Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Harry Siler, February 9, 2005

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - Peace Corps Close of Service (COS) process

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Partial Transcript: Tape three of interview with Harry Siler, continued on February 9th, 2005, Peace Corps Oral History Project, interviewer Jack Wilson.

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Siler what it was like to come back to the U.S. after living in South Africa. Siler responds by explaining the Close of Service (COS) process that the Peace Corps undertakes when volunteers leave their assignments. Siler explains that volunteers reconvene with each other before returning home and changes the topic to discuss the initial training that his volunteer group went through when first arriving in South Africa. He mentions how the volunteers were sworn in for service in the U.S. and how the volunteers were dispersed after their training. After this brief interlude, Siler returns to the topic of COS by stating the volunteers assembled in Pretoria at Peace Corps headquarters so that the Peace Corps could inform volunteers about services available to them in getting home and to summarize the work volunteers did while on assignment and help them prepare for jobs when returning to the U.S. Siler explains that the last three or four days in before a volunteer's departure are spent filling out paperwork in preparation for their return to the U.S. Siler states that there isn't a choice of what flight you take back because the Peace Corps gets you the ticket and you return home. Siler discusses the route he took in his attempt to return to Williamsburg, Kentucky before he became ill and diverted his trip to Florida to be with his son. Siler discusses the illness he acquired before leaving South Africa and his sadness to be leaving a place he had been so happy in. Siler describes the various experiences that he had in the days leading to his departure.

Keywords: Close of Service (COS); Completion of Service (COS); Flights; Peace Corps; Peace Corps headquarters; Peace Corps narratives; Peace Corps services; Peace Corps volunteers; South Africa; Volunteer training; Williamsburg (Ky.)

Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.

GPS: Williamsburg (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.736667, -84.164722
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
00:31:23 - Managing illness / Running marathons

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Partial Transcript: So you came straight back to Knoxville?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Siler if he came straight back to Knoxville, Tennessee from South Africa. Siler answers that he arrived in Tampa first before deciding to visit his son and daughter in Florida. Siler discusses his family and the relationship he has with his son-in-law. He talks more about his health and the weight loss he experienced from his time in the Peace Corps. Siler mentions the Two Oceans Marathon and the Soweto Marathon, which he wanted to participate in before he left South Africa. He adds that he has recovered from his illness in the fact that he can walk and talk normally, but he can't run like he used to. Siler discusses the training he did to prepare himself for the marathons.

Keywords: Family life; Florida; Health conditions; Illnesses; Marathon training; Marathons; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Running; South Africa; Soweto Marathon; Two Oceans Marathon; Weight loss; Williamsburg (Ky.)

Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.

GPS: Williamsburg (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.736667, -84.164722
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
00:44:25 - Security and safety in South Africa vs. the U.S. / Return to Williamsburg, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So you came back, you're with your family in Florida. What got you back to Williamsburg?

Segment Synopsis: Siler recounts a story about going out on a walk with his son while in Florida and talks about how this experience highlighted the differences in the ways people think about security in South Africa and the U.S. Siler discusses the hardships and dangers facing many South Africans and states that he is thankful that the U.S. has managed to organize itself in a way where people don't have to be overly concerned with their safety. Siler returns to a previous question Wilson asked him about how he got home from Florida. Siler explains that he bought a truck from his son, since he had given his previous vehicle to a friend, and drove it all the way back to Williamsburg, Kentucky. Siler discusses Williamsburg's downtown and how it has changed for the worse since his days as a child.

Keywords: Domestic security; Feelings of safety; Feelings of security; Home security; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Safety; Security; South Africa; Travel; United States; Williamsburg (Ky.)

Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.

GPS: Williamsburg (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.736667, -84.164722
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
00:57:36 - Personal background and connections in Williamsburg, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: Uh, but, um, I, I got home and there were three people in Williamsburg, two of them live in Williamsburg, Bob and Sue Bird.

Segment Synopsis: In this segment, Siler talks at great length about the three people in Williamsburg who he had a close connection with: his construction manager, agent, and agent's wife. He talks about working with a friend he grew up with and both of them helping each other with managing taxes. Siler discusses his younger sister and the wisdom he thinks his mother had in naming his aunt as executor of her estate. Siler talks about visiting his mother in Williamsburg in the years before her death and readdresses the topic of moving her house once the Corps of Engineers started a flood wall project that would result in the house being submerged. Siler goes into great detail about the background of his father and describes how his father and mother met each other. Siler explains that his agent and construction manager took care of his house while he was gone. Siler states that he is forever thankful to these three people for the care they took of his childhood home while he was gone. Siler provides further extensive backgrounds on his agent and construction manager.

Keywords: Construction managers; Corps of Engineers; Dikes; Flood walls; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Personal backgrounds; Personal connections; Relocation of houses; Williamsburg (Ky.)

Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.

GPS: Williamsburg (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.736667, -84.164722
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
01:20:28 - Newfound interest in Appalachian literature

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Partial Transcript: ...but I'm back in that world and then, a year and a half back from the Peace Corps which would have made from October, maybe, October of 2004, I, I, I started--I came to realize I'm--there's some sort of lid off of me, some pressure either self-imposed or, or whatever, I'm, I'm coming out. I'm coming alive. I'm, I'm not hiding.

Segment Synopsis: Siler talks about how he felt a lid of pressure be released from him after returning home and how this led to him getting into Appalachian literature. Siler discusses how he has a manic need to write and is immersed in Appalachian culture for the first time in his life. Siler describes how he learned to write emails and to use computers after having had no interest in such things during his architectural career. Wilson asks Siler if his experience in the Peace Corps somehow released this newfound interest when he returned from Africa. Siler thinks so, but states that all of these things are interwoven in some way. He explains that he didn't know what he wanted to do when he left for South Africa, but how he found himself along the way at this late stage in his life. He mentions that the Peace Corps associate director demanded for volunteers to keep journals.

Keywords: Appalachia; Appalachian heritage; Appalachian literature; Computer usage; Email writing; Interests; Journals; Literature; Peace Corps; Peace Corps journals; Peace Corps volunteers; Williamsburg (Ky.); Writing

Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.

GPS: Williamsburg (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.736667, -84.164722
GPS: Appalachia
Map Coordinates: 38.8, -81
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
01:31:38 - Developing writing skills / Return to college

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Partial Transcript: There's a, a writer named Annie Lamont who, who I have a tape of a, a workshop, a writers workshop and I hear the question come about, um, question comes that she doesn't know what to do about that question and she says, "I don't know about that."

Segment Synopsis: Siler describes the experience of writing letters to both his family and a fifth grade class while he was gone on assignment for the Peace Corps. He discusses how he learned that writing was a way to find out about things inside you that you weren't consciously aware of. Siler mentions corresponding with the Courier Journal about his experience in writing, but was rejected because the journal didn't accept unsolicited writings. Siler talks about courses he is taking at a college in Cumberland, Kentucky and about writers that have been a great joy learning about. He mentions his inspiration and technique for writing poetry.

Keywords: College courses; College writing courses; Colleges; Community colleges; Courier Journal; Cumberland (Ky.); Letter writing; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Poetry; South Africa; Williamsburg (Ky.); Writing

Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.

GPS: Williamsburg (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.736667, -84.164722
GPS: Cumberland (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.976944, -82.9875
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
01:41:31 - Impact of Peace Corps on his worldview

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Partial Transcript: So how, how has the Peace Corps experience, uh, affected your view of the rest of the world? If at all?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Siler how his Peace Corps experience affected his view of the rest of the world. Siler replies that his experience taught him about what it means to an American and explains that he didn't really know what that had meant until his interactions with people in South Africa. He mentions being invited to talk at a Sons of the American Revolution meeting by acquaintances in Williamsburg. Siler describes the impact that the death of his veteran brother played in his own development of his identity as an American patriot. Siler discusses Wendell Berry and why he enjoys his writing, going into great detail about the experience of meeting him with his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild. Siler discusses issues about agribusiness and why he thinks that Wendell Berry has the solutions to its problems. Siler discusses with Wilson how he wants to be cremated after his death, but wants a tombstone that compares his work with that of Abraham Lincoln's. Siler explains the reasoning for this and expresses his admiration for what he considers to be model Kentuckians. He reiterates that he is proud of being a Peace Corps volunteer and proud of all of the things he has learned since being a volunteer.

Keywords: Abraham Lincoln; Agribusiness; Cultural presentation; Family life; Patriotism; Peace Corps; Peace Corps impact; Peace Corps volunteers; Sons of the American Revolution; Wendell Berry; Williamsburg (Ky.); Worldview

Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.

GPS: Williamsburg (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.736667, -84.164722
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25
02:09:00 - Lasting connections / Concluding thoughts

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Partial Transcript: Have you--that makes me think of I guess, it's out of sequence but the, sort of the last question, um, that I've got for you which is, have you maintained contact?

Segment Synopsis: Wilson asks Siler if he has maintained contact with anyone he met while in South Africa. Siler responds that he has and sends presents to people every now and then. He describes the on-going connection he has with one of the schools he worked with in South Africa and how he still sends books to the school. Siler discusses how he is encouraging the principal of the school to continue working towards her master's degree. Siler, again, goes into great detail about poetry he likes. Siler addresses several other random topics before the interview ends.

Keywords: Benjamin Franklin; Book donations; Langston Hughes; Peace Corps; Peace Corps volunteers; Poetry; Ponani School; Post Peace Corps contacts; Post-Peace Corps contacts; School book donations; Williamsburg (Ky.)

Subjects: Education.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--South Africa; Siler, Harry L.; Siler, Harry L.--Interviews; South Africa.

GPS: Williamsburg (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.736667, -84.164722
GPS: South Africa
Map Coordinates: -30, 25