Winter 2000
Vol. 17 No. 4
Publication Number:
USPS 244-800


National Model of Excellence

Soldier and Soldat

Studying Guide-by-Your-Side

Love Those Statistics!

These Were Close, Too

Other Stories
Willingness to Change Made Education School Most Effective

Faculty Compendium

Watching for Patent Expiration Dates Can Save Consumers on prescription Drug Costs

Bennett Cites Influence of a Great Teacher, Dean Percy Burns

A Cappella Choir CD Available

Floyd, Marler Receive $56,000 Lilly Fellows Program Grant

Debow, Sansom Get $32,000 Award from Atlas, Templeton

Samford Honors Alabama Ministers
Scofields Rate a Homecoming Cheer
for Loyal Support of Their Alma Mater

Crimson Editors Half a Century Apart
Find Differences, Similarities in the Job

Having a ball at Homecoming

Men's Cross-Country Team Wins Second TAAC Title; Kolb Named All-TAAC Freshman After Nine-Goal SeasonCLASS NOTES


Winter 2000

Soldier and Soldat: Senior Thesis Tells Story
of 'Little Guys' from Both Sides during War

When Samford student Betsy Richardson introduced German exchange student Georg Pingen, her fiancé, to her grandfather, he quickly asked if Georg's grandfather fought in World War II.

Georg said yes, and Betsy's grandfather, Porter Richardson of Gadsden, Tenn., asked, "Did he steal my Christmas present?"

Richardson was joking, but he explained, "When I was there, some German soldiers stole our Christmas packages, and I never did find out what my mother sent me."

With that encounter, Betsy realized for the first time that their grandfathers had been enemies in the deadliest war ever fought. It prompted her to wonder about how much the world had changed in 50 years.

And out of the exchange grew an idea for a senior research project that would help Betsy, Georg and their families have a better understanding of the hardships faced by "the little guys" on both sides in the war.

Senior Betsy Richardson studied World War II from the viewpoints of her grandfather and those of her fiancé, Georg Pingen, also a Samford student.

She determined to interview her grandfather, who had talked very little about his war experiences over the years, and members of Georg's family about the conflict. To do so would require her to become fluent in German.

What she discovered were striking similarities. Her grandfather and both of Georg's grandfathers, Wilhelm Pingen and Franz Josef von Laufenberg, were drafted off family farms to serve in the conflict. Richardson and Pingen were only 19. They endured the hardships of service in Europe and the Middle East.

"The major difference came at the end of the war when one returned home victorious, the others defeated," she said.

Pingen and Laufenberg were both captured by the Allies and sent to prisoner-of-war camps. Although the war ended in 1945, neither was able to return to Germany until 1948. Pingen was held in Egypt for several years after Germany's surrender; Laufenberg was sent to camps first in the U.S., then in England.

Wilhelm Pingen

Porter Richardson
Pingen and Laufenberg died several years before Betsy began her project, but their wives and family members helped her piece together their war experiences through diaries, letters and recollections.

"What comes through are the struggles and loneliness they faced, and the many disappointments," she said.

Even though Richardson was on the victorious side, he faced hardships as well. His unit fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and he was one of 17 men out of a company of about 120 men to survive. Getting separated from his company may have saved his life.

"He talked about surviving a week on apples in a barn after being separated from his unit," said Betsy, "and later the horror of stepping over the bodies of both Americans and Germans in the snow."

At first during the interviews, Richardson was unable to talk about the
war for very long before becoming too emotional to speak. Gradually, their interview sessions grew longer.

Betsy worked on the project for more than two years, doing the bulk of her interviewing in Germany during the summer of 1999. Now, she has converted her work into a senior research thesis, "Soldier and Soldat: The Impact of World War II on an American and German Family," written in both English and German.

Her German professor, Dr. Hajo Drees, praised Betsy's project because of its contribution to cross-cultural understanding. He noted that, to do this, she had to master German language and culture, travel to Germany to gather authentic materials, conduct interviews and research literature in the U.S. and Germany dealing with the issue.

The project "models communication between two generations and two countries, illustrating how similar they really are and assisting to overcome a silence that has long dominated that generation of soldiers in both nations," said Professor Drees. A German major, Besty plans to teach after earning a master's degree in education.