Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Jack Wright, November 15, 2015

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:03 - Biographical information

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Partial Transcript: Hello, this is Jeff Keith and Rayna Gellert, on, uh, November 15th, 2015, interviewing Jack Wright.

Segment Synopsis: Keith begins interviewing Wright. Wright mentions 49 years ago on November 15, 1969, marching in Washington to protest the Vietnam War. He then gives his full name and birth date and place.

Keywords: Family names; Norton (Va.); Ohio University; Protesting; Wise County (Va.)

Subjects: Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Washington (D.C.)

00:02:54 - History and biographical information on parents

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Partial Transcript: Um, I'm curious to know your family's connection and how far back it goes in, in Appalachia so can you tell me a little bit about that?

Segment Synopsis: Wright gives details on the history of his parents including names, where they were born, schooling, jobs, and how they met.

Keywords: Blue plate specials; Bookkeepers; Bowling Green (Ky.); Business schools; Erle Wright Sr.; First meetings; Mingo County (W. Va.); Parents; Peerless Coal Corporation; Restaurants; Teachers; Vivian Barker; Wise County (Va.)

Subjects: Coal miners; Families.

00:06:38 - Childhood--Exposure to playing music

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Partial Transcript: Was there music in your home?

Segment Synopsis: Wright explains that his mother playing the family piano and singing in church were his two ways of being exposed to people playing music. He remembers few guitars or other string instruments in the community. He also mentions getting into rock 'n' roll with Elvis songs and seeing a ukulele for the first time when his family moved to Alabama.

Keywords: Black Hawk Waltz; Bluegrass music; Church music; Elvis Presley; Guitars; Mountain Brook (Ala.); Pianos; Rock 'n' roll music; Singers; Ukuleles

Subjects: Alabama; Music

00:08:43 - Childhood--Growing up in Glamorgan, Virginia

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Partial Transcript: Well before we get to Alabama, I'd love to here a little about your upbringing in the context of when your dad was working for Peerless.

Segment Synopsis: Wright gives a series of short stories on his upbringing in Glamorgan, Virginia. He talks about his grandparents, his family house burning down on Christmas, the birth of his brother, and strikes at the coal mine.

Keywords: 1951-52 Peerless strikes; Bookkeepers; Coal mining; Coeburn (Va.); Company houses; Families; Fires; Glamorgan (Va.); Glamorganshire, Wales; Grade schools; Moon Mullins (bus driver); Peerless Coal Company; Postpartum depression; Route 23; Shock treatment; Strip mining; United Mine Workers of America (UMWA); Wayne Wright; Wedding rings; Wise County (Va.)

Subjects: Christmas--Appalachian Region; Strikes and lockouts--Coal mining

00:18:47 - Coal industry bust in Virginia

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Partial Transcript: But, um, then, um, the bottom fell out of the coal industry and there was a bust.

Segment Synopsis: Wright discusses his father's search for work after the coal company busted. Peerless Coal and Coke Company shut down, so his father moved to Illinois and then Alabama. The family moved to Mountain Brook, Alabama. He mentions the lack of African Americans in Mountain Brook but having African American friends in Glamorgan, Virginia.

Keywords: Bookkeepers; Bookkeeping; Busts; Coal industry; Mountain Brook (Ala.); Peerless Coal Company

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Alabama

00:22:35 - Early experiences with music in Wise County, Virginia

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Partial Transcript: And, and you said your dad was working with the construction company as a bookkeeper, uh, that was also when you heard someone play the ukulele and you got a little more into music.

Segment Synopsis: Wright tells a story about sneaking out of the children's room at the dance hall, The Copper Kettle, and making his way onto the dance floor. He also talks about listening to big band music on his parents' phonograph, and listening to Top 40 and early country on the jukebox in his mother's family café. He also sang for his church during Christmas.

Keywords: Big band music; Childhood; Christmas music; Jukeboxes; Phonographs; Radios; Southern Baptist Church; The Copper Kettle; Top 40; Wise County (Va.)

Subjects: Music

00:27:26 - Childhood in Mountain Brook, Alabama

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Partial Transcript: Um, before we get further, uh, I, uh, my understanding is you, you have a sister as well--

Segment Synopsis: Wright talks about living in Mountain Brook, Alabama, including the birth of his sister and living in the poorest section of an affluent neighborhood.

Keywords: Births; Mountain Brook (Ala.); Sisters

Subjects: Alabama

00:29:13 - Moving back to Wise County, Virginia

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Partial Transcript: Could you tell me a little bit about that?

Segment Synopsis: Wright explains his family's decision to move back to Wise, Virginia after the death of his grandfather. He states his mother was done with Alabama and his father had started drinking so she made the decision to move back closer to her family. His father moved back soon after but died only a few years later in 1962.

Keywords: Aunts; Car wrecks; Deaths; Electrocutions; Fathers; Funerals; Grandfathers; Grandmothers; Harakin (Va.); Mountain Brook (Ala.); Moving; Summer vacations

Subjects: Alabama; Football.

00:38:10 - Effects of coal's boom and bust cycle on the family

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Partial Transcript: And so, um, it sounds like coal continued to be a presence and also the boom-bust cycle.

Segment Synopsis: Wright talks about his father's constant search for work after the first bust in the coal industry for his father at Peerless Coal Company. His family maintained pretty consistent middle class status but his father never had work for more than a few years. He tried to find work in Washington, D.C. and West Virginia but did not do well. He also mentions visiting his father's family in Western Kentucky.

Keywords: Booms; Busts; Coal industry; Drinking; Families; Peerless Coal; Simpson County (Ky.); Smith’s Mayflower Transfer Company; Western Kentucky; Work searches

Subjects: Alcohol; Washington (D.C.)

00:41:09 - Father's issues working in the coal industry

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Partial Transcript: Well, um, I guess where I'm driving at here, or what I'm curious about is when you moved back to Wise and, and are living with your grandmother--

Segment Synopsis: Wright talks about being unaware of the politics of the coal industry and the unions which his father had to deal with. He explains that other family members also owned small mines. He then talks about his father being hurt while working a job, going to his uncle's house to recuperate, and his uncle getting through to his father and causing his father to sober up. His father died two years later, but Wright says his father's struggle with coal played into much of his drinking.

Keywords: Apple orchards; Awareness; Coal industry; Fathers; Grandfathers; Interventions; Jobs; Mines; Strip mining; Wise County (Va.)

Subjects: Alcohol; Coal miners; Fatherhood

00:46:10 - Music experience in high school and his first band

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Partial Transcript: Well then, um, instead of fast-forwarding to when you do have these sort of epiphanies or breakthroughs that allow you to understand coal differently, I wanna learn a little about you in high school.

Segment Synopsis: Wright talks about his experience in high school with music, including parties that were held in the school cafeteria. He also tells how his first band The Mistakes was created and where they played.

Keywords: "The Mistakes"; 45” records; American Legion; Bands; Bongos; Dancing; Gigs; High schools; Indian Head Grill; Norton (Va.); Pianos; Rock 'n' roll music; Songs; Top 40; Vocals

Subjects: Music

00:56:00 - Influence of radio on musicians / First use of two track recorder

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Partial Transcript: So you had a lot of great experiences with music in high school.

Segment Synopsis: Wright talks about how he was always listening to the radio, his friend's photography lab, and his band's experience with a two-track recorder.

Keywords: Bands; High schools; Nashville (Tenn.); Photo labs; Photography; Two track recorders; WLAC (Radio station)

Subjects: Mass media and technology.; Music; Photography; Radio

00:57:53 - Applying to Clinch Valley College in Virginia

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Partial Transcript: So, so tell me about your path to, uh, Clinch Mountain College.

Segment Synopsis: Wright explains he had no initial intentions to go to college but was influenced by a doctor he worked for during the summer after high school and the fact that all his friends had left for school. He went to Clinch Valley College in Virginia for two years working jobs helping his mother run the cafeteria at the college, picking apples, and acting as a janitor at a schoolhouse to pay for it.

Keywords: Apple house; Apples; Black lung; Cafeterias; Clinch Valley College; Doctors; Janitors; Jobs; Mothers; Studies; Wrestling; X-rays

Subjects: College students

01:03:58 - Folk music influences in college

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Partial Transcript: So at Clinch Mountain College--

Segment Synopsis: Wright states his main focus in college was music rather than studies. He explains folk music gained popularity at that time. He was also on the wrestling team for a while until his father died, at which point he tried to help out at home more.

Keywords: Acoustic guitars; Acoustic music; Clinch Valley College; Electric guitars

Subjects: College students; Folk music--Appalachian Region

01:06:50 - Unaware of origins of folk music / Different views on Bluegrass music

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Partial Transcript: Um, is it correct that after two years there, well--

Segment Synopsis: Wright admits he had little understanding of how close he was living to the origins of lots of big folk bands. He knew little about the Carter family, Tom Dooley, or the Stanley Brothers or that they had started out not far from where he was living. He also explains that different segments of society either loved or hated Bluegrass music.

Keywords: Acoustic music; Bluegrass music; Folk songs; Tom Dooley

Subjects: Appalachian Region--Social life and customs; Folk music--Appalachian Region

01:08:29 - Between moving from Wise County, Virginia to Washington, D.C.

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Partial Transcript: Well, when you graduated from, from, uh, Clinch Valley you, uh--

Segment Synopsis: Wright talks about inheriting money from his aunt, his mechanic friend, and working at the apple house after he completed two years at Clinch Valley College. From there he went to East Tennessee State University but left in the spring and moved to Washington, D.C. with a friend that summer.

Keywords: Apples; Cars; Clinch Valley College; East Tennessee State University; Mechanics; Moving

Subjects: Draft; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Washington (D.C.)

01:13:52 - Family and community's political awareness

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Partial Transcript: So, when you were drafted, um, I guess through, thr--up to this point it sounded like, uh, you had been very involved in sports and music and very social; not very political.

Segment Synopsis: Wright explains that his mother's family were all Republicans but his father's were Democrats. His grandfather was elected to the county board. Wright was a Republican who was for John Kennedy for president. He tells a story about disagreeing with a dentist who believed a Catholic shouldn't be president. He also talks about a man from the community, Gary Powers, whose plane was shot down over Russia. The community argued over whether or not Powers should have committed suicide and whether or not America should be spying on Russia.

Keywords: County Commissioner; Dentists; Draft; Gary Powers; Grandfathers; Political awareness; Russia; Shoe cobblers; Suicide; Wise County (Va.)

Subjects: Cold war.; Democratic Party (U.S.); Draft; Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963; Republican Party (U.S. : 1854- ); Russia; Vietnam

01:18:14 - Military training for Vietnam War after being drafted

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Partial Transcript: So, uh, so when I got into--I knew I was gonna be drafted.

Segment Synopsis: Wright talks about being drafted in August 1965, going to through basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and Fort Gordon, Georgia, going through military police school, and helping to train others in basic training. He speaks about being sent to officer candidate school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for artillery, and singing call and response songs on four mile runs to keep everybody in step.

Keywords: Artillery school; Basic training; Bob Dylan; Call and response songs; Fort Gordon (Ga.); Fort Jackson (S.C.); Fort Sill (Okla.); Forts; Infantry Officer’s Training; Masters of War (Album); Military intelligence; Runs

Subjects: Draft; Military training camps; United States. Army; United States. Army. Officer Candidate School; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:25:37 - Getting kicked out of Officer Candidate School for drinking

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Partial Transcript: You were in OCS for artillery.

Segment Synopsis: Wright talks about how he was kicked out of Officer Candidate School after he was caught drinking on site. He was put in a holding company and ended up volunteering as a life guard at a pool used by the families of officers.

Keywords: Battery; Drinking; Expulsion; Fort Sill (Okla.); Holding company; Leadership positions; Life guards

Subjects: Alcohol; United States. Army. Officer Candidate School; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:33:28 - Being sent to Vietnam from United States base

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Partial Transcript: If you were--you weren't--so you went--had been in the battalion, end up in OCS, kicked out of OCS, now you're in a holding company then how do you end up, uh, and who do you end up with, when you get shipped, uh, you know, to Vietnam?

Segment Synopsis: Wright talks about volunteering with the military police after the pool shut down for the winter. He then tells the story of how he got his orders for Vietnam. He went to get his winter uniform "greens" and explaining that he didn't have any because he was with the holding company but volunteering for the military police company. When the administration realized he should have been in the holding company he received his orders for Vietnam within a week.

Keywords: "Khakis"; "Winter greens"; Administration; Holding companies; Military police; Orders; Uniforms

Subjects: United States. Army; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:36:15 - Time serving as an American soldier in the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: Um, I'd like to--is it okay if I ask some questions--

Segment Synopsis: Wrights says he assigned to the military police with the first air cavalry. He acted as a guard for much of his time, protecting generals, and - at certain points - the pro-war New York City Cardinal Spellman, and singer Nancy Sinatra. He also talks about being moved north and setting up a prisoner of war camp in a graveyard. He and his company moved through the valley near Basong, moved villagers out, and capturied the enemy to be placed in the prisoner of war camp. He also mentions how much he loved interacting with the Vietnamese people and the kids who ran little stands which sold drinks, treats, and pot.

Keywords: An Khe (Vietnam); Basong (Vietnam); Bob Hope; Bong Son (Vietnam); Cardinal Spellman; First Air Cavalry; General Norton; Graveyards; Guard duty; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Holding companies; Military Police; Nancy Sinatra; Peasants; Pot; Prisoners of war camps; Saigon (Vietnam); Space probes; Villagers; Villages

Subjects: United States. Army; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975