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‘Reminiscences and Reflections’

JPG Heritage Partnership
releases book of oral history

New book’s goal is to preserve
families’, workers’ sacrifices

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(February 2011) – “Every family member reaches a point where they wish they had sat down and listened to the old stories,” says Mike Moore.
Many people can identify with this sentiment, realizing only after it is too late that they should have spent more time listening to old family tales of the way things used to be. However, members of the Jefferson Proving Ground Heritage Partnership are releasing a book to preserve stories important to the history of southern Indiana and to the families of those whose lives were changed forever by the U.S. Army ammunition testing base. Moore, who served at JPG first as a mathematician and later as the supervisor of the Data Reduction Branch, explains that, “This book published by the Partnership was our attempt to keep these memories alive and relevant.”

JPG Heritage Partnership Group

Photo provided

The JPG Heritage Partnership are
(from left) Mike Moore, Millie Busch,
Robert Irwin, Carl Busch, Norma Lou
Irwin, Ken Knouf, Ilene Harsin, Ron
Harsin, Louis Munier, Sue Dilk and
Charles Dilk. Their new history
book on JPG is due out soon.

“Reminiscences and Reflections” will go on sale March 7 at the Jefferson County Historical Society in Madison, Ind., and at Historic Hoosier Hills in Versailles, Ind. The product of several years of work, the final book includes transcriptions of interviews with those who lived on the land that became JPG and those who worked at the test site. In addition to rare, first-hand accounts of an important piece of Indiana history, the book also presents 80 photographs allowing readers to get a visual sense of the people whose lives were touched by the installation, and how the land was changed.
From 1941-1994, JPG served as an army testing site for ammunition, earning Madison the nickname of “Boomtown” as windows would shake from the explosions. Yet, before the once 55,000-acre site rang with munition blasts it was home to more than 2,000 residents who had to leave their homes and communities to make way for the testing grounds. As a way to share the experiences of workers at the site and residents who were relocated, the JPG Heritage Partnership has also voted to donate copies of the book to area libraries and historical societies.
“Reminiscences and Reflections” draws from hours of interviews with those associated with JPG. Hanover college professor Ruth Turner received a grant in the 1990s to have students interview JPG workers about their jobs. Moore recalls that,” We had a box full of audio tapes and they just sat there from 1996 through about 2004.” JPG Heritage Partnership webmaster Ron Harsin transferred the the tapes to CD and computer corrected some of the tapes that had been originally recorded at the wrong speed so that the interviews were then much easier to transcribe. The 115 tapes from Turner’s project grew to include about 20 interviews conducted by Moore. Out of a total of 110 interviews, about 30 were selected for inclusion in the book.

"Reminiscences & Reflections"

"Reminiscences
& Reflections"

Moore spent countless hours transcribing the interviews and assembling the manuscript and pictures for publication. He estimates that for every hour of recording, eight to 10 hours were spent painstakingly transcribing the conversations. With so much time invested in the work, Moore reflects that “I really got interested in other people’s lives. You feel like you’re sort of related to the person you’re interviewing” He speaks of a sense of obligation to do the best job possible on the book in honor of the people who shared so much of their history. He is grateful that grants from the Rising Sun Regional Foundation and the Jefferson Community Foundation allowed the book to become a reality.
Yvette Hayes who serves as the Garrison Manager’s Representative at JPG, said she hopes that “Reminiscences and Reflections” will remind people of the work done at JPG. She believes it is important that “no one forgets what we actually did and how dangerous it can be.”
While the grounds currently serve as a beautiful wildlife refuge, Hayes stresses that unexploded ordinances are still located on the site that will likely never be cleared away.
The JPG Heritage Partnership may work to preserve the past, but the group is also looking to the future. Already discussions have begun on their next project, a coffee table style book of photographs from the JPG site, showing the orchards that once dotted the landscape and the creeks that still flow. As a result of the research that went into Reminiscences and Reflections, “We’ve got hundreds of photos now,” says Moore. With luck, readers can anticipate another look back soon.

• For more information, visit: www.jpgheritage.org.

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