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Tag: World War II

Hitler’s Final Words

This post comes from Greg Bradsher’s latest article “Hitler’s Final Words” in Prologue magazine. Bradsher is a senior archivist at the National Archives and a frequent contributor to Prologue.

A little after 11 p.m., Gertrude Junge, the 25-year-old secretary to Adolf Hitler, woke from a one-hour nap, and, thinking it was time for the nightly tea with her boss, headed for his study.

“Have you had a nice little rest, child,” her boss asked her as he shook her hand. “Yes, I have slept a little,” she replied.

Getting any sleep in Hitler’s bunker, deep underground in Berlin, might have been difficult that night in April 1945.

Russian troops were only about 1,000 yards away, and the war was all but lost by then. The head of Hitler’s dreaded SS, Heinrich Himmler, was already negotiating with the Western Allies. The Third Reich was almost over.

Adolf Hitler and eva Braun, ca. 1942. They married in Hitler's Berlin bunker on April 29 and both committed suicide on April 30, 1945. (242-EB-27-15E)

Adolf Hitler and eva Braun, ca. 1942. They married in Hitler’s Berlin bunker on April 29, and both committed suicide on April 30, 1945. (242-EB-27-15E)

But the dictator had something else on his mind at tea time.

“Come along,” he said to Junge, “I want to dictate something.”

They went into the conference room next to Hitler’s quarters, and Junge began to uncover the typewriter she usually used to take down his dictation.

Not this time, however, as Greg Bradsher recounts … [ Read all ]

A WASP’s Story

Today’s post comes from Ashley Mattingly, an archivist at the National Archives in St. Louis.

The year was 1943, and Elizabeth “Betty” Maxine Chambers was a young mother and a widow. Betty’s husband, Army pilot Lt. Robert William Chambers, had died in 1942 when his P-38F Lightening aircraft crashed at Mills Field in San Mateo, California. Undaunted, Betty applied to be among the first female pilots in the newly formed Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program.

Elizabeth Chambers's WASP portrait from her official personnel folders (OPF).

Elizabeth ​”Betty” Maxine Chambers, WASP Class of 44-W-3. Photograph from her official personnel folders (OPF), held at the National Archives in St. Louis.

A native of Hollywood, California, Betty worked for the Walt Disney Company inking cartoon celluloid cells and for Universal Studios inking cells for “picture process work.” After the death of her husband, Betty and her baby moved in with her parents; she also acquired a more stable job as a telephone operator at Southern California Telephone Company.

Betty wanted more. Like more than 1,000 other women, she took to the skies to find it.

Betty and her comrades applied to an innovative civilian program designed to employ women to ferry wartime aircraft, serve as flight instructors, tow targets for live antiaircraft practice, transport cargo, and fly experimental aircraft. These female pilots relieved men from domestic duties so they could fight overseas in the war.

The WASP program … [ Read all ]

Harry Truman and The Bomb

Today’s post is from Lee Lacy, an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 

When Harry S. Truman was told on April 12, 1945, by Eleanor Roosevelt that her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was dead, Truman reacted true to form.

Henry Stimson to Harry S. Truman, April 24, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

Henry Stimson to Harry S. Truman, April 24, 1945. (Harry S. Truman Presidential Library)

He asked if there was anything he could do. Her famous reply: “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

Trouble indeed. Truman would soon learn just how much FDR did not tell him about the status of the war effort.

Moments after Truman’s hastily-called swearing in ceremony, Secretary of War Henry Stimson lingered to speak with him about an “immense project.” Stimson briefly told Truman about the Manhattan Project, but Truman deferred an in-depth discussion to a later date.

The nation was in shock over the death of FDR, the only President many Americans had ever known, and World War II raged on. Germany was close to collapse, but it appeared that the war against Japan might go to the Japanese mainland and drag out into 1946. Amidst these troubles, Truman had to learn all the things FDR did not tell his newly-elected Vice President, in office only 82 days.

The issue of the … [ Read all ]

On display: Finding stolen art using this album

A recently discovered album donated to the National Archives by Monuments Men Foundation President Robert M. Edsel is on display until February 20, 2014. The album is open to a photograph of an important painting by master French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Girl Holding a Dove was repatriated by the Monuments Men in 1946. It sold at auction in 2000 for over $5 million.

In addition to the Featured Document display, the National Archives will host an evening with Robert Edsel on Wednesday, February 19, at 7 p.m. Edsel will discuss his books and the recent film adaptation starring George Clooney, and his work as founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art.

This month's Featured Document display is a piece of Monuments Men history.

This month’s Featured Document display is a piece of Monuments Men history. (Photo by Amanda Perez)

Perhaps the most unlikely heroes to emerge from World War II, the Monuments Men (and women) were a multinational group of curators, art historians, and museum directors who saved centuries of artistic and cultural treasures from destruction. Trading hushed galleries and libraries for besieged European cities, the men and women of the Monuments, Fine Art, and Archives Program risked their lives to protect museums, churches, and monuments from combat.

They also tracked down and recovered thousands of priceless artworks stolen by the Nazis—much of it from Jewish families. In the final … [ Read all ]

Spielberg Film Festival: Saving Private Ryan

Steven Spielberg is being honored by the Foundation for the National Archives for his film legacy, which has brought history to life on the big screen. The National Archives is celebrating the award with a film festival, and Saving Private Ryan is the first film to be screened. Join us tonight, Friday, November 15. For details on the award and the times of the free screenings, go here.)

In Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan, a squad of Army Rangers search for Pfc. James Francis Ryan (played by Matt Damon) who is the last surviving brother of four servicemen. Seems like something that could only happen in the movies?

Unfortunately, history is stranger, and sadder, than fiction. Many stories of lost and missing brothers can be found in our records.

Twenty-three sets of brothers were killed on the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The photo below shows a service jacket and salvaged service record, with Navy envelope, for William Wells. Wells enlisted at Kansas City, MO, on January 1, 1940, and died December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor after achieving the rank of Signalman 3rd class. His brother, Raymond Virgil Wells, was also on the Arizona and died that day.

Service record for William Wells. (National Archives Identifier 299693)

Service record for William Wells. (National Archives Identifier 299693)

Sometimes the decision to preserve these kinds of records means not treating … [ Read all ]