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Archive for '- World War II'

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 ]

Fidel Castro’s childhood plea to President Roosevelt

Continuing our celebration of Natinal Hispanic Heritage Month, this post comes from Idaliz Marie Ortiz Morales, intern in the National Archives Office of Strategy and Communications.

Did you know that Fidel Castro, when he was just 14 years old, wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II?

How many of us, at such a young age, have written a letter to our President or any other country’s president?

During the years that President Roosevelt was in office, he received thousands of letters in which people from all around the world wished him luck, congratulated him on his reelection, asked him questions, made requests, and shared their concerns, suggestions, and criticisms.

Over 74 years ago, on November 6, 1940, even the future leader of the Cuban revolution sent a letter to the President of the United States. Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz grew up to become one of the most famous figures of the 20th century. But as a child, he had a simpler request for the leader of his country’s neighbor to the north.

The young Fidel opens his letter with “My good friend Roosevelt” and asks the President to “give me a ten dollars bill green american” since he had not seen one. In a postscript, he even offers his help with the industrial sector by indicating that he can show the President … [ Read all ]