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Tag: WWII

“I was a gunner and a gun captain on a 90MM-AAA gun during World War II…”

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Now, maybe it’s happened to you: that “needle in a haystack,” “home run,” unbelievable find that blew you away, and brought joy to a researcher. We archival folks live for that moment.

Let me share with you one such moment from my career. During busy times in the Still Picture Branch, the processing staff can be called upon to help answer reference letters, or staff the research room. One day in early 1995, I was asked to help with the backlog of letters.

This one from Mr. Evan Evans looked promising:

Letter from Mr. Evans

Letter from Mr. Evans

A 90mm antiaircraft gun? No problem! We have tons of photos of various artillery pieces and vehicles in our files. Or so I thought.

I spent half the day trying to track down a decent shot of the antiaircraft gun Mr. Evans requested, and I came up empty. Then I read through his letter again. He and his gun crew set a record for downing 12 Japanese bombers over Rendova? Maybe they had been photographed after their feat; the military services are always on the lookout for a good story to tell the folks back home.

So I checked out series 127-GW, under the heading Rendova . . . and what do you … [ 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 ]

Executive Order 9981: Equality in the military

Cast your vote for Executive Order 9981 to be displayed first in the new “Records of Rights” gallery. Polls close on November 15!

Today’s post comes from Tammy Williams, archivist at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library

President Harry S. Truman spent his entire young adulthood in Missouri, a border state during the Civil War. Both of his sets of grandparents owned slaves. Many voters and politicians believed that Truman would carry his region’s prejudices to the White House and would do comparatively little to advance the cause of civil rights. And so Truman’s decision to issue Executive Order 9981 to provide for equality of treatment and opportunity in the military surprised many people.

President Harry S. Truman (front row, fifth from right) and Secretary of the Army Frank Pace (front row, fourth from right) with members of the integrated 82nd Airborne in the Rose Garden behind the White House. All others are unidentified. (Truman Presidential Library, 63-1162-05)

President Harry S. Truman (front row, fifth from right) and Secretary of the Army Frank Pace (front row, fourth from right) with members of the integrated 82nd Airborne in the Rose Garden behind the White House in February, 1951. (Truman Presidential Library, 63-1162-05)

What led President Truman to this decision? As African American soldiers returned to the United States from fighting overseas in World War II, they hoped to return to a more equitable society. However, many soldiers experienced openly hostile reactions from white Southerners as they wore their uniforms in their hometowns.

Two such cases made national headlines. In Aiken, South Carolina, a bus driver kicked Sergeant Isaac Woodward off … [ Read all ]

On display: Executive Order 9066 and the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act, the original Executive Order 9066 as well as the 1988 law are on display in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, from June 16 to August 19, 2013. Today’s blog post comes from curator Bruce Bustard.

“Here we admit a wrong. Here we affirm our commitment as a nation to equal justice under the law.” —President Ronald Reagan, remarks on signing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988

On February 19, 1942, ten weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which permitted military commanders to “prescribe military areas . . . from which any or all persons may be excluded.” While the order did not mention any group by name, it profoundly affected the lives of Japanese Americans.

Persons of Japanese ancestry arrive at the Santa Anita Assembly Center from San Pedro. Evacuees lived at this center at the former Santa Anita race track before being moved inland to relocation centers. Clem Albers, Arcadia, CA, April 5, 1942. (Photo No. 210-G-3B-414)

Persons of Japanese ancestry arrive at the Santa Anita Assembly Center from San Pedro. Evacuees lived at this center at the former Santa Anita race track before being moved inland to relocation centers. Clem Albers, Arcadia, CA, April 5, 1942. (Photo No. 210-G-3B-414)

In March and April, Gen. John L. DeWitt issued a series of “Exclusion Orders” directed at “all persons of Japanese ancestry” in the Western Defense Command. These orders led to the forced evacuation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese American permanent residents and … [ Read all ]