Mappa.Mundi Magazine
One of the Family
Setting the Stage
Creating Community
Telling The Story
A Whale

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More Stories:
Good War
The Good War:
An Oral History of
World War Two

by Studs Terkel

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» Private Art WWII Letters To and From Home.

» To Mom@the Homefront - ABC News.
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Saving Private Art. An interview with Rebecca Hargrave Trip-M archive »

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Art Pranger
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Art Pranger visited New York City in 1997. The last time he was there was in 1945 when he returned to Camp Shanks after WWII.

"On December 7, 1941, a 16 year old boy from a nondescript city, on a nondescript street, in an ordinary family, was putting stamps into albums at the kitchen table, when the news of the Pearl Harbor attack came over the console radio. A 2 1/2 year stint in the U.S. Army with harrowing experiences in Normandy, The Battle of the Bulge and other bleak places above and under the cold European soil was as remote to this young boy as a visit to the Taj Mahal."

- Rose Pranger
Covington, KY

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Setting the Stage

       Marty Lucas: What is Private Art? And, what does it mean to you?

       Rebecca Hargrave: Private Art is a Web site that chronicles one U.S. soldier’s stint in the Army during World War II through his letters to and from home. The letters give a really interesting view of war, not only from the front lines — which is what you usually read about in books — but also through the eyes of the people back home.

       Marty Lucas: One of the things that strikes me about Private Art is that it’s the story of one person’s journey from a relatively innocent adolescence in “middle America”; from there he’s thrust into a worldwide conflict. He changes, and the world around him changes too. How did you reflect that in making Private Art?

       Rebecca Hargrave: We let the letters speak for themselves, and let the people tell their own stories. We didn’t edit the letters, we didn’t correct the grammar, we didn’t do anything like that. One reason this story works so well on the Web is everybody likes to see the little guy succeed. During the war, a Private… I mean how little of a guy can you be?

       Private Art’s story could happen to anyone. He’s one guy, an average Joe from the Midwest — Covington, Kentucky. Little did he know that his first major life experience was going to be one of the most monumental events in our history. It’s really funny in the letters in the beginning, when he’s in boot camp before he sees any combat. The stuff that’s important to him may at first seem really bizarre. Things like coat hangars and soap — just everyday things. It makes you realize that this could happen to anybody.

       Reading his letters from the front, you soon find out that the soldiers didn’t say much about the war. That was partly because of censorship rules, but also the soldiers really didn’t want to let people know what was going on at the front lines. They wanted to protect their family from undue stress. That’s hard for us to understand in this media crazy society we live in today.

       There’s a section on the site called “Private Art Remembers” that Private Art wrote in the present day. That’s where he tells about some of the things he saw. But he didn’t talk about combat much in the letters themselves. He didn’t want his mother to worry, or his brother and sister.

       Marty Lucas: Each letter has a little photo-icon that shows a picture of its author the way they looked at the time. Private Art is in uniform, of course. I found that helped me develop a sense for the characters that make up the story.

       Rebecca Hargrave: That was by design. It helps put a human face on the war experience and helps involve the audience more in the story. I’ve found that people want to read all the letters by a particular character because they become so involved on a personal level. One character people really relate to is Private Art’s little brother, Ralph. In his letters you literally see him grow up through the war. When the story starts, he makes little jokes with his brother but by the end he’s a completely different person.

       Marty Lucas: Where is the Private Art site going now?

       Rebecca Hargrave: We posted our last letter from Private Art to home on the 16th of October (1999) so we’re looking at next-generation type of things that we can do. People are asking us to put actual scans of the letters online. Those tell a story that words just can’t convey. A lot of them have doodles by Private Art and by his little brother, Ralph, who became an accomplished artist. It’s just really interesting, so we’re going to be adding that next year.

       Marty Lucas: So it goes on.

       Rebecca Hargrave: It goes on.

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