Wednesday, June 3, 2020

NEARA Staff Transcribe Oral Histories During Quarantine

NEARA staff have worked on archival projects from home.
Working from home for the last two months due to the COVID-19 quarantine has proven productive for the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives.  

NEARA staff have worked on archival projects that would have taken longer to complete based on the normal priority-driven archival processing scheduleStaff have been transcribing oral history interviews stemming from two projects: the Gathering Oral Histories project that NEARA launched in 2019 and the War Veteran Interviews collection that was donated to NEARA in 2015. The veteran interviews were conducted by Nettleton High School students in Jonesboro 

The Gathering Oral Histories project is NEARA’s endeavor to collect oral histories from Northeast Arkansas, and it is an ongoing initiative involving the active participation of the local community as interviewees and interviewers. As interviewers, local participants are able to check out NEARA recording equipment, which is comprised of two digital recorders, one cassette recorder and two small mikes. Interviewers alternatively can use their own equipment, such as smart phones, tablets and recorders to capture quality oral histories 

So far, five interviews have been collected for the project. The interviews were conducted by Fatme Myuhtar-May, archival manager at NEARA; Lindsay Penn, a long-time NEARA associate; and Vesta Smith of the Lawrence County Historical Society. Interviewees include Steven Saunders, Nancy Odum, and Lesia Sloan-Phillips and Gary Phillips, all of Lawrence County. 

The interviews total over eight hours of recorded audio and 186 pages of transcribed text, singe-spaceNEARA staff were able to access the audio recording remotely and transcribe the interviews. The transcriptions, along with the audio files, will be made available on the Arkansas State Archives website soon.  

The War Veteran Interviews collection, as originally donated to NEARA in 2015, includes video interviews with war veterans from Northeast Arkansas on DVDs. During the quarantine, NEARA staff converted most of the interviews from video files to digital audio files to facilitate the transcription of the interviews and to improve their portability following compression. Over 10 video interviews have been converted to audio files and compressed so far, amounting to over six hours of recording, and four interviews have been transcribed, totaling about 40 pages. These interviews have yielded a fascinating array of stories from WWII and Vietnam War veterans. For example, Larry Creek, a native of Corning who, when confronted with the inevitability of being drafted, voluntarily joined the Air Force. He found himself flying a P-38 Lightning aircraft against Japanese forces in New Guinea during WWIIAfter the war, he was determined to make a better life for himself and to never return to cotton farming. As a result, he enrolled at Arkansas State University and eventually transferred to optometry school in Memphis. Another Air Force veteran Paul Caukin of Rockwell also chose to enlist rather than wait for a draft notice during WWIIHe was joined to a B-17 Flying Fortress crew and was sent to Europe during the war. One of the worst missions he recalled was a raid against a German aircraft assembly plant in 1944, when his plane was badly damaged and the crew crash-landed in the English Channel. During the ordeal, “I could smell death,” Caukin recalls 

Perhaps the most unusual story in the transcribed interviews belongs to Arkansan airman Buell H. Crider, who spent as much time instructing pilots as he served in combat. He recalled one mission  his third  over Austria during WWII. After traveling through a dense cloud bank, he looked out the window and noticed one of their own B-24 Liberator was veering away from the rest of the formationAt that very moment, a German anti-aircraft began firing at them with alarming accuracy. As it turned out, when Crider and his unit returned to base, the lone B-24 that had left their formation was not one of them, but a German pilot, operating an American aircraft. He had acted as a radio beacon for the German artillery, and it was pure luck that Crider and his unit survived that day.  
NEARA plans to complete the transcription of these war veteran interviews soon, as well as to continue adding to its oral-history interviews collection to benefit patrons and enrich Northeast Arkansas history 

For more information or to learn how to get involved, contact NEARA at  870-878-6521 or email Find more information about NEARA and the Arkansas State Archives at