Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas at the Front

"Sitting around a miniature Christmas tree and opening a Christmas package are (front row, left to right) S/Sgt. John F. Suchanek; and Pfc. Joseph G. Pierro; and (back row) Sgt. Charles M. Myrich; and Sgt. Leon L. Oben. All are members of F. A. Bn., 3rd Div. Pietramelara, Italy. December 16, 1943." - From the U.S. Army Center of Military History 

"Pfc. George E. Neidhardt, with 9th Army in Germany, opens a holiday package sent from his home. Dec 1944" - From the U.S. Army Center of Military History

WW2-era Christmas Card
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day 2012

Thank you to all the veterans, past and present, who have served. 
Your sacrifices will never be forgotten.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Charles Schulz and World War II

The creator of the famous comic strip, Peanuts, once served in the U.S. Army during World War II.

This service forever changed his life, molding him from a shy young kid into a confident, strong man. His time in the army also served as material for many of his later comic strips. Charlie Brown epitomized Schulz's angst in basic training and Snoopy showed what it was like to be an infantryman in several D-Day tribute comics.

You can read all about Schulz and his WW2 experiences in my article feature in the December 2012 edition of America in WWII magazine, available on newsstands now!

Friday, August 03, 2012

Flight from Berlin by David John

I'm always very pleased when a first-rate World War II thriller shows up on the "New Releases" list, but I'm every more pleased when the book delivers on its intended promise.

Flight from Berlin by David John does just that.

Although the 1936 Berlin Olympics have been covered in fiction before (see Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver for another engrossing read), John's debut novel takes a slight twist in featuring one of the Olympic athletes as a main character. Spoiled and maybe  too keen on partying, Eleanor Emerson is an Olympic swimmer en route to the Olympics when she gets thrown off the team for getting drunk and dancing all night. She is then given the job of being a journalist covering the games, and she meets English journalist Richard Denham.

Denham has lived in Berlin for several years. His ex-wife and young son live in Britain. Denham has seen the seedy underbelly of Nazism and he senses there's a story to be found when he discovers that Hannah Liebermann, a talented fencer, is the only Jewish athlete on the German Olympic team. Further investigation reveals that the Nazis are threatening to harm Hannah's family if she doesn't participate.

Denham and Eleanor team up to uncover the story, and in the process, discover that Hannah's father has a dossier on Hitler that the head Nazis want back very badly. What they are willing to do to get it back puts Richard and Eleanor on a collision course with evil itself.

John places you right smack in Berlin in 1936, and his vivid, sensory descriptions and flawless narrative deliver a terrific read. Also enjoyable are his inclusions of a Zeppelin airship, the Hindenburg, real-life personages - Martha Dodd, daughter of U.S. Ambassador William Dodd, plays a major role - and spot-on historical detail.

I look forward to more great reads from David John, and highly recommend Flight from Berlin for its fast-paced action, gripping detail, and well-rounded characters.

*Disclosure. I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes only.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

John Huston Documentary: "Let There Be Light"

Post traumatic stress disorder was not given a name until sometime in the 1980s. But that didn't mean veterans returning from wars were not subject to psychological trauma.

Even in the 1940s, this trauma was recognized, but kept hush-hush. Renowned film director, John Huston, made a documentary on this subject in 1946. However, the U.S. Army blocked its release, and it was not revealed to the public until 1980. By that time, however, the quality of the film itself was in such bad shape that watching it was impossible.

Thanks to the National Archives, the film was fully restored and can be watched for a limited time at this link.

This is a no-holds barred look at the psychological trauma suffered by World War II veterans, and further shows how we need to remember what these brave men and women went through. That the U.S. Army banned its release for so many years, however, is not only telling, but shameful.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Free Lectures on World War II

The Harvard University History Department and Extension School has now made it easier for you to learn about World War II without having to pay a dime.

Free video lectures (or audio - your preference) are now available through their website. Taught by Charles S. Maier, PhD, Leverett Saltonstall Professor of History, Harvard University, this course begins with the end of World War I and goes all the way through to the origins of the Cold War.

Here is the full link:


Monday, July 09, 2012

The Sentinels: Fortunes of War

Gordon Zuckerman's first book in his Sentinels trilogy, Fortunes of War, starts off a unique series that focuses on the Six Sentinels, six graduates - men and women - of an elite California economic doctoral program in the 1930s who uncover a plot by German industrialists to finance the Third Reich by squirreling away hundreds of millions in illegal war profits. 

It's an intriguing premise, to be sure, but it starts off a little slow. The pace picks up somewhat and Zuckerman delivers on the promised action and suspense. The six main characters - the sentinels - each have excellent connections both financially and through their families, making it possible for them to infiltrate the upper echelons of European society. Danger dogs their every step, however, as they try to stop the outbreak of World War II. 

Zuckerman knows his stuff, and well he should considering he is a graduate of Harvard Business School. He's also studied banking, international finance, and history, making him the perfect candidate to tell this story. It's definitely a different story than the typical World War II fare and should find a ready audience.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Hidden Legacy of World War II

We tend to think of those who served in World War II as the "Greatest Generation." And in many ways, they were. But when we hear those words, we don't think of alcoholism. We don't think of post traumatic stress disorder. We don't think of nightmares and flashbacks. We don't think of what happened to those soldiers who came back from the war after the parades and thank you's.

We have perpetuated a myth, and that myth is this: that soldiers of World War II returned home from war, resumed their normal lives, and never had any problems.

This is not a myth for some. There were those who adjusted to civilian life just fine. But for too many, this was not the case, and for too long, we have ignored their stories.

In The Hidden Legacy of World War II: A Daughter's Journey of Discovery, Carol Schultz Vento gives us an intimate, in-depth look at the deep emotional and psychological wounds suffered by combat veterans of the war. Her father, immortalized in the 1960 movie, The Longest Day, was Arthur "Dutch" Schultz, a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day.

Growing up, Carole suffered through her father's drinking, his inability to hold down a job, and the endless fights between him and her mother. Little did she know that several other children of World War II combat veterans were suffering the same fate. Yet no one talked about it, least of all the veterans themselves. The U.S. Army told many of them they were suffering such emotional turmoil because they'd "had a difficult childhood" or were "psychologically weak." No one seemed to understand, or wanted to understand. Some soldiers tried to relieve the constant pain through dramatic means like lobotomies. Others used alcohol and drugs. Still others committed suicide.

Yet we do not hear about this side of the war. We have sanitized World War II and in doing so, we have turned these men into something they're not - supermen. Are they heroes? Unquestionably. But they are also human, and their suffering is very real.

Though not nearly as many studies have been done on World War II veterans and PTSD as have been done on Vietnam veterans and the wars of today, Vento has done her research, and it shows in her well-written narrative. We read of a daughter's frustration and fear, insecurity and helplessness, all emotions experienced by several other children of World War II veterans as documented in Vento's book.

It's a powerful book and can and should be read in conjunction with Thomas Childers' work on the subject, Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War II

As William Tecumseh Sherman said, "War is hell." Yes, even World War II, the "Good War" was hell. We must never forget this. For many WWII combat vets, they've continued to endure the hell of war for more than sixty years. While we must continue to honor them, we also must continue to chip away at the myth of the stoic warrior who was unaffected by the horrors of war. We do them a disservice when we refuse to acknowledge the post-war difficulties they endured, and they do not deserve that. Instead, they deserve our thanks, our gratitude, and most importantly, our acceptance of their humanness.

For more information or to read other stories of children of the Greatest Generation, visit Daughters of D-Day, a site started by Carol and another daughter of a D-Day veteran.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

68th Anniversary of D-Day

"Crossed rifles in the sand are a comrade's tribute to this American soldier who sprang ashore from a landing barge and died at the barricades of Western Europe. This picture was made by a Coast Guard Combat Photographer who went in with the invaders of France." - Source, WWII Archives

The Invasion of France began on this day 68 years ago. It has been documented in films like The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. But no one will ever be able to accurately depict the horror of charging up those beaches. Only the brave men themselves who partook in this historic moment will ever know the truth of those seconds, those minutes, those hours of fighting.

But we must remember them, both those who died and those who lived. Both made sacrifices. Both endured terror. All of them deserve our respect and our gratitude. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Website Review: WWII Archives

If you're looking for an absolute treasure trove of historical documents, photographs, and lots and lots of other information on World War II, the WWII Archives website should be a required stop on your World War II research journey.
Shortly after the landings on the French coast, two Yanks make friends with the younger element. In most cases, the Armies of Liberation met with overwhelming receptions from the civilian population. France. 9 June 1944.

Their mission statement reads as follows:

"Sixty years have past since the end of World War II and, as time goes on, the commitment and sacrifice of the greatest generation is being forgotten. Over 400,000 Americans died and by some estimates almost 80 million people from around the world died. A chapter in a history book cannot help someone understand the magnitude of this event in history. WWII Archives was founded to ensure that the commitments, sacrifices and the lessons learned from the most import event in modern history are never forgotten. Our mission is to bring together the most information, documents, photographs and video about World War II into a single site. WWII Archives will present information to researchers, historians and enthusiasts in a single and consistent interface to make researching the most important event in modern history easier."

Their photograph collection contain numerous images that have rarely been seen, both from the Pacific and European Theaters of War, and their documents collection includes actual images of U.S. ship diaries. Other documents include German code books, radio intelligence summaries, war diaries, and action reports.

Battle histories that include photographs, a list of casualties, maps, investigations, and summaries are also incredibly well done.

If you have a moment or an hour or ten, you can easily get sucked into the wonderful content on this site. It's well worth whatever time you invest in it, then some.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


World War II combat artist Ed Reep painted this picture the morning after 17 men were killed on the beachhead at Anzio, Italy. He was very fortunate that he was not among them.

The ingenious men of the U.S. Army had dug a movie theater into the ground to avoid the shells lobbed at them by the Germans. That night, Reep decided to stay in his foxhole rather than go to Bing Crosby's Going My Way. While he was in his foxhole, a German 155mm shell landed between his foxhole and the theater. He heard screams of agony, and, already terrified, tried to pull himself together to go help. A second shell struck and he stayed put.

The next morning, haunted by the experience and wondering if he could ever paint again, he made a decision. He decided to paint right then and there.

This painting is called The Morning After. "It depicted dazed soldiers stripped to the waist and emotionless, gathering up the remnants of clothing and equipment for the fallen men and stacking it in neat piles," Reep said.

Art has the power to show us reality in all its many facets. Reep's painting shows not only the physical tragedy of war, but the emotional tragedy on the human being.

Many veterans, past and present, lived with those emotional scars. And far, far too many soldiers died a physical death. Both sacrificed. And on Memorial Day, both must be remembered.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?

Charles Schulz is famous for creating the beloved cartoon, Peanuts. Charlie Brown, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Linus, Marcy, and of course, Snoopy, have become icons throughout the world.

But what many people might not know is that Charles Schulz served in World War II as a staff sergeant. He was in Europe with the Twentieth Armored Division after D-Day and saw combat.

The war affected him deeply, and it appeared in his cartoon strips in various ways. But in 1983, he created a short cartoon called What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? that was a tribute to the soldiers of World War I and World War II.

In the (too) short cartoon, Charlie Brown, Linus, Marcy, and Peppermint Patty, along with Snoopy, are in France as exchange students. While headed for the coast of Normandy, they take a wrong turn, and end up right near Omaha Beach. When Linus realizes where they are, he recalls the lessons he learned about D-Day and the Allied invasion and shares them with the other children. Real footage is blended within the cartoon to create an intriguing piece of art that manages to show the bold sacrifice and courage of that day without being frightening for the children's audience it was intended for.

As the kids explore the American cemetery, Dwight Eisenhower's voice emerges, discussing the Allies' fight for freedom against the tyranny of the Axis' powers. The next day, the kids end up in a field filled with poppies, and Linus recites the poem "In Flanders Field" by John McRae. Red poppies cover this particular cemetery that is filled with the fallen from World War I, and the words are haunting.

It is at the end of this poem that Linus turns to Charlie Brown and says, "What have we learned, Charlie Brown?"

The question is never answered, and this makes the short film all the more powerful. It is a question for children and adults, and it is one that is open-ended for a reason.

What have we learned?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wartime Newsreels Online

The University of South Carolina has put a terrific resource online - the Fox Movietone Newsreels from 1942 to 1944.

From the website:

“Fox Movietone News: the War Years, 1942 – 1944,” a collaboration between the University of South Carolina and the Library of Congress, provides online access for the first time to over two hundred Fox Movietone News newsreels released in American theaters from September 1942 through August 1944. Before the era of television news broadcasts, newsreels were shown in theaters across the country to inform and entertain audiences. During the war, two newsreels per week were released by each of the five major American newsreel companies (Fox Movietone News, Universal News, Hearst News of the Day, Paramount News, and Pathé News).

These 8 to 10 minute Fox Movietone News newsreels record how the world appeared on screen to the American public during the war. As a whole, the collection helps us better understand how the war was waged on the home front. The films reveal a concerted effort to sustain a sense of “normalcy” in America even as war ravaged much of the globe. Battlefield victories (and losses) were interspersed with beauty pageants and ball games. But even when light-hearted news dominated much of a newsreel, the war was an inescapable reality."

Amazing stuff.