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On display: GI Bill of Rights

The GI Bill is on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building from June 6 through July 14. Today’s post comes from education and exhibit specialist Michael Hussey.

“With the signing of this bill a well-rounded program of special veterans’ benefits is nearly completed. It gives emphatic notice to the men and women in our armed forces that the American people do not intend to let them down.” President Franklin Roosevelt’s Statement on Signing the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, June 22, 1944

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act into law on June 22, 1944, just days after the D-day invasion of Normandy.

Also known as the GI Bill of Rights, it offered World War II veterans grants and loans for college and vocational education, unemployment insurance, and low interest loans for housing. The bill had unanimously passed both chambers of Congress in the spring of 1944.

The act put higher education, job training, and home ownership within the reach of millions of World War II veterans. By 1951, nearly 8 million veterans had received educational and training benefits, and 2.4 million had received $13 billion in Federal loans for homes, farms, and businesses.… [ Read all ]

What did Ike say to launch the D-Day invasion?

Today’s blog post comes from James Worsham, Editor of Publications at the National Archives, and Tim Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.

The Supreme Allied Commander listened to his weather officer’s forecast,  then observed as his commanders struggled to make sense of the report.

Finally, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, having ordered the biggest invasion force in history to a state of readiness, spoke:  “The question is just how long can you keep this operation on the end of a limb and let it hang there.”

The next morning, Eisenhower arose at 3:30 and met with his staff again.  He asked each one what he thought about launching the invasion of Western Europe the next day, June 6, 1944. They all said yes.

Then Eisenhower got up, paced around the room, pondering what was riding on this decision — the fate of millions.

Then he stopped pacing, looked at his commanders, and gave the go-ahead for the D-day invasion of Western Europe by the allies to bring down Hitler’s Third Reich.

But what words did Eisenhower use to give his commanders the green light 70 years ago this week?

Tim Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas, ponders that question in the latest issue of Prologue magazine.

“It is puzzling that one of the most important … [ Read all ]

The Oath of Office: The First Act of the First Congress

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, Archives Specialist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

When the First Congress met in New York City in March of 1789, they faced an enormous undertaking. The new Constitution had just been ratified, and Congress was the first part of the new Federal government to meet and take shape. Ahead of them lay numerous important and urgent tasks: they needed to create the Treasury, War, and Foreign Affairs departments; the Federal judiciary; and a system of taxation and collection. They also needed to determine patent and copyright laws, rules for naturalization, the location of a new capital city, administration of the census, amendments to the Constitution, and much more.

But before the members of Congress could get to all of this pressing business, there was something more important they needed to do—so important that it was the first bill introduced in the House of Representatives, and the first act signed into law by President George Washington.

“An Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths” was signed into law on June 1, 1789. It prescribed the text of and procedure for … [ Read all ]

A scrap of silk tells an airman’s story

In honor of Memorial Day, today’s blog post comes from  Sara Holmes, supervisory preservation specialist, and Michael Pierce, preservation technician, both at the National Archives at St. Louis.

The piece of silk lay in the folder as if it were just another page in the military personnel record—with holes punched through to be held by the fasteners, just another page to be cleaned of mold and soot from the burned files from the disastrous 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.

But this piece of cloth with its colorful silkscreen of a Chinese flag was clearly something different from everything else treated by the Paper Lab. Accompanying documents in the file explained how very special it was. The long journey taken by this small silken scrap, called a “blood chit,” to the National Archives began when it fell from the sky.

On June 29, 1944, 16 American planes were flying a mission against the Japanese along the Laodoho River in the Hunan Province in China. After several followed a road away from the river, one of the planes crashed into a building and then skidded across the rice fields, breaking apart and burning.

Over a year later, the Changsha Search Team reported finding the grave of an unidentified pilot. The team recovered the engine numbers and serial plates of the carburetor and radio compass … [ Read all ]

Now on display: Whitman’s Report on Cemeteries

In honor of Memorial Day, the 1869 Whitman Report on Cemeteries is on display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building from May 22 through June 5. Today’s post comes from curator Alice Kamps.

Memorial Day traditions began in the aftermath of the Civil War. The American people were just beginning what historian Drew Gilpin Faust called “the work of death.”

An estimated 750,000 soldiers died between 1861 and 1865—about 2.5 percent of the population. Never before or since has war resulted in so many American casualties. The task of locating, identifying, burying, and mourning the dead was overwhelming.

Walt Whitman wrote of the nation’s shared suffering in his epic 1865 poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d:

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer’d not,
The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

In his Personal Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant described an open field after the 1862 Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. He said it was “so covered with dead that it would have … [ Read all ]