Always at the Front: Native American soldiers and WWI

Ryan BoothRyan W. Booth, a Ph.D. student in history at Washington State University and member of the Upper Skagit tribe, gave his talk “They Are Always at the Front” Tuesday night at Wolff Auditorium, discussing the contributions of Native American soldiers during World War I.

Despite assimilation being well-studied, he explained that martial race theory, which says that certain races of men are more war-like than others, has only been recently discussed. He added that both of these concepts help explain some of the motivations behind Native men volunteering for service during the war.

Using anecdotes, Booth explained how the spirit of most Native soldiers was of valiance and bravery, and that the front represented the greatest chance of death, but also the greatest freedom away from the strictures of Army life.

Through the martial race theory, World War I military sought to “identify and exploit” these groups to fight for their side, but the same armies supported efforts to assimilate these indigenous soldiers into Euro-American culture.

“The odd nature of attitudes towards Native Americans in the World War I period is the two-faced aspect of it,” Booth said. “On the one hand, Natives represented a fierce fighting force backed up by millennia of ancient warrior culture. On the other hand, that same culture was under assault at home as the assimilation projects, such as boarding schools, attempted to eradicate all remnants of that indigenous culture.”

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Gonzaga Bulletin

WSUV professor authors book on slavery

Woman, children were enslaved on Indian Ocean island

France probably isn’t the first country to pop into your mind when you think of nations with a convoluted and ugly history of slavery, but a new book by WSU Vancouver history professor Sue Peabody may change that.

Sue Peabody
Sue Peabody

Peabody, an international expert in French colonial slavery in the Indian Ocean, released her book, “Madeleine’s Children,” through Oxford University Press on Oct. 3. The book tells the tale of Madeleine, a slave brought to France as a teenager in 1772, and her children, Furcy, Constance and Maurice, who were illegally enslaved on Reunion Island, a French Indian Ocean colony at the time. The story traces her son Furcy’s struggles to gain his freedom through a corrupt and convoluted system of colonial rule.

“It’s really a remarkable piece of work,” said Brett Rushforth, an assistant professor at the University of Oregon who read Peabody’s manuscript for Oxford University Press. “It’s amazing how those worlds interconnected. In India, you have complicated colonial rules, legal statuses and servitude. You have France’s sugar islands, and then you have France itself. These three things are very different from each other and yet end up intertwined.”

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The Columbian

‘When you close your eyes and think of Clark County’

Diverse group shares what Clark County, Washington, is to them and how it shaped their lives.

The exhibit, “I Am Clark County,” is an oral examination of Clark County that looks at 12 unique lives. The subjects—or “narrators” as they are called by their interviewers—represent a diverse group through a variety of religions, races, jobs, ages and personal histories.

Donna SinclairThe exhibit is the brainchild of Donna Sinclair, instructor of history at Washington State University Vancouver. Sinclair laid the groundwork for the exhibit during WSU Vancouver’s spring semester by teaching a group of her history students how to interview and put together an exhibit.

The goal, as Sinclair describes it, was to talk with “ordinary Clark County citizens. Through the lens of their experience we can learn something about this place,” she said.

The physical exhibit itself features a descriptive poster of each subject, with various aspects of their lives highlighted, an assortment of graphics of both the subject and things pertaining to their life and three to five ways the subjects identify themselves. Next to each poster, hanging on the wall with headphones, are the interviews.

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The Reflector

With 75 years of perspective, we can re-examine the legacy of Pearl Harbor even as we honor those who served

By Raymond Sun, associate professor of history, WSU Pullman.

The living memory of the attack on Pearl Harbor is almost extinguished. It’s time to rethink how we want to remember Dec. 7, 1941, 75 years later—and beyond.

Ray Sun

To acknowledge the many negative effects that the memory of Pearl Harbor had on how Americans fought the Pacific War is not only intellectually and historically honest, but provides the moral integrity required to build a national memory that can guide us wisely in the present when facing severe challenges about race, religion, refugees, immigration and national security. This is neither to deny the honor due to the dead of Pearl Harbor, nor to displace the site from its central place in American memory.

Seventy-five years later, we have a great opportunity to craft a more mature, complex understanding of the multiple legacies of Pearl Harbor.

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The Spokesman-Review