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Intern Spotlight: Tom Wagner

Posted by Tom Wagner on Friday, July 23, 2021

My name is Tom Wagner, and I am from Coralville, Iowa. I am currently a junior history major pursuing a museum certificate at the University of Northern Iowa. I aim to get by bachelors in history and then go to graduate school for my masters in museum studies at the University of New Orleans. Since I love working in a museum and plan to work in one in the future, I was ecstatic to get the opportunity to work as an intern with the Grout Museum.

Over this past spring semester I have been transcribing letters from Iowan soldier, Pvt. Richard W. Bird. These letters provided a much-needed insight into the war effort and the private lives of the soldiers that fought in the war. I especially enjoyed getting to read about all the small things that he would write home that I thought would not be worth mentioning. The small thing that he mentioned often that surprised me was how important sending photos home was. Over several letters he mentioned how he had gotten photos of him and photos of him with his friends. Although I didn’t see these photos I imagine that the images are treasured memories for him and his family. In one of his letters he mentions the importance of these photos.

I went down to the park

with my boyfriends we took pictures there

went to the show I had a nice time with

them two [sic]. If he gets the pictures out

I’ll try and get some off a [sic] him and

send them two [sic] you. Boy when I look at

those pictures I wished I was back home.

This portion of the letter gives a clear understanding of why he cares for these photos, they remind him home. I can’t begin to comprehend the homesickness that Bird and the other soldiers must have felt from being miles away from their home. Something I found heartwarming was the number of times he talked about all of his friends that he had made at the base. It gave me a peek into the behind-the-scenes comradery that happened between soldiers as they trained and grew together.

The sentence “Boy when I look at those pictures I wished I was back home” really grounded Bird in the real world for me. Often times when learning about the World Wars, I have found that not enough stories of the people in them are told and they turn into numbers on a slide. When in actuality they were soldiers with families and faced their own trials and tribulations along their way. I am beyond thankful to the Grout Museum for allowing me to transcribe these letters and see the world from Bird’s point of view.

Letter referenced

Letter transcription

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