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Today’s post was written by Burton Blume, a brand consultant/creative strategist based in Tokyo, Japan. He contacted us last year when we featured footage shot by his father, Lt. Wilbur T. Blume. In part one of this series of posts, Blume traced his father’s story up to when Lt. Blume was assigned the task of producing a film about the training of 340th Bomb Group air crews. 

Training During Combat and Catch-22

As more and more of my father’s service career emerged, I began to think more of Joseph Heller and Catch-22. Were some of the people in Dad’s photos models for characters in the book? Dan Setzer, son of another 340th veteran, wrote an article identifying many of the real-life people that Heller had based his characters on. I was able to assist Dan by identifying another: the young pilot who had flown Heller’s plane during an extremely dangerous mission over Avignon during August 1944. This episode clearly provided the inspiration for a recurring nightmare in Catch-22 when a young gunner is seriously wounded by flak as the pilot takes evasive maneuvers. Were other identifications possible?

In 2012, Patricia Chapman Meder, daughter of Col. Chapman, published The True Story of Catch-22, the Real Men and Missions of Joseph Heller’s 340th Bomb Group in World War II. Using both military records and personal resources, Ms. Meder also identified real-life individuals who served as inspiration for some of Heller’s fictional characters. However, what really electrified me was “Appendix B” which contained stills and promotional flyers for Training During Combat. There on page 236 were the credits with my father’s name, and two shots of him behind the camera. In one photo an arrow points to Joseph Heller. He is leaning over maps with another officer, his hat set way back on his head of thick black hair.


Filming Training During Combat. Joseph Heller (as “Pete”) receives navigation training.
Photo courtesy of Burton Blume.

I already had copies of the photos, but the positive identification of Heller unlocked another avenue of investigation. Heller obviously appeared in one scene of the film. Was he in others as well? Over the years only a few photos of Heller have emerged from his days on Corsica. Now, I realized, there was perhaps motion picture footage shot by my father.

My search led me to the National Archives. A NARA blog had already featured a short, silent film my father shot about a Christmas party for Corsican children near Alesani. (4-year old Dominique Taddei and his playmates appear in this film!) Staff at NARA put the search into high gear.

Earlier this year, the team at NARA struck gold. They found nine reels of unedited footage from Training During Combat that was shot by my father. The combined running time of this footage is nearly 73 minutes. Of this, over eight minutes contain scenes showing Joseph Heller in uniform. Also found in the archives were some important production documents including a story treatment, and a full cutting script and narration written by my father and Sgt. Frank Hickey. (Click the links for downloadable PDFs of the story treatment and script.)

We could not locate a completed version of Training During Combat, but NARA staff created this highlight video from the nine reels of raw footage shot by Lt. Wilbur T. Blume.

The story follows the activities of a replacement crew that have just arrived at the forward base at Alesani and follows their progress as they go through the indoctrination and technical training needed to perform their missions. There are two protagonists in this film: a pilot named “Bob” and a bombardier named “Pete.” Photogenic young Joe Heller plays Pete.

Like my father, Heller was a B-25 bombardier. Both of them would have been intimately familiar with the training routines depicted in the film.


Capt. Cornelius O’Brien trains the “new bombardier” (Joseph Heller).

We see Heller’s group climbing out of a C-47 transport and arriving at GHQ as veteran crews return from a mission. We see the new arrivals greeting CO Willis Chapman and Maj. Randall Cassada, a wild, wacky grin breaking across Heller’s face as he shakes the colonel’s hand. We see Heller in the map room, reviewing targets and bomb plots with Capt. Cornelius O’Brien. He see Heller on top of a “bomb trainer” using the famed Norden bombsight, one of the most advanced technologies to come out of the war. We see Heller aloft in the cramped Plexiglas nose of the B-25 looking exactly like actor Alan Arkin playing “Yossarian” in the 1970 film of Catch-22.


Heller shakes the hand of Col. Willis Chapman as the new crew is introduced to their CO.

There’s also a scene with Capt. George Wells, Director of Training, who flew a record-breaking 102 bombing missions. There’s “Bob” in the “Link Trainer,” flying blind as he practices evasive maneuvers. There’s a rubber dinghy being removed from a fuselage hatch on the top of a B-25 to demonstrate emergency procedures for ditching at sea. There’s the gunnery trainer with its pressurized squirt guns that make one chuckle. And there’s an aerial shot of practice bombs falling on Pianosa, a small rocky island that is the imaginary setting of Catch-22.

Over and again, these scenes evoke the characters and world of Heller’s satirical, groundbreaking novel. The footage is priceless.


Lieutenant Wilbur T. Blume flew 34 combat missions and went on to produce several other PR films including Blood Goes to Battle as well as a short about recovering stolen Florentine art treasures from the Nazis. After the war, he moved to Los Angeles where he received a Masters degree in filmmaking from the University of Southern California. In 1955, he won an Academy Award for The Face of Lincoln, a documentary he produced while teaching at the USC Cinema Department. He later produced and directed numerous films for the Department of Defense, and was head of Motion Picture and Television Policy for the USIA from 1974 to 1980. He died in 1989.


Joseph Heller performs a practice bombing in Training During Combat.

Lieutenant Joseph Heller flew 60 combat missions as a bombardier. After the war, he studied English at USC and NYU on the GI Bill. Heller later received his M.A. in English from Columbia University and spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. He taught at several universities in the early 50’s before finding work in a small NY advertising agency. He began writing Catch-22 in 1953 and published the first chapter in 1955. First published in 1961, the novel has sold over 10 million copies and is considered a modern classic. The book was made into a motion picture in 1970 and is listed #7 on Modern Library’s Best 100 Novels of the 20th Century. Other novels by Joseph Heller include Something Happened (1974), Good as Gold (1979), God Knows (1984), Picture This (1988), Closing Time (1994), and Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man (2000). He died in 1999.

Today’s post was written by Burton Blume, a brand consultant/creative strategist based in Tokyo, Japan. He contacted us last year when we featured footage shot by his father, Lt. Wilbur T. Blume. We were intrigued by additional information Burton Blume was able to add to previously unexamined motion picture records. In this series of posts, Burton Blume relates stories of his father’s experience in the 9th Combat Camera Unit and of making a training film in Corsica that starred Catch-22 author Joseph Heller.

My Journey into My Father’s Past

When I was growing up, my father’s references to his military service were anecdotal; he never boasted about his exploits. He did, however, indulge my older brother and me in our fascination with WWII aircraft, particularly the B-25. There was an old black binder with a few prints from his days with the 340th Bomber Group but the motion pictures were nowhere to be found. We also inquired about Joseph Heller’s great antiwar novel, Catch-22, which we knew was inspired by the author’s wartime experience flying B-25s out of Corsica. Dad said he recognized some of the situations and characters in the book, but it was years before he came to appreciate Heller’s wise-guy sense of humor. When Dad passed away in 1989, he took his memories with him.

Cameraman_Blume-cropLt. Wilbur T. Blume poses with a 35mm motion picture camera. 
Photo courtesy of Burton Blume.

My personal journey into my father’s war began in 2008 when I read an article in the International Herald Tribune about Corsican historian Dominique Taddei and his book about the American bomber squadrons, USS Corsica. We began to write to each other and soon I was on the trail of Dad’s wartime photos.  I knew about the old black binder, but where was it now? And were there any others?

I finally located a small storage room in Seattle where my brother had put some of my parents’ possessions. It didn’t look promising. We removed everything to have a closer look. There, in the deepest corner, we discovered treasure: two boxes containing documents, prints and over 200 4×5 negatives carefully folded in black paper and inserted in glassine envelopes. They were in perfect condition and revealed a whole world in crisp, black & white images.

Dad flew 34 missions as a bombardier and frequently doubled as a combat cameraman. Just 24 and a talented photographer, he had volunteered for the Army Air Corps after graduating from Ohio’s Miami University in June 1943. After completing flight school in Midland Texas, he returned to Oxford to marry his college sweetheart, Mary McQueary, in July. (Her wedding dress, which she made from a damaged silk parachute my father sent her, was featured in Life magazine.) The two of them moved to Greensboro, South Carolina, where Lt. Blume awaited his deployment.

In early March 1944, he received his orders. His flight hopped up the eastern seaboard to Newfoundland, crossed the cold Atlantic to the Azores, then made for Casablanca and Algiers. He arrived on Corsica on April 21st.  Liberated from German occupation in October 1943, the island provided several forward bases for U.S. Army Air Corps. Four squadrons of B-25J medium bombers were camped along its east coast to provide close support for the allied armies that were pushing north up the Italian peninsula and cut off the retreating Axis troops by bombing bridges. Dad was assigned as a bombardier flying out of Alesani field.

In addition to combat missions, he functioned as a PRO (public relations officer) He shot photos of officers, visiting VIPs and everyday life on the base. He photographed the formations of B-25s taking off, landing and returning from missions over Italy. He photographed bomb patterns on the targets below. In the early hours of May 13, 1944 the Luftwaffe conducted a night bombing raid on Alesani destroying 60 planes. The next day, Dad was out photographing the damage.

Combat Weekly Digest was a newsreel produced for the Army Air Forces from 1943-1945. This issue features “Blood Goes to Battle,” a story shot by Lt. Blume that details blood bank operations  in Naples.

From a historical point of view, one of the most remarkable things about the Second World War was the degree to which it was documented on film. Veteran Hollywood directors and cameramen, including John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, William Wyler and Frank Capra volunteered for service. In addition, hundreds of young men with an aptitude for photography and cinema were identified, and pulled together to form “combat camera units” that were active in every theater of the war. Aerial combat photography contributed to bombing precision and accuracy while motion pictures had an increasingly important role in training, public relations and propaganda.

In June 1944, my father was reassigned to the newly formed 9th Combat Camera Unit. This opportunity changed the life of this aspiring young filmmaker. In his youthful enthusiasm, he designed an insignia for the 9th CCU, but I believe the only one that ever existed was the oversize patch he had made for his flight jacket.

Life in Corsica was more authentic than anything Lt. Blume had seen in Hollywood movies. His camera was his calling card on and off the base. He loved exploring the island in his free time, shooting photos of the local people and places he visited. Intrepid and resourceful, Lt. Blume knew how to get things done:

2nd Lt. Wilbur T. Blume, C.O. of the 9th Combat Camera Detachment here is currently making a movie film about the Red Cross distribution of doughnuts and coffee to our crews after their missions. He has film footage of our formations going out to the target, the bombs dropping over the target, the target area covered by smoke and the men eating and drinking during the interrogation. Production of one scene showing the Red Cross girls actually handing out the victuals was held up more than a week because the photogenic Red Cross girl was unavailable. Lt. Blume obtained two good-looking Red Cross girls in Bastia by having them sent down here on detached service to film the sequence. Fraud! Fraud!….. In a few days he will start on a film depicting the various types of training undergone by 340th air crews in between missions.

                           –The 340th Bomb Group War Diary, July 19, 1944

By the end of July 1944, Dad had flown 22 missions and had been decorated for heroism in aerial combat over Ferrara. The commanding officer, Col. Willis Chapman, assigned him to plan and produce a short documentary that would be called Training During CombatThe objective was to show the disciplined training exercises that contributed to the success of the 340th. Bombing accuracy had increased steadily through successive Mediterranean campaigns and earned the unit numerous citations.


Lt. Wilbur T. Blume works on the script for Training During Combat, a film that starred Catch-22 author Joseph Heller.
Photo courtesy of Burton Blume.

There was considerable rivalry between various Groups under the 57th Bomb Wing. Each was vying for higher ratings in efficiency and bombing accuracy. Like other fields of human endeavor, promotions and careers were often linked to the success of these missions.

Produced under the Colonel’s watchful eye, Training During Combat was a more ambitious film than anything Lt. Blume had done before.

Join us tomorrow for part two, in which Burton Blume discusses finding Training During Combat and how Joseph Heller’s inspiration for the novel Catch-22 can be seen in the footage.

In this week’s Universal News story, an art show in Provincetown, Massachusetts features the artists as living canvases. The participants (whom the narrator identifies as hippies) were members of the Provincetown art community. Provincetown has a long history as an art colony, from the early 20th Century to today.

From the release sheet:

BODY PAINTING Provincetown “hippie” artists have an art show, using bodies as “living canvases.” It’s mostly in fun because none of the “paintings” agreed to be sold.

body-paint-2At a 1967 art show in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the participants were the art.

You may view the complete reel, which contains stories about deadly hurricanes, a visit to former president Harry S Truman by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the World Bicycle Championship, and others, on our YouTube Channel.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.

The First D-Day Documentary

by on September 9, 2014

This post was written by Steve Greene. Steve is the Special Media Holdings Coordinator for the Presidential Libraries System. Previously, he was the audiovisual archivist for the Nixon Presidential Materials.

Despite being cataloged, described, and housed at the National Archives for decades, the films created by the U.S. Military during World War II still hold unexpected surprises.

In a recent search for combat moving image footage to complement the Eisenhower Library’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings, I identified four reels of a documentary on the landings prepared by the “SHAEF [Supreme Headquarter Allied Expeditionary Forces] Public Relations Division.”

These reels were assigned separate, nonsequential identifying numbers in the Army Signal Corps Film catalog, suggesting that the Army did not recognize them to be parts of single production. Rather than offering the perspective of a single combat photographer, the reels shifted perspective from the sea, to the air, to the beaches, suggesting careful editing to provide an overview. The 33 minutes of film were described on a shot card as “a compilation of some of the action that took place from D Day to Day Plus 3, 6-9 June 1944.” The production, with no ambient sound, music or effects, includes a single monotone narrator and gives the impression of a military briefing set to film.

This film is probably the first film documentary of the events of the first four days of the D-day assault, created within days of the invasion.

dday-5-cropExcerpt from War Diary of Film and Photo Section, Public Relations Division, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces. 
(To view complete document in a new window, click on excerpt.)

The story started several weeks earlier, when I was approached by a professional researcher, Bonnie Rowan, who had heard that legendary Hollywood director John Ford told a story about filming D-day. His “Field Photographic Unit” of the Office of Strategic Services (the wartime precursor of the Central Intelligence Agency), he said, had prepared a film report for the civilian and military leadership in the wake of the invasion.

Rowan had found a description for a similar film in the holdings of the Imperial War Museum in London but had been unable to obtain a screening reel.(We have since identified a substantially identical film to ours in the IWM’s on-line catalog.) Since she had had no luck finding such reels in the holdings at the National Archives at College Park, she wanted to know whether such a film existed in the Roosevelt or Eisenhower Presidential Libraries. She also wanted to know if there was any record of such a film being screened for President Roosevelt. While I found no such film at the libraries, and no record of a screening, my interest was piqued.

When I came across the four reels prepared by SHAEF Public Relations, the lack of sound other than narration suggested the film was a rushed effort, completed perhaps days after the assault. My suspicions were aroused.

While we have not been able to identify a production file for the film, a fascinating inside account of the preparations for filming D-day exists in Record Group 331 in the files of the Public Relations Division, in a folder titled “334—Joint Anglo-American Film Planning Commission.” The folder describes an extraordinary commitment of resources to obtaining combat camera footage of the invasion of Europe. Both Ford’s “Field Photographic Branch” and Maj. George Stevens’ (another legendary Hollywood Director) “Special Coverage Unit” were assigned to London in the early spring of 1944 and tasked with documenting the upcoming assault. SHAEF’s Public Relations Division was assigned the responsibility for coordinating all combat photography of the assault.

 Orders for Major George Stevens and Commander John Ford to report for duty at European Theater of Operations in Spring of 1944. 
(To navigate slideshow, click on white arrows. Click on images to enlarge in new window.)

Remarkably, given this focus on documenting the invasion, little footage of the first wave of the assault on the American beaches, Omaha and Utah, survives. Combat camera photographers usually carried 35mm motion picture film cameras. Bulky and heavy, the cameras and film limited the weaponry, food, and supplies these men could carry and made them stand out as targets on the beaches. Many fixed cameras mounted to landing craft were destroyed by fierce enemy fire, and an entire duffel bag filled with film shot in the first day of landings was reported lost overboard by an officer transporting the film for processing.


 Letter of authorization for a Maj. W. A. Ullman to report to Omaha Beach at 1030 hours on D-day to transport footage to London.

So what is the significance of this film? Who created it? Who was the audience? Period documents offer some clues.

A letter in the OSS personnel folder for Capt. John Ford recommends him for the Distinguished Service Medal on the strength of his activities documenting the D-day invasion, specifically mentioning: “The returning film was assembled under his directions, and an overall D-Day report, complete with sound, was competed on D plus 5, and was shown to Mr. Winston Churchill. Copies were also flown to President Roosevelt and Mr. Stalin.”

An additional document circulated in SHAEF headquarters in London on June 12 (D-day plus 7), cited “an uncensored film of the assault on the French Coast” to be shown, lasting “approximately 38 minutes.” Yet another document found in the OSS files asks why a credit line to the OSS was omitted from the “Secret SHAEF film.”


Memo announcing screening of “Secret SHAEF Film” in SHAEF headquarters, London.

Unless another secret D-day documentary of around the same length was circulating around the same time, a strong circumstantial case can be made that this film and these newly identified reels may be one and the same. We know from contemporary accounts that both Ford and Stevens remained ”on the far shore” through most of June. A claim that both or either of the famed directors were involved in any “hands-on” fashion in the production of these reels is probably specious. Certainly both men were responsible for recruiting, training, equipping and providing broad direction to the entire effort, from the cameramen on the landing craft and beaches, to the technicians and editors assembling the reels just days after the invasion.

How was this important production forgotten? How did even the military lose track? Again, we can only guess. As the tide of battle turned rapidly, the focus drifted from D-day in a matter of weeks: filmmakers and cameramen moved on to new assignments. With the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, the disestablishment of SHAEF in June, and the rapid demobilization begun after V-J Day, staff involved with this production left the service. Production materials from London were folded into the main Army Signal Corps footage library. Apparently, none of the Army catalogers describing the film weeks or months later knew that these four separate reels were ever part of a single production.

Sadly, the story of this film, lost in plain sight, underscores the critical importance of production files in understanding complex film productions. The scattered documents I found help us reconstruct at least some of the lost context offered by those production files, but in the end archivists and film historians are left with more questions than answers.

Visit NARA’s online exhibit to learn about D-Day and see more historical records of the invasion. To learn more about the Eisenhower Presidential Library’s social media campaign for the D-day anniversary, connect with @ikelibrary and follow #DDAY70 on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also find out more on their website at

This week’s story features a winter fashion show from French designer Pierre Cardin. Along with several coats, an “astronaut-inspired dress” is presented.

From the release sheet:

FASHIONS Pierre Cardin shows his winter fashions at Versailles. Coats are of thick, woven wool; evening dresses show a lot of sequins; and there’s even a space-age cocktail dress!


To view the complete reel, which includes stories about an electric sitar, elections in Vietnam, Sweden’s switch to driving on the right side of the road, and others, click here.

About the Universal Newsreel Collection at NARA:

The Universal Newsreel Collection is one of the most used motion picture collections at the National Archives and Records Administration. Universal Newsreels were shown in movie theaters twice a week, from 1929 until 1967, and covered a wide range of American life and history during that time period. Each release usually contained five to seven stories averaging two minutes in length.

In 1974, Universal deeded its edited newsreel and outtake collection to the United States through the National Archives (NARA), and did not place any copyright restrictions on its use (some stories may contain other underlying intellectual property or proprietary use rights).

While Universal disposed of many of the soundtracks, leaving the newsreels incomplete, supplementary material like scripts, shot lists, and event programs can be found in the production files, available for research at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

Learn more about the Universal Newsreel Collection in this post and in this Prologue article. Watch other Universal Newsreels in our research room, in OPA, and on this playlist.