after finishing Emory law school, Alaimo went on to serve as
the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern
District of Georgia for fourteen years and, at eighty-three,
the Emory Medalist is still active as a distinguished senior
judge in Brunswick, Georgia.
is part of a distinct, close-knit group of World War II veterans
who attended the Emory School of Law in the years 1947-1951,
most of whom were on the GI Bill. For many years these classes
have maintained their special bond, gathering regularly at dinners
and social events. These men and their stories are now the focus
of the Emory Oral History Project: WWII Era, an effort to preserve
their experiences and memories for future generations of Emory
think I have stayed in touch with many of these people for all
these fifty-five years because we were close, we still are close,
says Bill Paul 48L,
who has served as a leader for the project. We had this
shared experience of World War II, and most of us were very
young at the time. It was sort of a glue that bonded us together.
who wrote a novel called The Road He Chose about his own life
and military experience, has long cultivated an interest in
an oral history resource at Emory, similar to an archive at
Rutgers University that offers some three hundred taped interviews
with alumni. He and law school administrators, including Martha
Fagan, director of alumni relations, and Rosanne Patton, assistant
dean for development, sent out surveys earlier this year to
as many of the World War II alumni as they could find, and have
received more than fifty completed forms.
himself has conducted seventeen videotaped interviews, each
lasting about an hour and a half. The interviews cover the years
leading up to the war, the subjects military experience,
and his legal career. These interviews will eventually be transcribed
and edited into shorter, more polished form, and all material
will be archived in the law school library.
Alaimos story, a number of the acccounts are surprising,
harrowing, and inspiring. Jim Starnes
42C-49L, for instance, was the navigator on
the famous battleship the USS Missouri and told of a young Japanese
Kamikaze pilot who crashed into the side of the ship, doing
only minor damage. His body flew up on deck, and the American
crew gave him a full military funeral. At twenty-four, Starnes
also was officer of the deck when the Japanese came aboard to
sign official surrender documents in Tokyo Bay on September
2, 1945. Grainy, black-and-white photos reveal Starnes, a tiny
figure standing on a deck above General Douglas MacArthur and
Japanese officers, as Paul says, overseeing the great
during the interviews [the alums] have gotten emotional, because
several of them told me they had not thought about these events
in years, Paul says. But these are tough people.
They hold together pretty well.
C. Tanksley49L, who lost both legs and one
eye in the war and received a Silver Star and Purple Heart,
returned to attend Emory law school and in 1956 became the youngest
superior court judge ever elected in Fulton County. Though Tanksley
died in 1996, Paul conducted extensive research and interviewed
his wife for the oral history project.
hopes current Emory law students will draw inspiration from
these stories, particularly since a number of the World-War-II-era
graduates came from humble beginnings and used the GI Bill and
Emory to launch remarkable and distinguished legal careers.
Many attended the evening law program that Emory offered at
the time so they could simultaneously work and meet family obligations,
continuing law school right through summers, so that classes
blurred together and brought all these students closer together.
We felt like we had lost a lot of time, Paul says.
hope students will gain a great deal from this, if for no other
reason than its an example of how some people really made
something of their lives from a good education, Paul says.
Some of these people came from families where from an
economic standpoint they were at ground zero. Jeff Tanksley
was born in a two-room cabin in Banks County, the first of ten
an institutional perspective, these veterans also are pivotal
to the law schools history, says Rosanne Patton. The
law school at the time of the war had very, very few students,
and there was a huge possibility that it would just close its
doors, she says. When the GI Bill was put in place
it brought this tremendous influx of students. Thats the
group that really made the law school what it is today.
oral history project has inspired leaders at the law school
to plan a trip to Normandy for alumni, D-Day Remembered.
The trip, scheduled for May 2004, will coincide with the sixtieth
anniversary of the Normandy invasion.
than anything, though, Paul is seeking to safeguard the life
stories and the accomplishments of his classmates.
own hope is that the oral history project is going to preserve
what these people did, so it wont ever be totally forgotten
in this country, he says. For historians, I think
this can be a great place to go because they are getting information
and experiences described by the people who actually lived them.
I do believe these are things that deserve not to be forgotten.
this project has been a true labor of love for me. Ive
loved every minute of it.P.P.P.