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Bex Hildebrand Reflects on Internship

Posted by Bex Hildebrand on Monday, January 11, 2021

This fall, interns from the University of Northern Iowa transcribed 54 letters from the museum’s archive in an off-site internship program.  Junior-year history major Bex Hildebrand gives us a look into their experience, including their thoughts on transcribing the letters of Pvt. Richard Bird, USAAF, of Independence, IA. Thank you, Bex!     

My name is Bex Hildebrand and I am from Pella, Iowa. I am a history major at the University of Northern Iowa. I am in my third year and my aim is to graduate with my bachelors in history, then go into graduate school for library science. Overall, I want to either work in a library or a museum, so when I was given the opportunity to intern at the Grout Museum I was very excited.  

The work I was given while interning at the Grout Museum was transcribing old letters from Iowan men in the army in 1946. I started off transcribing letters from a mother to her sons on a ship in the navy, and ended up transcribing letters from a man in the army to his mother. The most interesting letter of the set I was given was the very last one. It’s a fairly short letter from Richard Bird to his mother. Richard talks about the joy he feels when he receives a letter from his mother, and then inquires about people he knew from back home. The most interesting part about this letter, however, is at the very end. 

The night that I was over to Buckley 

the negroes all got in a fight with the white boys 

at the resturant [sic]. I guess the darkies were [crossed out] 

hitting the white boys with beer bottles. 

In this section Bird describes a small fight that he witnessed at a restaurant across the street from where he was stationed. Sometimes it is easy to forget that even though African Americans fought in World War 2 alongside white Americans, they were still discriminated against. The language Bird uses here, although insensitive in today’s world, were normal descriptors of African Americans in 1946. The context in which Bird describes this scene is lacking, as it is mentioned almost as a leftover thought. There is no commentary on it from Bird, simply the acknowledgement of a fight between some black boys and some white boys. This is what really interested me about this letter. 

I do not fully understand why Bird had included this in his letter, nor do I understand why he described it this way and then said nothing else. However, while transcribing Bird’s letters to his mother I began to feel a connection with him. I understood his worries about his late payment, the boredom he felt while in the infirmary with Scarlet fever, and the insecurity he felt when he did not know where he was going to be transferred. This small scene, only two sentences, brought me back to reality and reminded me of the differences between our two worlds. To see the world through Bird’s eyes was an informative and important experience. I am grateful to the Grout Museum for allowing me the opportunity to see the world through Bird’s eyes. 

Bird's original letter can be viewed here.

View Bird's letter, as transcribed by Bex here.

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