Senior Officer Oral History Program

 
Background: The Senior Officer Oral History Program [SOOHP] was established in 1970 by the Chief of Staff of the Army, General William Westmoreland, to provide insights into command and management techniques utilized by senior officers in key positions and to further scholarly research in the history of the U.S. Army. Interview transcripts are placed in the archives of the U.S. Army Military History Institute (USAMHI), part of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) for use by U.S. Army War College (USAWC) students and faculty and other researchers, headquarters, and agencies in accordance with interview access agreements. Over 1,400 interviews have been conducted to date.
 

Contact the Oral History Program
Oral History Branch
USAMHI (717) 245-4573

Purpose:
  • Record the management and leadership techniques of senior Army officers and Department of the Army Civilians and their recollections and opinions on key persons, events, and decisions.
  • Provide a comprehensive biography for the historical record, or, in the case of topical projects, to record information about significant events, ideas, and decisions as seen from the perspectives of key participants.
  • Develop a collection of interview material for which manuscript or printed sources are inadequate or not available and which supplements written records and clarifies obscure aspects of significant events and decisions.
Types of SOOHP projects:
  • Biographical interviews that record a life history, including early family experiences, early influences, education, entry into service, company, field grade, and flag officer service, transition from active duty into civilian life, and post-active duty activities.
  • Topical interviews that deal with a single theme or group of related themes, events, ideas, or decisions of special interest or importance to the Army. A topical project usually consists of interviews of selected key participants and decision-makers. Past examples include Special Operations, Low Intensity Conflict and Vietnam War Battalion Commander Interviews. Currently, a Senior Leader Debriefing Project is underway. It seeks to document insights from senior officers concerning the application of land power at the operational and strategic level.

Transcriptions: USAMHI seeks to transcribe all SOOHP interviews to in order to maximize access to content. Following initial production of a transcript by the USAMHI Oral History Branch, draft transcripts are reviewed by edited by the interviewer. The final edit is provided by the interviewee, whose revisions are considered final. Completed transcripts approved for release following an information security review are printed and reproduced on CDs that are placed in USAMHI collections. When appropriate, interviews are uploaded to the USAHEC website. Copies are provided to the interviewee and distributed to selected centers, schools, and agencies.

Focus: SOOHP biographical projects are focused on senior, Army-level strategic leaders such as former chiefs of staff, vice chiefs of staff, Army staff principals, directors of the Army staff, and commanders of combatant, major, and Army component commands. This focus aligns with the mission of the USAWC concerning the development and application of land power at the strategic level and the resources now available to execute biographical interviews.

Interviews: Generally conducted three to five years after retirement from active duty in order to allow interviewees time to develop longer-term perspectives and insights concerning their service. Interviews may be conducted sooner when potential interviewees indicate strong interest and Oral History Branch resources are available. Topical projects may include military or civilian interviewees.

Final transcripts may include interviewee-provided documents, maps, orders, and briefings that are included as appendices. In addition, interviewees are invited to donate their personal papers to USAMHI, where they will be added to the hundreds of collections of senior officer papers already maintained by USAMHI, and where those materials (including classified) will be professionally preserved, arranged, and made available to researchers and scholars well into the future.

Interviewers: USAWC students and faculty, historians drawn from the Army History Program, or established military historians who volunteer their services. USAMHI provides training, all equipment and supplies, travel funding, and produces the initial interview transcript. The Chief, Oral History Branch, oversees subsequent editing by the interviewer and interviewee and the printing and dissemination of the final transcript.