By Jeff Lagrone
GREENWOOD, S.C. – “Langdon Liberando: An Abbevilian’s Fifty Missions Over Southern Europe,” the third book that Lander University Adjunct Professor of History Dr. Joe Camp has written about local veterans in World War II, began with a conversation four years ago between him and Abbeville County Museum Curator Jenny Hagan Kelly.
“She called me out of the blue and said, ‘we’ve got these papers, and they were just dropped here. Can you look at them and see if you can make a book out of it?’”
The papers included the diary and photo album of Lieutenant Langdon H. Wilson, a member of the 513th Squadron, attached to the 376th Bombardment Group. Other items included his flight log, various documents related to his service, and a piece of shrapnel removed from Wilson’s leg after the B-24 bomber he was in was attacked by enemy aircraft during a mission over Sofia, Bulgaria on December 20, 1943.
“I looked at the material and said, ‘well, I don’t think you have enough for a book, but we can make a story, if we get enough research materials to surround him with a story.’”
According to Camp, who earned a Ph.D. in American history at West Virginia University, “that process took a long time.” In fact, he said, “I was still getting material into this past summer. There was a lot of stuff that came in very late and changed the story.”
The experience of researching his first book, “32 Answered: A South Carolina Veterans’ Story,” was similar to that of researching “Langdon Liberando,” in that “it took a long time to get the sources together.”
The title of the book refers to the 32nd Infantry Division, or “Red Arrows,” one of the first units sent to the Pacific following the Japanese capture of the Philippines. The title also refers to the 32 South Carolinians, including soldiers from Greenwood, who were part of it.
Camp set out to write about a Life magazine photojournalist who was covering the war, but facts that came to light during his research changed the direction of the story. As he says, “it morphed into this other thing.”
The staggering losses suffered by the Red Arrows during the New Guinea campaign also influenced the direction of the book, a finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
“Some of those companies had two or three people left in them,” he said. “A lot of those guys didn’t come back.”
Compared to his first and third books, “A Ride with the Red Bulls: An Ambulance Driver’s War in the Mediterranean Theater” was relatively easy, because of a 162-page journal left behind by the subject of the book, Laurens County veteran James Pierce Senn.
Camp, who teaches history at Cambridge Academy as well as at Lander, said that Senn’s journal was “very precise. It had gaps in it, but it was lengthy. It taught a lot about the Italian campaign that you don’t usually see.”
Camp was interested in World War II from a young age, but what motivated him to write the three books –- available locally at McCaslan’s Bookstore –- was the fact that “a lot of the older veterans were on their way out.” When he began his research, a number of them were still alive. Now “all of them are gone.”
The generation of Americans that took part in World War II has been called the “Greatest Generation,” but Camp doesn’t think they would consider themselves great.
“I think they would say, ‘we had a job to do. We were attacked.’”
Winning World War II required a group effort, according to Camp, with the United States playing a leading role.
“Hitler was not going to back down. I don’t think the Russians could have defeated him without Lend Lease,” which provided the Soviets and other allies with American food, oil, vehicles and weaponry.
Revisionist histories have cast doubt on American motives for entering the war, but Camp isn’t buying it.
“There were legitimate reasons for going into that war,” he said. “It was the right thing to do.”