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Military History Institute - Program History

Tom Hatfield in Italy at a monument to the 36th Infantry Division, the "Texas" division.

Tom Hatfield's lifelong passion for and study of World War II began when he was a child in the small Texas Hill Country town of Medina. Hatfield vividly recalls his hometown being shocked and shaken by the loss of one of its own, Tommy Rouse, a young soldier who was killed in Normandy on July 11, 1944. The impact of the community's loss and its outpouring of tribute to Rouse as well as the general effect of the war left its permanent mark on Hatfield. On his first trip to Europe at the age of 19, he set out on a bicycle tour and discovered that his main interest lay in the battlefields of the war. He pedaled across battlefields of Normandy, the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), and Italy from Salerno to Rome. He returned to Europe occasionally in the years that immediately followed, and even more often after coming to The University of Texas at Austin in 1977 as dean of Continuing Education. Subsequently, he established summer programs for adults at Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Paris, and Madrid. In 1984, he returned on a personal pilgrimage for the 40th anniversary of D-Day to walk in the footsteps of Tommy Rouse from Omaha Beach to the exact spot where he was killed near St. Lô. The story of this adventure was published under the title, "My Search for Tommy Rouse."

Tom Hatfield in France with members of the UT Normandy Scholars Program.

In the mid-1980s, at the request of alumni and patrons of The University of Texas, Hatfield began organizing and leading study groups to European battlefields as part of the University's Continuing Education program. Other destinations have included the airfields of the U.S. Eighth Air Force in East Anglia and islands in the Central Pacific. No other university had such a program. Through word-of-mouth endorsements, demands for his on-site study trips expanded. By 1989, his "From D-Day to the Rhine" study tour (London to Frankfurt) had garnered such recognition that it was written up in the travel section of the New York Times and documented in a nationally broadcast PBS television program by the same title, produced and narrated by Bill Moyers. Moyers has told public audiences that it is the best documentary he has made. In 1990, The University of Texas at Austin began an undergraduate honors program focused on World War II with Hatfield teaching the course on the war, titled "The Second World War: Policies, Leaders, Strategies." Other courses in the program pertained to literature, geopolitics, Nazi Germany, languages, and European culture.

Tom Hatfield in Sicily with the Texas Exes Flying Longhorns.

In 1998, Don Carleton, director of the UT Center for American History (formerly the Barker Texas History Center), accompanied Hatfield on a "From D-Day to the Rhine" trip, and the two began talking about the need for a mechanism to permanently preserve and disseminate the legacy of WWII. These compelling interests led to the creation of the Institute for American Military History to ensure that the stories of Rouse and many others engaged in WWII will never die. Hatfield was appointed as Senior Research Fellow at the Center for American History and began planning his migration from the deanship of Continuing Education to the full-time head of the newly formed Military History Institute. This change became effective February 1, 2007.