Tag Archives: World War II

The Tragedy of the Spoiled Victory Garden Canned Green Beans.*

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United States Army

On this day in 1945 Germany signed an unconditional surrender at Allied headquarters in Reims, France, to take effect the following day. Thus ended the European conflict of World War II. Like so many other institutions, the South Side branch of Carnegie Library was deeply affected by the war, as evidenced by the war-time annual reports. The branch had the same Head Librarian during the Great Depression and all of World War II. The only thing I know about Ann Macpherson is that she was salty, sassy, an advocate for her customers and her community, found the loss of “her boys” devastating and rejoiced in the baby boom at the end of the war (and if I wrote half the stuff she wrote I’d be looking for another job).

It is easy to forget to how long and difficult the Great Depression was, but in 1939 things were finally turning around:

The atmosphere of renewed hope and vigor was as palpable as the bleak depression and finely-strung patient endurance of the past ten years. Not that prosperity had returned, but that a respite had been given.

And a little later:

In the shift from depression to wartime economy, South Side has sent over 6000 men into the armed forces; men are working to capacity; children have left school for jobs in droves; or have obtained work permits for after-school employment; and money is flowing freely.

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USAAF 3rd Bomb Group photographer Jack Heyn reading at his bunk, Dobodura Airfield, Australian Papua, mid-1943 , Jack Heyn

In 1942, well into the bustling war-time economy, Ms. Macpherson writes:

It has not been easy for many of the unemployed, so prevalent on the South Side during the last ten years, to get in step again with war-time schedules. So many borrowers report exhaustion from the varying shifts, much overtime, unforeseen demands and the inexperience of their help, more recently women. The complain they find no time to do the tinkering around the house their wives expect.  They say they cannot concentrate on books they know are worthwhile, “By the time I read two newspapers and listen to the radio, it’s time for bed.” Yet many borrowers are reading the books of the war of the news-interest type, party of the labor literature, and an occasional academic discussion of the better world they hope to see.

Can you imagine saying you don’t have time for books because you are busy reading two newspapers a day? And when they did have time to read, what did they read?

Books about the war are read with avidity by the younger boys, and normally by older men. Women refuse them absolutely, except where they describe army life or the countries where their men are fighting. War cartoon books lead in popularity. So far the discharged solders in the community seem not to have been overseas; their reading is general, although both they and their families are interested in psychology- not in rehabilitation books.  With the birthrate again on the upswing, books in child care are in demand. (1944)

Soldiers were coming home educated!

Reports of camp and overseas reading have been astounding; psychology in general, but especially Freud, seems to have been given a thorough going over; in fiction, the general fear seems to be that he will be given something namby-pamby, and great as is his appreciation of Pocket Books, he is glad to get away from them; apparently there are too many missing pages at the beginning and the end of the well-thumbed classics. Some are definitely checking war books with their own experiences, some are reading on some certain country- one at least to understand England because he married an English girl out in Australia. There is also a GI crop of babies planned for, and books for expectant mothers are in demand- by the husband. (1945)

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African-American US Navy Steward’s Mate 2nd Class James Lee Frazer reading the Bible aboard a ship, 9 Jan 1945, United States National Archives

And, of course, the library is always about the questions, the questions, the questions:

The reference work has been as erratic as usual…Most exciting, of course, the chap who wants a contour map as he is to help bomb Pittsburgh or the young doctor back from Casablanca who kept a taxi waiting while the library located his new assignment in Virginia, to which even the recruiting office had been unable to direct him. He stopped in weeks later to report he had made plane connections and been in charge of a small hospital of his own and the next step was the Pacific in the “most coveted position of the Marine Corps.” (1942)

The war was changing our library customers in big and little ways. One thing Ms. Macpherson noted was changes in immigration:

From the time the branch was opened, work with foreigners was the theme of annual reports. The foreigner of those days no longer exists; the foreigner of today is less picturesque, he is almost non-existent in the sense of a helpless immigrant in a strange land…(1943)

But it’s still Pittsburgh. It wouldn’t be home if someone wasn’t starting something:

Recurrent tides of Polish and Lithuanian patriotism may send a few young people to read foreign books, but the young people are little interested in the nationalism which is a hindrance to the Americanism. The children are pretty weary of the old-world quarrels which are brought into the neighborhood and fostered by the nationalistic clergy and foreign-language newspapers. (1943)

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American sailor reading in his bunk aboard USS Capelin, August 1943, United States National Archives

1945 ended on a high note for the branch, particularly in regards to the returning soldiers:

His experiences have given him in general the following attitudes: he “never wants to see a gun again”; he is “all confused”; he has a profound respect for education; he needs little orientation in intercultural appreciation–as one quotes, “in the army all blood is type O”; he is very modest, and is sure the “heroes” did not return; he thinks his own little niche in world geography, i.e., the South Side, is “pretty swell”; he wants a better job than he had when he went away; he feels pretty rich, if he has been overseas several years with no place to spend his money; he has not faith that there will not be “another war in twenty or thirty years” and sometimes thinks “America is too soft-hearted and should finish the job”; he is already disillusioned about the peace; he is Anglophobe or Anglophile; Russophobe or Russophile in about the same ratio as before the war.

All in all, at the present moment, he is rejoicing in his sanity, his physical stamina, and his retained or regained sense of humor; he realizes the meaning of radar and the atomic bomb; and if he is inclined to be materialistic, he at least still has tremendous zest for living.

And finally, proof that the library has always been and always will be a civilizing force:

When re-registering the servicemen, it is interesting to have them present the old library card with a flourish and remark it has never left their wallet since they left home, while one lad when asked if he had his old card, said, “Until it was taken from me in a German prison camp.” The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh  library cards have traveled over all the war zones, and renewing the card seems to be part of the rite of returning to civilian life.

VE-Day

Happy VE Day! (Tomorrow!)

suzy

*Where did I find the title of this post? It comes from one inexplicable sentence written in 1943: “The tragedy of the spoiled Victory Garden canned green beans was not averted by the library books, but the danger of food poisoning was.” No story, no follow-up…

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Women in World War II: Rosie the Riveter and Beyond

girlsofatomiccityI recently finished reading The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan. It is a fascinating look into a town that never existed on any map but had a HUGE influence on the outcome of World War II. Although not all of the residents were women, of course, the story is told through the lives of several different ladies who found themselves at this historic place. These women varied in the amount of education they had received, their race, marital status and part of the country they were from, but all of them contributed to output that Oak Ridge was designed to create – enriched uranium for use in the first atomic bombs, including the ones dropped on Japan in August of 1945.

As I was reading this book, it reminded me of another I had read a few years ago about the North Platte Canteen in Nebraska, also during World War II. Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen by Bob Greene tells the story of a very small town that was on the major railway line almost all U.S. troops used during their transport from basic training to deployment. Onceonceuponatown the people in the town realized who was passing through their area, they made sure that no matter what time of the day or night, each and every train would be met with smiling faces and food. This town used its rationing coupons, not for themselves, but to help scared soldiers – many away from home for the first time – feel appreciated and loved. Every single train had a birthday celebration, complete with a cake. Many soldiers remembered their stop in North Platte decades later, even though it may only have lasted ten minutes. By the time the war was over, the North Platte Canteen had taken care of over 6 million soldiers. That’s just staggering for a town of about 12,000 people. Once again, not everyone in North Platte who helped at the canteen was female, but we all know who was baking those cakes and making the sandwiches.

This all got me to thinking about the various roles women played in World War II, both in and out of the military. For Women’s History Month 2015, consider finding out more about how the “fairer sex” contributed to the winning of the war, both at home and abroad. Here are a few items that might be of interest…

Books:
bandsofsistersBands of Sisters: U.S. Women’s Military Bands during World War II by Jill M. Sullivan – I bet you knew that there were/are military bands. But did you know that in World War II all of the branches of the military had their own women’s band as well? They were used to support troop morale and to recruit women to the armed services. In some cities they were greeted warmly and given keys to the city. In other places, they were unjustly run out of town. The music biz is never an easy one!

Beyond Rosie the Riveter: Women of World War II in American Popular Graphic Art by Donna B. Knaff – During World War II, women were encouraged to take on jobs that were normally reserved for men. Propaganda posters at the time, such as Rosie the Riveter, certainly reflected this idea. However at the same time, women were being encouraged through the same media to not lose their femininity. This contrast makes for a thought-provoking study.

Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II edited by Maureen Honey – This is a collection of poetry, essays and photographs compiling the history and the contributions of African American women in World War II. Although they were largely left out of the propaganda and recruitment posters, these women participated in every aspect of the war and home front that their white counterparts did. These writings, many not seen since their original publication, show the lives of women of color and you can see the roots of the civil rights movement within the stories.

fromcoverallsFrom Coveralls to Zoot Suits: The Lives of Mexican American Women on the World War II Home Front by Elizabeth R. Escobedo – If you thought finding the voices of African American women and their experiences during this time period was difficult, imagine the lack of information about Latino women. This book does a nice job identifying how they contributed to the war effort, while still needing to combat the prejudices of the nation they were serving. I especially liked getting to see some of the bilingual wartime propaganda posters.

Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun: The Story of USO Hostesses during World War II by Meghan K. Winchell – Servicemen relied on the USO to provide them with a recreational outlet and some sense of normalcy during World War II. However, the recruitment process for the hostesses was biased. It served to reinforce stereotypes of the working class, as well as women of color. The military felt that if they exposed soldiers to “good” girls, they wouldn’t feel the need to seek out the “bad” ones. How the women excluded from participating made their inroads to volunteering and what those who were selected for the USO thought about life within its social constraints provides interesting reading.

Our Mother’s War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin – This book all began when the author found a journal and letters her mother had written while serving with the Red Cross in the Pacific. It is a good overview of many of the roles women played during World War II – wives and mothers at home, entertainers, WACs and WAVES in the military, spies, politicians, and even those who worked for the enemy.

winningWinning My Wings: A Woman Airforce Service Pilot in World War II by Marion Stegeman Hodgson – Marion was one of the first women trained to fly military aircraft with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).  The WASPs flew airplanes stateside to test their repairs or deliver new aircraft to the airmen who would then fly them into combat. It was a dangerous job, as Marion recounts in her letters to the wounded Marine pilot she eventually marries after the war.

Women Against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-1947 by Rachel Waltner Goossen – For those who objected to the war, there were still opportunities to be of service. Many women, often with religious anti-war beliefs, joined the Civilian Public Service to do forestry work, disaster relief training, or to work in hospitals stateside. This organized pacifist culture had some benefits for those who wanted to contribute something of a humanitarian nature during wartime. But they were more often met with prejudice because of their convictions, and some found it hard to find employment once the war was over as veterans were coming back to the workforce.

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue by Kathryn J. Atwood – This contains stories of women from many countries, but the United States is well represented. I wanted to make sure something that explained the secret side of the war was on this list. Included within, you will find Virginia Hall – once considered the most dangerous Allied agent in France, Muriel Phillips –a Jewish nurse at a tent hospital in France during the Battle of the Bulge and Marlene Dietrich – who entertained the troops as part of the USO, while also involved in an OSS propaganda campaign aimed toward the German troops.

womenwhowroteThe Women Who Wrote the War by Nancy Caldwell Sorel – We know it takes bravery to be a soldier, but imagine the guts needed to be the first person inside a recently freed concentration camp, just BEFORE the rescuing troops enter. Now picture that person as a woman, because for the camp at Dachau in southern Germany, it was. The women journalists and photographers who were sent oversees to cover World War II were amazing and inspiring, as are their stories.

View of women Marines carrying out the repair and reconditioning of fighting airplanes during World War II, 1940s. (Photo by US Marine Corps/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

View of women Marines carrying out the repair and reconditioning of fighting airplanes during World War II, 1940s. (Photo by US Marine Corps/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

DVDs:
topsecretTop Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II produced & directed by LeAnn Erickson; written by Cynthia Baughman – This is the story of six of the women mathematicians originally recruited by the Army to be human computers tabulating ballistics trajectories. Once the first electronic computer was created (ENIAC), they needed people to program it. These six women were those people. They never received recognition for their absolutely vital role in the winning of World War II, nor for their pioneering work in the field of electronic computers. That’s a crime as far as I’m concerned.

Women in World War II: 13 Films Featuring America’s Secret Weapon courtesy of the National Archives of the United States – This is a collection of actual wartime propaganda short films. Their purpose was to encourage women to join the war supporting industries, as well as to convince both sexes that women were actually up to any and all of the tasks formally done exclusively by men. Highlights include “Women of Steel”, the one narrated by Katherine Hepburn, and getting to see Eleanor Roosevelt in living color.

Soon arrving in Hawaii, women Marine Reserves stand to for evening colors at Pearl Harbor, during World War II, 1940s. (Photo by US Marine Corps/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

Soon after arriving in Hawaii, women Marine Reserves stand to for evening colors at Pearl Harbor, during World War II, 1940s. (Photo by US Marine Corps/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

And One Government Document:
Breaking Codes, Breaking Barriers: The WACs of the Signal Security Agency World War II courtesy of Karen Kovach, History Office, Office of the Chief of Staff, US Army Intelligence and Security Command – World War II ushered in an era where women were needed in military service in far greater numbers than ever before in American history and for a wider range of occupations. This slim volume belies the importance of the job of the women contained within. They were tasked with breaking the encryption of the enemies’ messages. By doing so, they saved countless lives.  Especially poignant is the quote about the day of the bomb drop from the WAC assigned to monitor Hiroshima, “I came on to my trick and started tuning to my assigned frequencies. I was copying Hiroshima, it was one of my stations, but I couldn’t find it. I’m saying to myself, ‘what the heck is the matter?’ I’m dialing all around, searching all over the place trying to pick it up, trying to locate the signal. There was nothing there.”

-Melissa M.

P.S. Did you notice the interesting thing about almost all of the authors in this list? They are all female. Huh. Women writing about women’s history. What an idea!

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“Air raid, Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill!”

Photo of battleship USS West Virginia under attack

USS West Virginia, Pearl Harbor 12/7/1941

Tomorrow marks the 72nd anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. The next day President Roosevelt asked for, and received from congress a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan.  On December 11th, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. America had become an official combatant in World War II.

As a military maneuver the Japanese attack was an almost perfectly executed assault of torpedo and bombing attacks on the anchored US Pacific Fleet, in concert with bombing and strafing attacks on nearby Army and Marine airfields, barracks, and related facilities.  American efforts at guessing Japanese intentions and assuming a competent defensive posture were ineffective, and in the case of the Army Air Corps. counterproductive.  Thinking that local sabotage was a greater threat than an “enemy” attack, instead of being dispersed, aircraft were lined up wingtip to wingtip so they could be guarded more effectively.  It also made them sitting ducks.  Not everything went the Japanese way. Their desired primary targets, the aircraft carriers Enterprise, Lexington, and Saratoga weren’t in port, and the Japanese didn’t damage the submarine fleet or the 4.5 million barrels of bunker oil on hand, needed to keep the fleet at sea. Had the Japanese destroyed that reserve, what was left of the fleet might have had to relocate to the West Coast from Pearl, endangering both Hawaii and our lines of communication to Australia and New Zealand.

What did the Japanese accomplish?

  • 2,402 sailors, soldiers and Marines killed (1,177 from the USS Arizona)
  • 1,247 wounded
  • Four battleships sunk of which two were re-floated, refurbished and returned to service.
  • Three battleships damaged, 1 battleship grounded. all returned to service
  • 2 other ships sunk
  • 3 cruisers damaged
  • 3 destroyers damaged
  • 3 other ships damaged
  • 188 aircraft destroyed
  • 159 aircraft damaged

More significantly, the Japanese united a nation split on whether the then two-year old war with the axis was “our” war or not. Between December 7th and December 8th, the America First movement and isolationist sentiment ceased to have a place at the table of public policy.  What the Japanese did was seen as treacherous and sneaky, without honor – because at the moment of the attack, they were supposedly negotiating in good faith in Washington.  Since they couldn’t decode and type fast enough, the Japanese emissaries – ignorant of the military plans in motion – failed to break off negotiations and deliver a declaration of war before the attack on Hawaii commenced.   Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, planner and commander of the attack, a former Naval Attache to the US and Harvard student knew that offending the Americans sense of fair play was perhaps worse than the actual damage caused.  Said he:

“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

The story of Pearl Harbor has of course generated historical accounts, memoirs, assessments, literature, fictional accounts and movies.  Wherever your tastes and curiosities lie, it’s worth remembering that there are fewer than 3,000 Pearl Harbor survivors alive today, and the youngest would likely be 88 years old (assuming he lied about his age and was 16 in 1941.)

Nonfiction:

infamy Day of Infamy / Walter Lord

One of the first, and still one of the best historical overviews of the day (along the lines of Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day) written for the casual reader.  It’s well written and well researched (for the period it was written in,) though newer research has dated it somewhat.

dawnAt Dawn We Slept / Gordon W. Prange

Through extensive research and interviews with American and Japanese leaders, Gordon Prange has written what is widely regarded as the definitive assessment of the events surrounding the attack on pearl Harbor, and providing first-hand accounts and recollections from both viewpoints.

fdrleads

Pearl Harbor : FDR leads the nation into war / Steven M. Gillon

Historian Steven Gillon provides a vivid, revealing, minute-by-minute account of Roosevelt’s skillful leadership after Pearl Harbor; perhaps the most pivotal event of the twentieth century. Remaining steady and sure-minded, Roosevelt transformed a grave and potentially demoralizing attack into an occasion for national unity and patriotic fervor.

Fiction & Alternative History:

Pearl Harbor: A Novel of December 8th / Newt Gingrich & William Forstchengingrich

Gingrich and Forstchen provide a detailed account of the background and personalities leading up to the Japanese decision to attack the US.  Then they add the what-if scenarios that subtly change what happens as the Japanese follow their successful attack on the fleet with the additional waves to render the Pacific Fleet wholly ineffective, and Hawaii untenable as an anchorage.

Days of Infamy / Harry Turtledoveinfamyturtle

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In a well written of the type he excels at creating, Turtledove explores the logical “it could have happened scenario”, what if the Japanese followed up their air attack with an invasion and occupation of Hawaii?

From Here to Eternity / James Jonesfrom here

It’s December, 1941 at Schofield Barracks, just north of Pearl Harbor. Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt is a bugler in the US Army. He’s transferred to an infantry unit whose commander is less interested in preparing for war than he is in boxing. But when Prewitt refuses to join the company team, the commander and his sergeant decide to make the bugler’s life hell.

The Cinema:

tora-tora-tora-DVDcover

Tora Tora Tora (1970)

Highly innovative grand and epic film that looks at the preparations for, and the attack itself through the eyes of both the Japanese and American participants, both high and low. From Admirals Yamamoto and Kimmel to Privates Lockard and Elliot (radar operators with no one to warn,) The inevitable unfolds.  Without a doubt the best feature film about Pearl Harbor. Featuring Martin Balsam,  E.G. Marshall, Jason Robards, Takahiro Tamura, James Whitmore, and Sô Yamamura.

from heremovie

From Here to Eternity (1953)

A fantastic ensemble cast featuring some of Hollywood’s best actors as they’re starting out.  The film is faithful to the novel, capturing the rigidity, frustration and tempo of peacetime barracks’ routine and the seedy allure of Honolulu.  Featuring Ernest Borgnine, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Burt Lancaster, Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra.

affleckpearlPearl Harbor (2001)

Great special effects minimally redeem a love story of brotherly sacrifice that plays footloose with history and made me cringe, though the misdated Battle of Britain scenes were great.  If you’re a connoisseur of long “B” movies, then maybe it’s worth your while.  Features Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin, Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner, Cuba Gooding Jr., Josh Hartnett, Jon Voight as Pres. Roosevelt.  

– Richard

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Heroes and Politicians

…11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT
KENNEDY

Sometime during election week we watched an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show; Rob, Laura, Mel, Sally, and Buddy. Whatever the episode was, there was a stand-up comic moment where the target was none other than the President – John F. Kennedy. My 15 year old was shocked; how do you make blatant fun of a murdered icon? When we explained the episode was (in this case) from early 1963, she felt better. As we were talking about JFK, I was reminded again about the magnitude of his historic / cultural footprint. I vaguely remember the assassination, mostly because it disrupted everyone and everything around me.

John Kennedy is undeniably one of the most intriguing Americans of the 20th Century. The stories and myths are well-known and still fascinating us 48 years after his death. My misgiving is that for too many this is the sum of knowledge about President Kennedy; he was married to Jackie, he was killed in Dallas, and at the very least Marilyn Monroe sang him an over-the-top seductive rendition of Happy Birthday to You. How many of you know that he was a pretty brave man and at least in my view, a legitimate hero?

More aware than most and for whatever other motivations, Kennedy enlisted in the US Navy in September, 1941 after being turned down by the army for a bad back.

US Navy PT boats

Photo courtesy of US Navy

Commissioned a Lieutenant, Kennedy was assigned to a PT (Patrol Torpedo) Boat squadron in the Panama Canal Zone in December 1942 as Commanding Officer of PT-101. Two months later he was able to arrange a transfer to a PT Boat Squadron based at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands. On April 14, 1943 Lieutenant j.g. (junior grade) John F. Kennedy assumed command of PT-109.  Between the middle of April and August, PT-109 and the other boats went out on almost nightly patrols/raids to reconnoiter and disrupt Japanese shipping and troop movements in Ferguson and Blackett Straits in the Solomons, about 200 miles northwest of Guadalcanal.

John Kennedy and crew of PT-109

John Kennedy and crew of PT-109, 1943
Photo courtesy of US Navy

On the night of August 2, 1943 PT-109 was involved in its final action. Sometime between 2:00 and 2:30 AM while patrolling Blackett Strait at low speed to reduce their chances of being seen, PT-109 was rammed by the Japanese destroyer IJN Amagiri making 40 knots (20-21 mph.) The Japanese continued on without realizing what had happened, leaving Kennedy’s severely crippled boat foundering in its wake. After taking stock of the situation, determining that two of the crew were missing and rounding up the survivors, the eight men began a three mile / five hour swim to Plum Pudding Island, with Kennedy towing a badly burned crew-member  using his teeth. Over the next four days Kennedy and Ensign George H. R. Ross alternated swimming out to try and hail any PT boats operating nearby, swimming to other islands to look for food and water, and moving the entire party to another island to avoid Japanese barge patrols.

Kennedy in cockpit of PT-109

Photo courtesy of US Navy

On August 6th, Kennedy and the crew made contact with a pair of Solomon Islanders – Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana who worked under the auspices of an Australian coastwatcher – Lt. Reginald Evans. Without pen and paper, Kennedy was at a loss as to how to send a message, until Gasa demonstrated how to carve a coconut shell. Lt. Kennedy carved the following message:

NAURO ISL
COMMANDER . . . NATIVE KNOWS
POS’IT . . . HE CAN PILOT . . . 11 ALIVE
NEED SMALL BOAT . . . KENNEDY

Lt. Evans arranged for Kennedy to be brought to him to finalize rescue plans with US forces, and PT-109’s surviving crew were rescued on August 8th. Lt. John F. Kennedy was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and Purple Heart for injuries sustained during the PT-109 action. in May 1961 Coastwatcher Evans was a guest of the White House, returning the message coconut to its author, the President of the United States.

Crew of the PT-109

  • Lieutenant j.g John F. Kennedy – Commanding Officer
  • Ensign Leonard J. Thom – Executive Officer
  • Ensign George H. “Barney” Ross – Friend of JFK
  • Raymond Albert – Signalman 1st,
  • Charles A. Harris – Gunner’s Mate 3rd
  • William Johnston – Motor Machinist Mate 2nd
  • Andrew Jackson Kirksey – Torpedoman 2nd. Killed in Action 08/02/43
  • John E. Maguire – Radioman 2nd
  • Harold W. Marney – Motor Machinist Mate 2nd. Killed in Action 08/02/43
  • Edman Edgar Mauer – Quartermaster 3rd
  • Patrick Henry McMahon – Motor Machinist Mate 1st
  • Ray L. Starkey – Torpedoman 2nd
  • Gerald E. Zinser – Motor Machinist Mate 1st

Collision with history : the search for John F. Kennedy‘s PT 109 / Robert D. Ballard

John F. Kennedy and PT-109 / Richard Tregaskis

PT 109 [videorecording] with Cliff Robertson

PT 109 : John F. Kennedy in World War II / Robert J. Donovan

The search for Kennedy‘s PT 109 [videorecording] / National Geographic

– Richard

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Snapshot, World War II*

I seem to stumble upon wonderful historical non-fiction rather than actively seek it out. A review will capture my interest or a book on display at the library will catch my eye and I will devour it in mere days. I haven’t read much about the history of the second World War but, what I have read has been bits and pieces, not about battles but about the ordinary people and the daily life during the war.

  Twilight at the World of Tomorrow: Genius, Madness, Murder and the 1939 World’s Fair on the Brink of War by James Mauro. I’m fascinated by world’s fairs; the first one I read about was the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City; Bill Bryson’s At Home also has a chapter about another in 1851; that was my initial interest in this book. But the 1939 World’s Fair is merely the jumping off point. You’ll read about pacifist Albert Einstein’s concern over Germany stockpiling uranium and his decision to encourage the president to develop the atom bomb, the daily security threats that erupted in tragedy at the fair, and the surreal atmosphere of simultaneous excitement and innovation set against the tensions of a world at war. One interesting caveat: a time capsule was buried during the fair and a book was published which listed the contents and other information about the time capsule. This book was sent to all major libraries around the country; we own that book!

 In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson. I don’t think Larson will ever top The Devil in the White City but this is still good. College professor William Dodd was desperate to finish his epic account of southern history but felt that the responsibilities of his teaching career were keeping him from his work. Somehow, he thought that being an ambassador to a small European country would give him the leisure time and freedom to complete his life’s work. But the post assigned to him during a time of fierce German patriotism saw the rise of Adolph Hitler and the coming of a second world war. This is the story of his family’s fearful four years in Nazi-controlled Berlin, their exposures to violent anti-Semitism (and the conflicts within the U.S. government to recognize and act on it), and the toll it took on the family’s life ever after.

Anne Frank: the Book, the Life, the Afterlife by Francine Prose. Teenage diarist and Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s story of life  hidden in an attic in Holland to avoid discovery by the Nazis has been written about extensively. Literary writer Prose pens an elegant, poignant, and informative history of the diary itself and its history and publication snafus (including the difficulty Anne’s father, Otto, had in initially publishing it).

Our Mother’s War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin. To me, this is  the most fascinating part about history and wartime: what was everyday home life like in the United States during that time? What about women in the workplace and those who chose to serve and their experiences? Yellin explores the prejudices women encountered and more in this excellently researched book told in a readable style.

~Maria

*This is the eighth post in my ongoing series of recommended historical non-fiction.

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Homage to Dad.

When I first learned about the Battle of the Bulge – which began 66 years ago today – it was still fresh in my parent’s memories.  It was probably around 1964 which would have been the 20th anniversary of the German offensive into American lines in Belgium and Luxembourg.

Corporal L. Kaplan

Spec. 4 L.Kaplan. 1943

For my mother it would have been another event prolonging the war and keeping her boyfriend (my father) overseas that much longer.

For my father, the concerns were more immediate; he was in the Signal Corps. attached to the 10th Armored Divison. On December 17th the 10th was ordered by General Patton to advance north from their positions along the Westwall (Siegfried Line) and attack the German’s southern flank and cutoff the German assault.  Virtually all of XX Corps. (my father’s parent command) stopped their advances, turned 90 degrees and attacked north – within a day.  Generals Patton and Walton Walker (commander of the XX Corps.) began planning and implementing the relief of the Bulge so that all General Omar Bradley had to do was say “go”.

For dad it was one of his two most frightening periods during two-plus years of overseas service.  Sometime after Christmas to the south-east of Bastogne he and his squad were taken prisoner by the Germans.  They had all been in combat long enough to know that there’s a fluid stage of battle where prisoners are an inconvenience and aren’t always accommodated.  There was an added concern, though not paramount, that being a Jewish GI wasn’t a good thing and he temporarily lost his ‘dog tags’ with their ‘H’ (for Hebrew) identifier.  My father and  several of the other captured Americans could speak German after a fashion and struck up conversations with their captors, pretty much conscripts like themselves, not Nazi ideologues.

2 GIs on a truck.

Dad on the right. Germany 1945.

As the night wore on, these Germans realized that the continuing American counter-attack was going to cut them off from their forces, and they were going to be surrounded within a day.  They in turn surrendered to their captives and became POWs.  The war ended for dad in Czechoslovakia after being at the liberation of the Ohrdruf and Dachau Concentration camps.

For the record, the other frightening period he went through . . .  the possibility that after finishing in Europe, they would be sent to train and prepare for the invasion of Japan.

– Richard

“To the German Commander, Nuts! A.C. McAuliffe, Commanding.”

Nonfiction.

Fiction:

Popular Films: (not documentary)

  • Battle of the Bulge – Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews, Pier Angeli, Barbara Werle.
  • Battleground – Van Johnson, George Murphy, John Hodiak, Ricardo Montalban, Marshall Thompson.
  • A midnight clear – Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Arye Gross, Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise, Frank Whaley.
  • Saints and soldiersCorbin Allred, Alexander Niver, Kirby Heyborne, Lawrence Bagby, Peter Holden.

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Big Day in Film, Comics, Sports, Poetry, Cooking, Music, Graphic Novels, Literature etc.

So, where, oh, where, do all these ideas for blog posts come from anyway, you might ask?

Well, when you work for an institution that nominally acts as a portal of all human knowledge, how hard can it really be? I thought I might talk about what I’m reading currently, a volume of poetry and travel writings by the Japanese master poet, Basho, or the graphic novel V for Vendetta by the modern master of the (comic) universe, Alan Moore, or an obscure volume of gothic short stories by the Welsh master of the macabre, Arthur Machen. But since I haven’t finished any of those (grist for future posts!), I thought I’d take a look-see if there has been anything notable about today, August 25th, historically speaking. And indeed there is. So without any further muss, fuss or babble, here’s a list of things we can celebrate today via materials in the library’s rich treasure trove of goods:

  • Birthday of American short story impresario, Bret Harte
  • 95th birthday anniversary of Pogo creator and satirist, Walt Kelly

So, if you are suffering from blogger’s dilemma (aka what will I post about today), how exactly do you find all this stuff out? In the spirit of disclosure (although running directly counter to one of the Wizard of Oz’s most remembered lines, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!“), you simply go to or call your local library and ask for the annual Chase’s Calendar of Events, an encyclopedia size tome listing all of the above (and much, much more) for every single day of the year.

Don

PS If you want that obscure volume by Arthur Machen, interlibrary loan is the way to go.

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