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Archive for '- World War II'

Unbroken, Part II

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC.

On May 28, 1943, a B-24 airplane crashed into the Pacific Ocean leaving only three survivors. The survivors floated on the sea for 46 days with almost no food or fresh water. On the 47th day, they were picked up by Japanese sailors and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.

Does that story sound familiar? Chances are you heard it before.

The Army Air Force bomber, nicknamed the Green Hornet, was Louis Zamperini’s. A former Olympian, Zamperini was one of the crew who survived on the raft after their plane went down over the Pacific Ocean. His story has been featured in several books, most famously in Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 book Unbroken and a major motion picture of the same name, but he was not the alone on the raft. Both pilot Lt. Russell A. Phillips and tailgunner SSgt. Francis P. McNamara survived too.

Unlike Zamperini, however, neither Phillips nor McNamara received much notoriety from the incident. Instead, they have been largely ignored by historians and the public alike, merely a footnote on Zamperini’s biographic odyssey of herculean proportions.

At the time he and his comrades bailed out over the Pacific, Phillips was a 27-year-old first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. A native of Indiana, Phillips held a forestry … [ Read all ]

On Exhibit: Unbroken

Today’s post comes from Zach Kopin, intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. 

Certificate (copy) awarding the Purple Heart medal to Louis Zamperini, 10/12/1944. (National Civilian Personnel Records Center, National Archives)

Certificate (copy) awarding the Purple Heart medal to Louis Zamperini, 10/12/1944. (National Archives at St. Louis, National Archives)

On May 28, 1943, Army Air Force bombardier Louis Zamperini’s B-24 airplane went down over the Pacific Ocean. Given the size of the Pacific and the distances covered by U.S. bombers, recovering downed aviators in the Pacific Theatre during World War II was difficult, at best.

While some submarines on lifeguard patrols were able to rescue downed aviators, including George H.W. Bush, Zamperini and his crew were not among them.

Zamperini and his crewmates, pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips and Francis “Mac” McNamara, survived the crash only to endure starvation, dehydration, Japanese fighter bombings, and shark attacks. After 33 days at sea, McNamara passed away.

During the 46 days at sea, the men drifted more than 2,000 miles into Japanese-controlled waters. On the 47th day, in sight of land, the Japanese captured Zamperini and Phillips. The two men were eventually separated, but both endured over two years of captivity and torture as prisoners of war before being released at the end of the war in 1945.

Having received no word of Zamperini for a year following the crash, the U.S. Government declared him dead and awarded him the Purple Heart for “wounds … [ Read all ]

Crafting the “Day of Infamy” Speech

Early on a quiet Sunday afternoon in December 1941, the President of the United States was in his study at the White House working on his stamp album. It was a favorite activity and one that allowed him to shut out the troubles of the world, if only for a little while.

The telephone rang, and the White House operator put through the call. Franklin D. Roosevelt learned that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time (1 p.m. in Washington).

It was still unclear what the loss was in lives and ships and planes, but it would be high. Hawaii was the home of the Pacific fleet, along with thousands of soldiers and sailors to man them.

Two of Roosevelt’s speechwriters were out of town, so the President summoned his secretary, Grace Tully, to take down dictation as he “drafted” one of the most famous speeches of the 20th century to deliver to Congress the next day.

“Yesterday, December seventh, 1941, a date which will live in world history,” he began, “the United States was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.”

Franklin Roosevelt's changes to the first draft of his speech are clearly visible on "Draft No. 1." In the opening sentence, he changed "world history" to "infamy" and "simultaneously" to "suddenly." At one point, he considered putting the words "without warning" at the end of the sentence but later crossed them out. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)

Franklin Roosevelt’s changes to the first draft of his speech are clearly visible on “Draft No. 1.” In the opening sentence, he changed “world history” to “infamy” and “simultaneously” to

[ Read all ]

The Ike Jacket

Today’s post comes from Timothy Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. In honor of Veterans Day and those who have worn a uniform while serving their country, here’s the story behind the famous jacket now on display in our exhibit “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures.”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower considered the Army’s World War II military uniform to be restricting and poorly suited for combat. Instead he had a standard issue wool field jacket tailored to be “very short, very comfortable, and very natty looking.” The resulting “Eisenhower jacket” or “Ike jacket,” as it came to be known, was standard issue to American troops after November 1944. This “Ike jacket” was worn by Eisenhower.

One of General Eisenhower's jackets is currently on display in the "Making Their Mark" exhibit at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

One of General Eisenhower’s jackets is currently on display in the “Making Their Mark” exhibit at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

Ike urged theater-wide adoption of the shorter jacket in a May 5, 1943, letter to General George C. Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff:

I have no doubt that you have been impressed by the virtual impossibility of appearing neat and snappy in our field uniform. Given a uniform which tends to look a bit tough, and the natural proclivities of the American soldier quickly create a general impression of a disorderly mob. From this standpoint alone, the matter is bad enough; but

[ Read all ]

Surrender? Nuts!

Exhibition Hall of the National Archives with the German surrender documents on display, 1945. (National Archives History Office)

Exhibition Hall of the National Archives with the German Surrender Documents exhibition, 1945. (National Archives History Office)

On Victory in Europe (V-E) Day, May 8, 1945, Nazi Germany officially surrendered to the Allied Forces at the end of World War II. That same day in the United States, President Harry S. Truman issued a proclamation announcing the war in Europe had ended.

Soon after, Archivist of the United States Solon Buck and President Truman, decided that the German surrender documents and the V-E Day proclamation should be shared with the American people as symbols of democracy and freedom.

Less than a month later, on June 6—the one year anniversary of D-Day—the National Archives held a ceremony in the Rotunda to open an exhibit of the surrender documents.

In attendance was U.S. Army General Anthony McAuliffe. McAuliffe was the acting division commander of the 101st Airborne Division troops, who just six months before, defended Bastogne, Belgium, during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. There he famously replied “Nuts!” to German demands that the U.S. force surrender to Germany.

General McAuliffe Unveiling the German Surrender Documents in the Rotunda of the National Archives, June 6, 1945. National Archives Identifier  4477175 )

General McAuliffe Unveils the German Surrender Documents in the Rotunda of the National Archives, June 6, 1945. (National Archives Identifier 4477175 )

During the unveiling ceremony, which was broadcast by radio, McAuliffe remarked that the documents were a testament that “the American soldier, bound to a just cause, and backed by the labor and … [ Read all ]