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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.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division in Newbury, England, on June 5, 1944, prior to their departure for their role in the D-day invasion, dropping behind enemy lines.  The soldier with a “23” tag was a fellow Kansan, Lt. Wallace C. Strobel.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower talks with paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division in Newbury, England, on June 5, 1944, prior to their departure for their role in the D-day invasion, dropping behind enemy lines. The soldier with a “23” tag was a fellow Kansan, Lt. Wallace C. Strobel. (National Archives Identifier 531217)

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?

Eisenhower meets with his commanders in January 1944.  Far left is Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley and far right is Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith.

Eisenhower meets with his commanders in January 1944. Far left is Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley and far right is Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith. (Eisenhower Library)

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 decisions of the 20th century did not bequeath to posterity a memorable quote to mark the occasion, something to live up to the magnitude of the decision,” Rives writes.  “Something iconic like Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s vow to the people of he Philippines, ‘I shall return.’”

Eyewitnesses to Ike’s historic decision could not agree on what he actually said.  Was it “Well, we’ll go” or “All right, we move” or “OK, boys, We will go.”

Even Eisenhower himself was not consistent in his recollections of what he said. In a 1964 article for Paris Match, he recalled that he said: “We will attack tomorrow.”

In his Prologue article, Rives explores the many recollections of that moment. Then, he tells us what Eisenhower himself remembered about that morning 70 years ago, when the tide of war began to turn in favor of the allies.

A view on June 6, 1944, from a coast Guard Barge hitting the French coast with the first waves of invaders.  U.S. troops wade ashore  under heavy machine gun fire  from Nazi beach nests.

A view on June 6, 1944, from a coast Guard Barge hitting the French coast with the first waves of invaders. U.S. troops wade ashore under heavy machine gun fire from Nazi beach nests. (National Archives Identifier 513173)

 

 


The Eisenhower Library commemorates D-Day

June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day. This weekend, the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum will commemorate D-Day with two days of events. Follow along on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with #DDay70.

And if you can’t make it to Abilene, you can explore National Archives documents and photographs in our special D-Day exhibit “D-Day and the Normandy Invasion,” now live on the Google Cultural Institute.

Some of the military equipment on display at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. Photo from @IkeLibrary on Instagram.

Some of the military equipment on display at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. Photo from @IkeLibrary on Instagram.

 

The “D-Day + 70 Years” commemorative weekend will kick off on Friday, June 6, with a Remembrance Ceremony and rifle salute. There will also tours with the Library staff and you can meet historical reenactors.

At 2 p.m., there will be a showing of The Ritchie Boys, a film about an elite unit comprised of Jewish refugees who returned to Europe as Allied soldiers. Afterwards, Guenther Stern, a former a Ritchie Boy, will give a talk on his experiences.

Stern was born in Hildesheim, Germany, in 1922. He was the only member of his family of five who escaped and emigrated to the United States in 1937. In 1942, after turning 18, Guenther, now called Guy, was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was sent to Camp Ritchie and became a POW interrogator. Two days after D-Day, he arrived in Germany to interrogate German prisoners. He later received the Bronze Star for his “method of mass interrogation.” After Germany’s capitulation, he learned that his family perished in the Warsaw ghetto. Guy became a professor of German Language and Literature at Columbia University. Today, he is Distinguished Professor for German at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Saturday events begin with the film D-Day Plus 20 Years: Eisenhower returns to Normandy. The afternoon features panel discussions sharing stories of those on the home front and on the battlefields, and is followed by award-winning biographer and historian Nigel Hamilton discussing this important anniversary.

Families are encouraged to bring blankets and eat on the grounds. On Saturday, food and beverage vendors will be open from noon to 9:30 p.m. However, no outside coolers will be permitted. Random security checks of bags and containers will be in place.

A C-47 flyover will take place Saturday evening around 5 p.m. More than 1,000 C-47s dropped paratroopers behind enemy lines as part of Operation Overlord. The aircraft will be on view at the Abilene Municipal Airport. Additionally, the campus grounds will be scattered with a number of WWII-era military equipment and vehicles including a Sherman tank, tank destroyer, half track, jeeps and a motorcycle.

The third annual Symphony at Sunset D-Day Commemoration Concert begins at 7 p.m. Admission is a $5 minimum suggested donation. (There’s no charge for children ages 12 and under).  The 1st Infantry Division Band will perform the opening act, followed at 8:30 p.m. with the headline performance by the Salina Symphony

The Symphony at Sunset rain date is June 8 at 8:30 p.m.

On both Friday and Saturday, there will be gallery talks given by the Eisenhower curatorial team every 30 minutes beginning at 10 a.m.. The topics are:

  • Be Ye Men of Valour: Allies of World War II
  • Forbidden Art
  • World War II Remembered: Leaders, Battles & Heroes
  • World War II Remembered: Exhibit Supplements

Additionally, military reenactors will provide narrated weapons demonstrations at their encampment at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 5 p.m.

You can find the full list of events here.


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, June 1, 1789. Records of the General Government, National Archives. National Archives Identifier 596341

An Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths, June 1, 1789. Records of the General Government, National Archives. National Archives Identifier 596341

“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 the administration of the oath of office.

The act mandated that the oath be administered in the following form: “I, A.B. do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.” This simple, straightforward oath fulfilled the constitutional requirement outlined in Article VI, clause 3:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution . . .

Although today it might seem fundamental to require an oath prior to the assumption of public office, the Founders didn’t all agree on the need. At the Constitutional Convention, delegate James Wilson of Pennsylvania said of oaths, “A good government did not need them and a bad one could not or ought not to be supported.”

The Founders also debated who should take the oath, and came down with a firm statement of federal supremacy. The Constitution required not just Federal officers to take the oath to support the Constitution, but also state officials.

This oath remained intact until the Civil War. In 1862, concerns about sabotage by Southern sympathizers compelled Congress to rewrite the oath of office in an attempt to keep disloyal persons out of public office. In a law that became known as the Iron Clad Test Oath, Congress compelled new officials to swear not only that they would support the Constitution in the future, but also that they had in the past. Although originally exempted, members of Congress began taking the new oath in 1864.

 Iron Clad Test Oath bill, June 5, 1862. Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives

Iron Clad Test Oath bill, June 5, 1862. Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives

After the end of the Civil War in 1865, there were almost immediate problems in Congress when former Confederate states returned to the Union. Many of the new members had served the Confederacy and could not take the Iron Clad Test Oath in good faith. In 1868, as the nation was trying to come back together, the law was changed to allow former Confederates to skip the first part of the oath which verified previous loyalty.

In 1884, the Iron Clad Test Oath was repealed. The second part of the oath, which promised faithful support of the Constitution in the future, remained. This is the oath that Federal and state officials take today.

You can see Daniel Inouye’s oath of office and others on display now in “Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures” at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.

Oath of Office for Daniel K. Inouye, January 9, 1963. Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives. National Archives Identifier: 7741395

Oath of Office for Daniel K. Inouye, January 9, 1963. Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives. National Archives Identifier: 7741395

 

 


The National Archives at St. Louis thanks WWII Navy veteran Paul Wittmer

The National Archives at St. Louis staff extended a special thanks to World War II U.S. Navy Veteran Paul Wittmer on April 14.

World War II submarine veterans take part in a ceremony honoring their counterparts who lost their lives during the war. The ceremony is taking place as part of an observance of the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 12/06/1991. NAI 6476472.

World War II submarine veterans take part in a ceremony honoring their counterparts who lost their lives during the war. The ceremony is taking place as part of an observance of the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 12/06/1991. NAI 6476472.

During World War II, Wittmer served on six war patrols on the USS Tinosa SS-283. He was part of the crew responsible for the capture of the famed Japanese I-401 submarine taken at the end of the war and returned to Pearl Harbor from Japan.

The I-401 was the largest submarine in the world at the time. It was designed with an air-tight airplane hangar on board so it could surface and launch three torpedo bombers in attacks against enemy vessels or land targets. To prevent this technology from falling into the hands of the Soviets, the I-401 and the only other submarine of its kind to enter service, the I-400, were sunk near Pearl Harbor.

Despite his age, Wittmer has faithfully made his standing Tuesday research room appointment since 2007.  His tireless efforts have culminated in a six-volume publication titled United States Submarine Men Lost During World War II, which honors U.S. submariners killed in action during World War II. Each profile contains a small bio with information on dates of service, military photographs, hometown info, and the ship that each man served on until his death. Fifty-two U.S. submarines were lost during the war.

Wittmer, who worked alone for the bulk of the project, combed through thousands of official military personnel files (OMPFs) and collected information on approximately 3,600 submariners lost. These submariners are largely forgotten, except by family and friends. These are veterans who have no white marble headstones in American National Cemeteries. For most, their final resting place is still unknown.

Over the years, Wittmer shared photographs and memorable comments on files of veterans who were personal friends or acquaintances. His six-volume publication is an invaluable asset to anyone studying this part of World War II history. NARA is honored that Wittmer donated a complete set to the St. Louis archival research room for use by researchers from around the world.

Wittmer was also featured in a PBS documentary examining the biographies of persons on Japanese I-401.


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.

Preservation staff found this "blood chit" in the Official Military Personnel File of John Vurgaropulos.

Preservation staff found this “blood chit” in the Official Military Personnel File of James Vurgaropulos.

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 and noted that “A Chinese Flage [sic] Identification which was worn on this fliers [sic] jacket, number 12331, has been found.”

One of the greatest fears a soldier has is being lost or injured in a place where he or she does not speak the language and needs assistance to get back to their unit. The blood chit was created with this scenario in mind—it is a notice written in the local language and carried by military personnel, identifying its bearer as friendly and asking for help.

Possibly the first recorded usage of such a document was in 1793, when Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard came to America to demonstrate his hot-air balloon. Blanchard could not speak a word of English, so George Washington gave him a letter stating that all United States citizens were obliged to help him return to Philadelphia. In 1842, British troops used the same type of document while fighting in Afghanistan.

Before America’s entry into World War II, American pilots were training in China under the command of Claire Chennault to help defend that country against the empire of Japan. During this time, the most recognizable form of the blood chit—a larger paper version is still used today by military personnel—came into being.

Foreign pilots were issued a rescue patch called a hu chao after they become advisers to the Chinese Air Force in 1937. The hu chao depicted the Chinese National Flag, the chop (stamp) of the Chinese Air Force Headquarters, and text in Mandarin or Cantonese that read: “This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him medical care.”

Lt. James Vurgaropulos carried just such a chit. James was born on February 22, 1919, in Lowell, MA, to Greek immigrant parents. He was a pilot in the 75th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Force when his plane went down on June 29, 1944, apparently killing him instantly. He was 25 years old.

Wong Ch’ing Lien was one of the first people at the scene of the crash. He gave a witness statement to the Changsha Search Team and showed the team where James had been buried at the village of Eya-Ch’ung. Lien also helped the team recover the blood chit.

Letter found in the Official Military Personnel File of John Vurgaropulos.

Letter found in the Official Military Personnel File of James Vurgaropulos.

This chit measures 8″ x 9.5″ and bears some damage from the fire and its aftermath. Rust stains are in the upper left, and the purple stamp with two Chinese characters has offset to create a mirror image formed while it was folded . The silk is discolored and has a tear to the right of the flag. The chop (block stamp) on the left is heavily faded, possibly being a highly water soluble ink. It is possible that the record was vacuum dried following the fire at the  National Personnel Records Center in 1973. Other documents in this record do not have burn damage, but are brittle with rust stains from staples and other fasteners. The small thumbnail photo of Vurgaropulos clearly shows damage from high humidity as a result of the fire.

It is not clear from the documentation whether the chit was found in the grave, or had been kept by those in the village who had buried him and given to the search team. Given that Changsha is a rice-growing region, it may be more likely that the chit was saved by those who saw to Vurgaropulos’s burial and who later assisted the search team in locating his grave over a year later.

By March of 1946, the remains had been moved to Shanghai, and paperwork had begun to amend James’s status to “Killed in Action.” Unfortunately for the Vurgaropulos family, James was not their only loss during the war. His younger brother, John, a bombardier on a B-26, was killed when his plane was hit by flak in 1945.

In this photo, John smiles at the camera as he poses with his former crewmates in front of his aircraft, the “Panchita del Rio.” John was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and James’s remains were moved from China to the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1979, the brothers were honored together when the state of Massachusetts designated a bridge on Pawtucket Street in Lowell to be the Vurgaropulos Memorial Bridge.

Now that its significance has been recognized, National Archives preservation staff will create special archival housing for the blood chit that James carried, and it will be kept in a secure location at the National Archives at St. Louis.

We all hope to leave some tangible evidence of our existence behind when we’re gone. It could be our children, something we’ve written or drawn, maybe even a memory that sticks in the mind of a friend or a loved one. Both James and John Vurgaropulos have touched National Archives staff who have learned their stories, and we are honored to help preserve their memories so that neither man will be forgotten.

Photograph of John

Photograph of James Vurgaropulos.

On this Memorial Day, we honor not only the memory of the Vurgaropulos brothers and others lost to grieving family and friends, but also the gracious assistance of Wong Ch’ing Lien and untold others like him who came to the aid of those far away from home as best they were able.

We thank all who served, however they were called to serve, and are grateful that they were willing to step forward to assist our nation and its people.