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In an effort to provide information on recently declassified motion pictures and sound recordings the Motion Picture, Sound and Video Branch will publish a quarterly list of newly declassified records.

This quarter’s list includes two films documenting post-WWII Europe. Die Erste Schritte [The First Steps] shows the buildup of West German armed forces and the creation of the Bundeswehr.

Die Erste Schritte [The First Steps] (Local Identifier: 319-GENERAL-1 / National Archives Identifier: 61134)


The second film documents the show of power by the Soviet Union through a Cold War military parade in Poland in 1956.

Poland (Local Identifier: 319-GENERAL-3 / National Archives Identifier: 61136)


Both films (319-GENERAL-1, 319-GENERAL-3) are in foreign languages, so we are asking for your help translating them! They are available on NARA’s Amara page if you are interested in helping.


From October 1, 2014 through December 31, 2014 the following records were declassified.

Motion Pictures:

Local Identifier                      Title

111-MPF-205 4th Anniversary Cuban Revolution Parade
156-GENERAL-12 M-103 Fuse in 24
156-GENERAL-13 AN-M103 Bomb Fuses
319-GENERAL-1 Die Erste Schritte [The First Steps]
319-GENERAL-3 Poland
342-SFP-387 Operation of System 119-L
342-TF-6133 SAC [Strategic Air Command] Bombing Procedures
342-USAF-26819 Taiwan Alert, September 1958
342-USAF-33164 The Power of Skybolt


Sound Recordings:

Local Identifier           Title

No sound recordings were declassified during this quarter.


Descriptive information for declassified records can be accessed by searching for the item number, ex. “341-IR-38-56”, in NARA’s Catalog . You may also search on the Declassification Project Number (NND), if you know one. For example, searching on the declassification number “NND 64803” returns entries that are part of Declassification Project 64803. A list of declassified textual records can be found on the National Declassification Center’s web page.

Check out the post “From Top Secret Vault to Open Stacks: Declassification of Moving Images” to learn more about the declassification process. Lists of other recently declassified moving images and sound recordings can be located by clicking on the Declassification Quarterly Reports category on the left side of the blog.

For forty-seven days Louis Zamperini drifted idly in the Pacific Ocean.  Armed with a few small tins of drinking water, a flare gun, some fishing line, and a couple of Hershey D-Ration candy bars, Zamperini and two other soldiers struggled to stay alive.  Their struggle was exacerbated by vicious sharks, blistering heat, treacherous swells, and Japanese fighter pilots.  For most people, this experience would undoubtedly be the most challenging of their lives.  For Zamperini, it was not even the most difficult of the war.


Lt. Louis Zamperini, bombardier, examining the damage a Japanese cannon shell did to his Liberator over Nauru. The plane still managed to fly back, 1943.  Local ID: 342-FH-3A-42817.

Louis Zamperini was always exceptional.  After getting into trouble as a child, Zamperini found an outlet in track and field.  In a time when the four-minute mile was one of the most elusive goals in sports, Zamperini pushed the limits.  Zamperini set the national high school record for the mile in 1934 with a time of 4:21.3.  He was offered a scholarship to the University of Southern California and began training for the 1936 Olympics.  At the Berlin Olympics, Zamperini finished eighth in the 5000-meter race, but ran the fastest final lap of all the competitors in an unprecedented 56 seconds.  His final push even grabbed the attention of Adolf Hitler who personally congratulated Zamperini after the race.  Zamperini turned his attention to the 1940 Olympics.



Olympic Stadium, Berlin 1936.  Runners in the foreground. Local ID: 242-HD-150A1

By early 1940, Zamperini had dropped his mile time to 4:07.9.  Yet as Zamperini came closer to the four-minute mile, the United States came closer to war.  There would be no Olympics in 1940.  Zamperini was forced to forego running for a career in the military.   He joined the Army Air Corps in November 1941 and was trained as a bombardier.   Zamperini flew in B-24s in the Pacific War Theater and went on a number of bombing raids.  In May 1943, Zamperini went out on a mission to search for a missing plane when his plane had trouble of its own.  Zamperini and the crew went down; eight men died on impact, three survived.


Lt. Louis Zamperini, bombardier on Lt. Russell A. Phillips’ plane, examining a shell hole in the side of the fuselage, 1943. Local ID: 342-FH-3A-42819

Zamperini and the surviving crewmembers, Francis “Mac” MacNamara and Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips, were in dire straits.  They quickly ran out of food and drinkable water.  They passed the time by telling stories and pretending to cook meals.  About thirty-three days into their survival, Mac passed away.  The two surviving crew members faced typhoon sized waves, angry sharks, and were shot at by Japanese pilots.  Their bullet-riddled raft, faded from the blistering sun, barely supported their emaciated bodies.  Finally, on July 15, the two men were picked up by Japanese soldiers.  To say they were saved would be inaccurate.


Six men conducting tests of rubber life rafts and survival accessories off Cape Fear, North Carolina. This raft is similar to the one that Zamperini and company were stranded on although the black contraption on the left is a water distiller, an item noticeably absent from Zamperini’s raft.  Local ID: 80-G-42014

Zamperini and Phillips were modestly nursed back to health before they were transferred to a prisoner of war camp.  The Japanese POW camps were notoriously cruel.  Over one-third of all allied POWs died in the camps and the Japanese had plans to kill all POWs by the war’s end.  Zamperini was separated from Phillips and transferred to a number of different camps throughout the war.  Always on the brink of starvation, Zamperini was treated especially cruelly because of his running fame.  Zamperini was forced to clean up the latrines, shovel coal, and was beaten relentlessly.  Due to the harsh treatment, cold weather, and severe malnutrition, Zamperini developed beriberi, a deadly disease caused by vitamin deficiency. He was on the brink of death.

On August 6, 1945 the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  Less than a month later Japan surrendered.  Allied planes began dropping food, cigarettes, and news of victory to the famished POWs.  Zamperini gradually regained his health and celebrated with his peers.  He was officially released on September 5, 1945, more than two years after his plane crash.  By that time the United States had declared Zamperini dead and his parents had received his Purple Heart “posthumously.”  Most of his family and friends had long assumed he had died.  The few that held out hope were still amazed to see Zamperini walk through the door on October 5, 1945.


Allied POWs celebrate their liberation at the Aomori camp.  One of the POW camps where Zamperini was held captive. August 29, 1945. Local ID: 80-G-490445

Throughout his life Zamperini physically pushed his body to the limit.  Yet it is truly his passion for life and mental vitality that continues to impress people around the world.  His story is the inspiration for the bestselling book, Unbroken and now a major motion picture by the same name.  Zamperini passed away in July of 2014; he was 97 years old.


Capt. Louis Zamperini (left) makes broadcast to the United States after spending 28 months in a Japanese Prison Camp.  Local ID: 111-SC-215498

The pictures above are all from NARA’s Still Pictures Division.  Much of this blog was based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

Christmas movies are a staple of the holidays, with cable channels producing and airing so many that the season now seems to start sometime in November. Holiday films are nothing new, of course. The earliest known adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was made over a hundred years ago, in 1901. Even the Ford Motion Picture Department got in on the action, making A Merry Christmas to All in 1926.

A Merry Christmas to All is a somewhat odd mish-mash of Christmas traditions, holiday poetry, (both famous and forgotten) and a smattering of the industrial film for which the Ford collection is so well-known (see Playthings of Childhood for a classic example of a Ford industrial film).

The film begins with what looks like a school field trip: a group of children are joined by three women in a tromp through the woods. The party arrives at a small cottage, is greeted by Santa Claus, and leaves with toys. Santa then prepares for his yearly journey, carving wood and using a lathe to make toys, filling a sack, and taking out his reindeer (just the one) so that he can deliver toys to sleeping children who then enjoy them on Christmas morning.

A Merry Christmas to All is significant within the Ford Historical Film Collection for being one of only a handful of titles that are classified as dramatic rather than explicitly educational. (The others are a screen version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and footage of an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet.)

The silent film’s intertitles contain a number of familiar verses from “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” although they have been adapted so that they do not always exactly match the original work:


A little digging turned up verses that were adapted from less well-known holiday poems, including this, which originates in “A Christmas Carol” by Christian Burke:


And this, which is borrowed from “Sly Santa Claus” by Mrs. S.C. Stone:

christmas-3It’s possible that most of the verses in this film actually come from lesser-known works that have been changed enough that they are hard to find with a search engine. Do you recognize any other borrowed lines?

A Merry Christmas to All is part of the Ford Historical Film Collection, which was donated to the National Archives in 1963. Ford Motor Company began producing films in 1914, making educational films, newsreels, industrials, and promotional works. Ford’s motion picture department was one of the largest American film studios outside Hollywood. The collection consists of 1.5 million feet of film and is fully preserved and available for research. An overview of the collection can be found in a guide published by the National Archives in 1970.

Seventy years ago, on December 16, 1944, Allied Forces in Europe were taken by surprise when the Germans launched an attack in the Ardennes region, pushing into France, Luxembourg, and Belgium. The offensive came six months after D-Day and the successful invasion of Normandy, on a misty day when the skies did not permit the use of airplanes. The resulting “bulge” in the front line gave the battle the name by which it is best known. The Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest the United States would fight in World War II, with 19,000 American soldiers dead by the time the Allies had fought back the Germans and regained their lost ground.

This week’s featured film, The Enemy Strikes, was made by the U.S. Army Signal Corps and distributed to the American public to tell the story of the battle. The film’s message is simple: the war is not over yet. Our enemy will always want to kill us and our soldiers are still paying the ultimate sacrifice. Americans are exhorted to remember that it is too soon to celebrate and that they should continue doing their part on the home front. The film ends with two title cards: “If you have a war job–stick to it!” and then “If you haven’t–get one!”

The Battle of the Bulge proved to be Germany’s last gasp. Allied victory was declared in Europe five months later.

Favorite Film Finds of 2014

by on December 11, 2014

In the motion picture lab, we work on thousands of reels of film a year: tens of thousands of feet of unedited footage of Vietnam, PSAs for the Census Bureau, dozens of early NASA films, and much, much more. Over the course of months, some of it can start to become a blur. Since we work on the physical film itself, it’s possible that we’ll remember how many days we spent repairing damage even when we no longer have any idea what the film was about. That said, films come to us every day, for any number of reasons, and quite often, one sticks out (we write about many of them on this blog). This week’s post features a handful of films that came to us in 2014 and found their way to our list of favorites.

Careless Killers (Smokey Bear TV Spot), 1963 (16-P-4643)

Last summer, we re-processed a number of Smokey Bear PSAs. In many cases, black and white and 16mm versions were retained even when NARA had the original 35mm color negative. By going back through and selecting only the best elements for preservation, we freed up a good deal of space in the film stacks. Smokey PSAs are almost always delightful, but this one stuck out as a bit better than the rest. Careless Killers features Rod Serling in the midst of the Twilight Zone’s original run, and plays almost like a mini-episode of the classic television series, complete with a final ironic twist.

After the Applause, 1970 (235-WRS-2)

One way that films come to the lab is when researchers request a transfer when all we have is single film copy. Unlike paper records, we do not serve our only copy in the research room—there’s just too much that can go wrong when running a piece of film on equipment. We did an HD transfer of After the Applause when a researcher requested it last spring. The film tells the story of a retired circus performer and a very sad clown learning how to apply for Social Security. It’s just as awesome as it sounds.

Training During Combat, 1944 (18-CS-2583

Late last year, we published a post about a Christmas party in Corsica and were delighted when Burton Blume contacted us to tell us that his father, Wilbur Blume, had shot the footage. We were intrigued when Blume told us that he believed his father had also made a military training film starring Catch-22 author Joseph Heller. We tracked down the unedited footage for Training During Combat and identified Heller in the footage, but, unfortunately, we were never able to find a final version of the film. It’s possible that the film was never completed. We edited this video from the raw footage to give a sense of the original story and highlight Heller’s appearance. You may view the complete reels in this playlist. Read more about Wilbur Blume and Joseph Heller in Burton Blume’s series of posts.

One Time Too Often, 1969 (36-7)

Occasionally, films come to the lab because the exhibits staff need moving image material for a new exhibit. This film arrived with a group of titles related to alcohol consumption in America intended for use in the exhibit, Spirited Republic, which will open in March 2015. We’ve heard that this film didn’t make the cut, but we think you should watch it anyway. In One Time Too Often, ATF agents track down illegal moonshiners, complete with car chases and an appearance from Raymond Burr, who at that time starred in the police drama Ironside. Read more about the film in Heidi’s recent blog post.

D-Day to Germany, 1944 (LIEB-JL-1)

Just because we just found something ourselves certainly doesn’t mean that it wasn’t well-known to others before. Late last spring, when I went to the research room to talk to Jim about newsreels that we might feature for D-Day, a professional researcher told me about the Jack Lieb D-Day film. Lieb was a cameraman for News of the Day, and landed on Utah Beach during the Normandy invasion. He was a talented cameraman and shot his own 16mm Kodachrome home movies of his experiences so that he could show them to his family back home in the States when he returned. Later, he edited the film into a lecture and recorded his narration. Lieb’s family donated the film to the National Archives in the 1980s, providing us with an alternative view to the hundreds of thousands of feet of 35mm black and white footage shot by military cameramen. You can read more about the Jack Lieb footage in our blog post.

Do you have a favorite historical film of 2014? Tell us in the comments!