Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Letter from Quentin Aanenson

If you watched Ken Burns' amazing documentary, The War, then you will be familiar with Quentin Aanenson, a World War II fighter pilot who was interviewed for the film. His eloquence and strength truly touched me.

Here is a letter he wrote to his girlfriend, who later became his wife, during the war. He never sent it, yet it is a haunting, brutally honest portrayal of what many soldiers went through during this terrible conflict.

Dear Jackie,

For the past two hours, I've been sitting here alone in my tent, trying to figure out just what I should do and what I should say in this letter in response to your letters and some questions you have asked. I have purposely not told you much about my world over here, because I thought it might upset you. Perhaps that has been a mistake, so let me correct that right now. I still doubt if you will be able to comprehend it. I don’t think anyone can who has not been through it.

I live in a world of death. I have watched my friends die in a variety of violent ways...

Sometimes it's just an engine failure on takeoff resulting in a violent explosion. There's not enough left to bury. Other times, it's the deadly flak that tears into a plane. If the pilot is lucky, the flak kills him. But usually he isn't, and he burns to death as his plane spins in. Fire is the worst. In early September one of my good friends crashed on the edge of our field. As he was pulled from the burning plane, the skin came off his arms. His face was almost burned away. He was still conscious and trying to talk. You can't imagine the horror.

So far, I have done my duty in this war. I have never aborted a mission or failed to dive on a target no matter how intense the flak. I have lived for my dreams for the future. But like everything else around me, my dreams are dying, too. In spite of everything, I may live through this war and return to Baton Rouge. But I am not the same person you said goodbye to on May 3. No one can go through this and not change. We are all casualties. In the meantime, we just go on. Some way, somehow, this will all have an ending. Whatever it is, I am ready for it.


Edit: Sadly, Quentin Aanenson passed away on December 28, 2008.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day 2008

Please take a moment to thank a veteran today and to remember those that have fallen in service to their country. Their sacrifices cannot be forgotten.

Thank you - to all who served, who continue to serve, and to those who gave their lives so that we might enjoy the greatest freedoms on earth.

You will never be forgotten.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Book Thief

The true human cost of World War II is conveyed eloquently and perfectly in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. Rarely have I read a more emotionally-powerful book than this true gem.

The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger who, at the beginning of the story, is only 9 years old and has just arrived at a foster home. Her parents have both been sent away (apparently they are "Komunists") and her little brother died in a train accident en route to Munich. And it is at her brother's funeral that Liesel steals her first book, setting the stage for many more to come.

Liesel lives with Rosa and Hans Hubermann. While Rosa is a tough, no-nonsense woman who often abuses Liesel physically and mentally, she hides a rather warm heart. But it is Hans, whom Liesel soon comes to call "Papa", who truly captures Liesel's heart. He helps her learn how to read, thus spawning Liesel's love for words and for books.

Liesel grows up on Himmel Street in Munching, a suburb of Munich. She becomes best friends with Rudy Steiner, a boy her age, and the two play soccer in the streets, steal fruit from a farmer's orchard, and stand up for each other against all odds. The war touches them from all angles: from a book burning to Jews being marched through the streets to Dachau, to Liesel and her family hiding a Jew named Max, to Rudy's father going off to war, to rationing, to the Hitler Youth and everything in between.

Throughout it all, Liesel clings to her books - some she received as presents from her Papa, while others she has stolen from the library of the mayor's wife. Each book is precious: but she soon learns the awesome power that words hold.

One word can sum up this book - brilliant. I have rarely read a book that is so well-written, with such colorful and vivid language that made me envious as a writer. But even more than the writing is the unusual nature of the story itself. Death is the narrator, and Death knows all and sees all. And in the process, Death reveals its own frailty.

It's an amazing work, very ambitious, and completely absorbing. It is one of the best books I have ever read and with my long history of reading, that is definitely saying something. This book is deserving of all the accolades it has received.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Father's Secret War

Pulitzer-Prize winner Lucinda Franks delves into her father's shrouded past in this emotionally-driven memoir that reads more like a novel than a nonfiction book.

After finding a Nazi cap in a box of her father's things, Franks begins a search for the truth of her father's role in World War II. Her father refuses to talk about it, and Franks must piece together the clues she finds. She soon discovers that her father played a pivotal role in the war as a secret agent behind enemy lines.

It's a journey of discovery for Franks as she struggles to understand why her father retreated from the world, haunted by a past that was too painful to discuss with his own family.

If you start this at ten o'clock at night like I did, be prepared to stay up a few hours reading. You'll be hooked from the very beginning. Franks' writing is as amazing as the story she has to tell.

Offering a look at not only the physical but the emotional and pyschological toll of World War II, My Father's Secret War should be required reading for any World War II enthusiast.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sentimental Journey

Sentimental Journey is a B-17 plane that served during World War II. It's currently on tour throughout the Midwest - and if you have $425 to spare, you can actually take a ride in it. It's been lovingly restored by the Arizona Wing Commemorative Air Force Museum. I was fortunate enough to see this plane at its stop in Beatrice, Nebraska, and was able to take lots of photos of the inside and out. To view these photos, visit my other blog.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Historic Photos of WW2: Pearl Harbor to Japan

Before the Acknowledgments page in this latest book from Bob Duncan, there is a photo of a Marine dug into the black sand of Iwo Jima. He is trying to catch a few winks and he'll probably be able to since he has a faithful war dog by his side, alert to any danger that might bring harm to his master.

It's a powerful photo, and only one of many in Historic Photos of World War II: Pearl Harbor to Japan by Bob Duncan. His last book covered North Africa to Germany and revealed many stark photos of the war in Europe. This time, he delves into the Pacific Theater, by all odds a bloodier fight for the Americans than they had in Europe. And once again, Duncan delivers a batch of photos, all black and white, that capture the horror of a very different front.

Candid shots of soldiers resting in between battles, fighting in the sands of Iwo Jima and other islands, and of the deadly battles between carriers all appear in this wonderful book, plus many, many more.

These are photos worthy of studying, and simply glancing at them does them an injustice. Duncan's accompanying text only heightens their appeal and you'll come away from this volume with a good deal more insight into the Pacific Theater.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Foyle's War

If you haven't had the chance to catch this BBC miniseries, you're missing out on some extraordinary performances. Starring Michael Kitchen as Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle, this miniseries follows the solitary detective as he solves mysteries on the British homefront during World War II.

Foyle's War is a well-done series, written by Anthony Horowitz, with spot-on details in costumes and settings and a wonderful supporting cast. There's Foyle's driver, Samantha "Sam" Stewart who isn't afraid to jump in and help the inspector even though she's not a policewoman, wounded soldier turned sergeant Paul Milner, and Foyle's son, Andrew, who gets into his own share of scrapes as a pilot in the RAF.

Tom Keogh of Amazon.com sums it up brilliantly: Kitchen's magnificently measured performance and Horowitz's masterful grasp of the moral and dramatic issues of his battle-scarred milieu make Foyle's War a must.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Steven Spielberg's Film and Video Archive at USHMM

Want to watch the Nuremberg Rallies online? Or see color footage of the Warsaw Jewish quarter in 1939? How about the liberation of Buchenwald?

It's all here.

The Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum offers a vast resource for scholars and enthusiasts of World War II history. The Internet has made it possible to share these fascinating videos with the world, offering an amazing, sobering, and sometimes horrifying glimpse into the Holocaust and other aspects of World War II. This online catalog provides more than 800 hours of film, primarily from the 1920s to 1948:

Here's a list from the website of just some of the topics covered:

--Prewar Jewish and Roma/Sinti (Gypsy) life
--Germany in the 1920s and 1930s the Nazi rise to power
--Nazi racial science and propaganda
--Persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, occupied territories, and Nazi puppet states
--Deportations of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps
--Internment camps
--Resistance movements
--Tthe liberation and disclosure of Nazi concentration camps
--Refugees in displaced persons camps
--War crimes trials, including the Nuremberg Trials and the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann
--American responses to the events in Europe from 1933-1945, incl. rallies, protests, speeches, & newsreels coverage

Definitely worth a visit.

Picture Credit: USHMM, Julien Bryan filming in Warsaw, Poland, in 1939

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hollywood Goes To War

World War II movies from the Golden Era of Hollywood are plentiful. Most of the era's biggest stars made a war picture. Others went on war bond tours, worked at the Hollywood Canteen, or even served in the armed forces.

Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits, and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies, takes an in-depth look at Tinsel Town during the war years. It also takes a closerc look at the OWI - the Office of War Information bureau. This group had one important question for movies made during the war - Will this picture help us win the war?

This is a fascinating look at the relationship between the movie industry and the American government, and offers fantastic behind-the-scenes looks at several popular movies of the time.