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Interview with Pete Wheeler, June 14, 2006

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:11 - Introduction 00:01:01 - Early life and education

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Partial Transcript: I lived in a little town down there, near the University of Georgia--Crawford.

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler discusses his hometown of Crawford, Georgia and the historical significance of its name. He remembers attending Emory at Oxford and the University of Georgia, majoring in education, and experiencing various notable events that occurred during his time at the University of Georgia. He comments on his involvement with the ROTC and participation in World War II, as well as his first job in the Office of Price Administration after leaving the service.

Keywords: Crawford, Georgia; GI Bill; Office of Price Administration; ROTC; University of Georgia; World War II; army reserves

00:08:14 - Work in Department of Veterans Services

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Partial Transcript: And then, of course, I came to the Department of Veterans Service.

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler mentions his army placement and duties during World War II, as well as attending UGA at the same time as future Georgia politicians Carl Sanders and Ernest Vandiver. Wheeler discusses his motivation for working in the Veterans Service during his more than 50 year long career. He comments on the election process and term length for his position as Commissioner of Veterans Services. Wheeler also discusses improvements in medical treatment services and facilities in Milledgeville and Augusta.

Keywords: Alzheimer's treatment; Carl Sanders; Department of Veterans Services; Ernest Vandiver; Georgia War Veterans Home (Milledgeville, Georgia); Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home (Augusta, Georgia); Herman Talmadge; Medical College of Georgia; commissioner election process; veterans medical treatment

00:18:01 - Duties of Department of Veterans Service

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Partial Transcript: Your job, in many ways, is to use both state and federal agencies, so we have what we called GI Bills that are passed periodically by the federal government.

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler discusses the role of the Department of Veterans Services in veterans' educational training, job training, and medical treatment. He describes the approval process and monitoring of universities' application for educational entitlements from the GI Bill. Wheeler also comments on the Department's involvement in annual projects, among them the creation and dedication of state memorial cemeteries at Milledgeville, Glennville, and Kent in Georgia.

Keywords: GI Bill; Glenville Cemetery (Georgia); Kent Cemetery (Georgia); job training; veterans cemetery; veterans educational training; veterans entitlement benefits

00:23:15 - Applying for veterans benefits / State funding and department expansion

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Partial Transcript: As I mentioned a minute ago, no veteran's benefit is automatic. You got to know about it, and then you got apply for it.

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler discusses the application process for receiving veterans benefits and the Department of Veterans Services' active role in educating veterans about their entitlements. Wheeler also clarifies the distinction between federal and state funding for veterans services and describes such state incentives as tax reductions or price reductions. He also comments on the expansion of the Department and the services it provides since he began working there.

Keywords: department expansion; state vs. federal funding; veterans tax exemption

00:31:33 - Veteran memorials / Working with veterans from the Civil War up through the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: Can you talk about the various veterans of various wars that you served when you first came in 1949?

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler discusses the creation of the World War II and the Korean War memorials and comments on the process of fundraising contributions. Wheeler also shares his opinion about General George Marshall and mentions Marshall's pre-war life as well as his creation of the Marshall Plan. Wheeler discusses his work with veterans and widows of veterans from the Civil War and the Spanish-American War and comments on the civilian attitude towards Vietnam War veterans.

Keywords: George Marshall; Marshall Plan; Spanish-American War; civilian perception of veterans; fundraising; war memorials

00:41:09 - Women's army participation and women veterans

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Partial Transcript: Could you compare a little bit your dealings with veterans from various wars, say since World War II, in terms of particular needs and services.

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler discusses the growth of women's participation in the armed forces and the Department of Veterans Services increased response to the needs of women veterans. Wheeler also discusses the benefits provided to women who served in the WAVES and WACS. He also recounts how he met his wife who was a WACS nurse and talks about his children's and grandchildren's education and occupations.

Keywords: WACS; WAVES; World War II; minority veterans; treatment for women veterans; women veterans; women war participation

00:46:05 - African-American Veterans / Integration of armed forces

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Partial Transcript: We are very proud of the fact that the Department of Veteran Services recognized our African American soldiers.

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler discusses the early desegregation of veterans' healthcare facilities in Georgia in comparison to the state school system. He mentions his support for the equal treatment of African-American veterans and also comments on Carl Vinson's role in desegregating the army and representing Georgia's military and veteran interests in Congress.

Keywords: Carl Vinson; NAACP; army desegregation; integration; veteran facility integration

00:53:59 - Organizational changes in Department of Veterans Services / Partnerships with voluntary veterans associations

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Partial Transcript: Could you tell us a bit about the size of your office in 1949 compared to the size of it today?

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler discusses the initial location and size of his office in the state Capitol and mentions the benefits of improved departmental training over the years. Wheeler mentions that the Department of Veterans Services is regulated by the merit system of the Civil Service Act. He comments on his close working relationship with the Veterans Administration and the Department's partnership with voluntary veterans associations across the country.

Keywords: American Legion; Civil Service regulation; merit system; political relationshps; veterans political invovlement; voluntary veterans association

01:00:52 - Responsing to veterans' needs, including special cases

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Partial Transcript: Does that mean that we actually have more veterans that live in Georgia because we have more military installations than some places?

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler mentions his participation on a commission to study the needs of veterans, whose final report has been used as a reference guide for veterans' affairs. Wheeler also mentions the involvement of various state political figures in establishing military bases in Georgia. He discusses Georgia's response to the needs of various group of veterans--among them retirees and active duty wounded soldiers--by building a special Veterans Administration Hospital.

Keywords: Anthony Principi; Georgia military bases; Veterans Administration Hospital; treatment for active duty soldiers; veterans affairs; wounded soldiers

01:08:30 - Relationships with Georgia politicians

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Partial Transcript: Could you talk a little bit about your relationship with Jimmy Carter?

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler comments on his relationship with Jimmy Carter and Joe Frank Harris while they were governors. He mentions advising Carter against the incorporation of the Department of Veterans Services with other state departments. Wheeler also discusses the importance of maintaining close relationships with people across departments as a way to ensure the representation of veterans interests. Wheeler also mentions his philosophy on spending Departmental money.

Keywords: Jimmy Carter; Joe Frank Harris; budget spending; fiscal conservatism; political relationships

01:15:44 - Supermarket of Veterans Benefits

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Partial Transcript: During the 1970s there was a transition from essentially a conscript army to a volunteer army.

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler mentions the incident of the veterans from Columbus, Georgia as the impetus for the creation of an event aimed at increasing the accessibility of information about veterans benefits. Wheeler comments on the original idea and name of the Supermarket of Veterans Benefits, and mentions the Aflac Insurance Company that was founded in Columbus.

Subjects: Aflac; Columbus, Georgia; accessibility; organizational coordination; veterans benefits

01:22:03 - Golf tournament fundraiser for homeless veterans

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Partial Transcript: You sponsor an annual golf tournament.

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler discusses the original idea and the logistics behind the annual golf tournament fundraiser for the Homeless Veterans Program. He also reflects on the advantage of establishing personal relationships with politicians and legislators as a way to effectively run the Department.

Keywords: Homeless Veterans Program; fundraising; golf tournament; political relationships

01:27:08 - Truman and atomic bombs / Border crossing policy

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Partial Transcript: I'm kind of curious about any thoughts you have about an incident that occurred in 1995 around the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler discusses his views on President Truman's decision to drop the nuclear bombs during World War II. Wheeler also comments on the growing importance of National Guard troops in relation to veterans benefits, and he reflects on the border-crossing policies of the U.S. and other countries. He also recounts the story of why the Rose Bowl of 1943 was played at Duke University, as well as some historical anecdotes about UGA alumni Robert Toombs and Alexander Stevens.

Keywords: Alvin Barkley; China; Duke University; Harry Truman; National Guard; Rose Bowl; University of Georgia; atomic bomb; border crossing; foreign policy

01:37:18 - Conclusion

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Partial Transcript: Commissioner that's about all the questions we have for you. Would you like to make any further comments?

Segment Synopsis: Wheeler mentions his love for Athens and the University of Georgia. He mentions that Henry Grady--for whom the Grady College of Journalism at UGA is named--was editor of the local newspaper while he was studying there. Wheeler concludes with expressing gratitude for the people he has met while at the University and the pride he feels in being American.