Alan R. Woolworth, Machine Gunner, 79th Infantry Division, US Army

Alan R. Woolworth was a machine gunner with the 79th Infantry Division, US Army. Later in life he wrote an unpublished manuscript describing his experiences during WWII. He was also interviewed and audio recorded by Rhoda R. Gilman in 1991 (just under 5 hours running time) about his life experiences and later career at the Minnesota Historical Society and received a transcript of the interview consisting of 93 pages. Click here to read and download a .PDF copy of the transcript. 

He briefly described his time during WWII during the interview as follows:
"RG: The war intervened between high school and college?
AW: Oh, yes. I graduated from high school in June of 1942 and worked for my father. Then I went 
into a signal corps radio school for a few months and got fed up with that. I enlisted or volunteered
for induction--there were no volunteers, I mean, enlistments and such, at the time--and went to Fort 
Snelling in February of 1943. I think I entered active service about February 20, 1943 and spent 
about a year on the California desert in the Sixth Armored Division. Then I went to the Santa Maria 
Peninsula at Camp Cook, California and was shipped overseas to England. Eventually, through a 
long series of events, I ended up as an infantryman on the continent. I have written up about a 
twelve- or fourteen-page manuscript on those kinds of adventures.
RG: Yes. I understand you really saw tremendous service in World War II, and I'm glad you have 
written down your experiences.
AW: Yes. I was wounded twice. I ended up being a machine gunner in a rifle company and was 
wounded twice in action and had a pretty rough time of it. But I decided about Easter of 1945 that if 
I lived--it began looking like I might live to be twenty-one--I would make something useful of my 
life, that I would take advantage of the G.I. bill, that I would get an education and hopefully have 
some type of a professional career.
RG: Excuse me. As I understand it, am I right in my recollection that your twin brother was killed 
in the war?
AW: Yes. I had a twin brother, a fraternal twin, that died in July of 1944 in Italy. My oldest brother 
had been in the service before us, and he was in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. So all three of us 
were overseas at one time in pretty rough conditions. It was hard on our parents.
RG: Yes.
AW: Well, at any rate, I did survive and ended up the war in Czechoslovakia in the Sudetenland, 
where my division was sent essentially to protect the Sudetenlanders, who are ethnic Germans, 
from the Czechs. Eventually, of course, these people were driven out of there and resettled in 
western Germany mostly. 
I had all kinds of points for what you took in getting a discharge: from wounds, from medals, from 
campaign service and other things. I had been overseas nearly two years and was in the service 
almost three. I came back in November of 1945 and went by rail to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, and 
was discharged from there, I think, on about December 4, 1945. I got a one-way ticket on the 
railroad and climbed on an old steam-fired train. We rattled into Saint Paul and then out to the 
wilds of eastern Dakota."

Al also talked about his WW II experiences at historical conferences. His papers are stored at the Minnesota Historical Society and he is featured in the MHS's WWII displays at the Historic Fort Snelling Visitor's Center. Al worked at the Minnesota Historical Society in several roles and eventually became a Senior Research Fellow assisting, advising, and mentoring many people. He served as the Minnesota State Archaeologist beginning in 1969 and had a very active and wide ranging career in Upper Midwest archaeology and history, which included giving many papers at various professional conferences, helping to preserve the Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site, and, with Charles Bailey, publishing many books about history, archaeology, and Native American culture and history through Prairie Smoke Press. This included publishing Kevin Callahan's book about the Jeffers Petroglyphs. The Minnesota Historical Society's biographical note about Al follows:

Historical archaeologist Alan Woolworth was born August 19, 1924, in Clear Lake, South Dakota, along with a twin brother, Arlan. In February 1943 he entered the army and, after training in California and England, was assigned to a machine gun squad in the 79th Infantry Division. He fought in France and Germany, where he suffered two wounds, and later served in the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia.

After returning to the U.S., Woolworth was educated at the Universities of Nebraska and Minnesota. He engaged in archaeological field work (1949-) in Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota; was staff archaeologist for the State Historical Society of North Dakota (1952-1957); was curator of exhibits at the Dearborn (Michigan) Historical Museum (1957-1960); and had a long career with the Minnesota Historical Society as museum curator (1960-1967), head of Museum and Historic Sites Department (1967-1968), chief archaeologist (1969-1979), and research fellow (1979-). He was also active in a number of archaeological societies.

Woolworth and his wife, Nancy L. Woolworth, formed Woolworth Research Associates, which conducted archaeological, ethnological, environmental, and historical surveys for commercial firms and for county and local governments in Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, and Iowa.


The MHS oral history interview summary follows:

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION: Alan Woolworth was born in Clear Lake, South Dakota, in 1924, graduated from Clear Lake High School in 1942, entered military service in 1943, was decorated for his actions in the European theater in World War II, and received his discharge in 1945. Next he attended South Dakota State College at Brookings, received a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1950 with majors in history and anthropology, and received a master’s degree in anthropology from the University of Minnesota. Before joining the staff of the Minnesota Historical Society in 1960, Woolworth worked at the Nebraska and North Dakota state historical societies and the Dearborn Historical Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. At MHS he worked in museum and historical sites administration from 1960 to 1968 and the trunk highway archaeology program from 1968 to 1979, and he headed the archaeology department until it was eliminated in 1980. He was also active in the Minnesota Archaeology Society and was editor of the Minnesota Archaeologist for six years. At the time of the interview Woolworth was an MHS Research Fellow with the publications division. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Woolworth discusses his childhood in rural South Dakota, experiences in World War II, his education, and choosing a career. He also describes museum conditions at the Minnesota Historical Society when he was hired in 1960, including a lack of security and facilities, MHS's collection records and storage, funding resources, his relationships with museum staff, growth of the museum staff, introduction of school tours, the Underwater Records Project that took place from 1961 to 1973, and growth of the historic sites program. He discusses the archaeology project at Grand Portage National Monument, providing details on the project’s funding, the excavation and restoration of the great hall and kitchen at that site, and the use of Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps personnel in early national park projects. He also talks about working with Robert Wheeler on the Quetico-Superior Underwater Project in 1973 and the Fur Trade Conference in 1963. Also discussed are the Minnesota Field Archaeology Act of 1962, the Historic Sites Act of 1965, and the 1981 Human Burial Act involving Indian burial sites. Woolworth provides anecdotes and reflects on relationships with Society staff members Russell Fridley, Robert Wheeler, Janis Obst, Lolita Lundquist, Chet Kozlak, Marge Towson, Grace Lee Nute, Lucile Kane, June Holmquist and others, as well as with local and national professional associates. He also details his "parallel career" working with the Indian Claims Commission, his research for Dakota, Sioux, Yankton and other Indian nations to support their claims at the U.S. Court of Claims, and his private consulting service, Woolworth Research Associates. Other subjects include the 1978 move of museum staff to Fort Snelling, the "mule barn" storage, the Historic Resources Survey, acquisition of the Gilbert and Frederick Wilson and Ayer collections, and a 1961 exhibit on newspapers and journalism.