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The Ofuna Roster: “Every man who was there has a unique story to tell”

Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. In recognition of those who suffered as POWs in WWII, we would like to highlight a special recent addition to the Museum’s collection and the wonderful connections that the donation of this material set into motion.

We are contacted daily by families of those who served in WWII with questions about artifacts in their possession. In May 2014, Phyllis Parr reached out to the Museum about an artifact from her father’s service.

Phyllis’ father, Phil “Bo” Perabo was from Tupelo, Mississippi and served as a pilot in both the Battle of the Atlantic and in the Pacific. Perabo flew off of the Bogue, the Card and the Bennington. Perabo was captured after bailing out on a mission to Japan, after swimming eight hours to reach the shore. He was taken to Ofuna POW camp where he was reunited with his childhood friend Dave “Son” Puckett, also an aviator who had been captured months earlier.

While at Ofuna—which has received recent news attention because it also became home to Olympic runner Louis Zamperini whose story is told in the bestselling book Unbroken, soon to be a major motion picture—just after liberation, Perabo compiled a roster of all of those confined there, having each man sign in his own hand, his name, unit, and hometown. The roster lists 135 men, predominantly Naval aviators.

Phyllis said about the roster, “My family and I have always believed that the roster does not belong to us alone but to all the families of the men who were at Ofuna.” This led to some citizen archivist work. Phyllis sent out over twenty letters to any former prisoners or their descendants that she could track down. In her letter she told about her dad, about the Ofuna roster and her plans to donate the item to The National WWII Museum. Several people responded to the letter— some with their own stories of their father’s experiences.

On August 8th, having learned of the roster and its placement at the Museum, we received a visit from three grandsons of the late Ofuna POW Forrest E. McCormick. Forrest E. McCormick was a flier in the VF-17 Squadron based on the USS Hornet. It was a miracle, McCormick survived to make it to the Ofuna camp. He had bailed out over a Japanese beach having been shot and having broken his arm at the elbow. A village doctor saved him from villagers bent on beating him to death. After the ordeal in Ofuna his grandson Evan McCormick wrote, “his left arm was 3 inches shorter than his right the rest of his life and instead of the 6, 3’’ height he went to war as, he stood around 6 ft the rest of his life… The happy ending to all this is that he made it back, had four kids, and lived a good life.” It was a profound experience, and seeing the roster was the highlight of the McCormick brothers’ trip.

Phil Perabo passed away on May 18, 2014, just three days after his daughter and I visited and spoke about his experiences. We are grateful to him and to his daughter for documenting his experience and for sharing that documentation with the Museum and others.

Images: Gift of the Perabo Family, 2014 and Courtesy of the McCormick Family

To learn more about our POW material, see Guests of the Third Reich: American POWs in Europe. If you have material or stories from a WWII POW that you’d like to share with the Museum, please contact us.

Post by Curator Kimberly Guise.


NICK PREFERRED_1.8 Battle of the BulgeAs we continue our journey through The Road to Berlin, we stop next at what will be an extraordinary immersive gallery space, the month-long Battle of the Bulge – the US Army’s largest battle of World War II.  Grappling with bitterly cold weather, more than 30 divisions and 600,000 men fought desperately to halt the Germans after the surprise assault in December 1944.  Walking through the gallery, you will be surrounded by the dense, snow-covered Ardennes forest, with projections of soldiers and battle scenes partially visible through the trees, allowing you to sense the extreme environmental conditions that made this battle one of the most difficult of the war.  Oral history stations, artifacts, and content panels will guide you from the surprise German attack to the Siege, to the ultimate hard-won Allied victory.  Finally, you will join the Allies as they push through the German border and write the final chapter in the war in Europe – the fall of the Third Reich.


Donor Spotlight- The Starr Foundation


C.V. Starr

C.V. Starr

The Battle of the Bulge gallery has been made possible through a generous gift from The Starr Foundation. The Foundation was established in 1955 by Cornelius Vander Starr, who served in the US Army during WWI. He died in 1968 at the age of 76, leaving his estate to the Foundation, and he named his business partners – Ernest E. Stempel, John J. Roberts, Houghton Freeman, and Maurice R. “Hank” Greenberg – to run the foundation under Greenberg’s leadership. The partners were all WWII veterans: Stempel, Roberts, and Freeman all served in the Navy in the Pacific and Greenberg served in the Army in Europe.

Greenberg served throughout the European Theater – from landing on the beaches of Normandy to fighting in the Battle of the Bulge to the liberating concentration camps in Germany. In recognition of his service and contributions to the Allied victory,  Greenberg received the Legion of Honor from the French government on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day earlier this year. When being praised for his brave military service, Greenberg responds that he was “only one of millions of WWII veterans who fought for our country.”

Florence A. Davis, President of The Starr Foundation, remembers when Museum founder Stephen Ambrose first met Greenberg in 2001. Tom Brokaw arranged the meeting and shortly thereafter The Starr Foundation awarded the Museum a $1 million grant in support of the institution then known as The National D-Day Museum.

Florence Davis

Florence Davis

During this time the Museum was also building out its D-Days of the Pacific galleries within the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. The Foundation chose to name the Introduction Gallery to honor the service of The Starr Foundation directors, particularly the three that served in the Pacific. Eager to dedicate a space that would preserve the story of the European Theater in Greenberg’s honor, The Starr Foundation generously provided an additional gift in 2010 in support of the Museum’s Road to Victory Capital Campaign to name the Battle of the Bulge gallery.

Davis first visited the Museum in late 2001, soon after the attacks on 9/11, and she recalled the Museum was “a good reminder of the ideals that Americans fought for in the past and what we continue to fight for today.” Her late father also served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946. He passed away when she was young and, as it has for so many others, the Museum provided her an indirect way to learn about his experiences and life during the war.

One of The Starr Foundation’s focuses is to “invest in education and international affairs,” Davis explained. “The Museum is place for families to learn about American and world history. Visitors gain a sense of how the American system of government worked under circumstances of global combat. The Museum educates visitors about the positive lessons of how the country pulled together on rationing, war bonds, and enlistment in huge numbers, as well as the negative lessons of the (racial) segregation of troops and internment of Japanese Americans. Understanding the entire history of WWII, warts and all, is very important.”

The Museum’s growth and impact can be attributed in part to The Starr Foundation’s tremendous support of the Museum’s capital expansion. We feel privileged to honor the service of The Starr Foundation’s directors, a group of heroes whose service and sacrifice preserved the freedoms we have today. The Museum is grateful for the Foundation’s support and for the leadership of Greenberg and Davis, who have played key roles in developing the Museum into a world-class institution.

Post by Katie DeBruhl, Donor Relations Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.

Sci Tech Tuesday: Odd Relations–Hemp and Mahogany

Two plants and their products make up our second-to-last dispatch on the use of plant materials in World War II.

Hemp is a plant which today has something of a tarnished reputation. Because varieties of Cannabis sative are used for production of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) its cultivation has come under great scrutiny in this country over the last 50 or 60 years. Most varieties, including the tall ones grown for fiber, not only produce little THC, but other chemicals that would render the THC ineffective.

Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated plants, with evidence of its agricultural use going back to neolithic China (about 10,000 BCE). Its use spread across the old world, and while it may have gotten a boost from pseudo-pharmaceutical use, it was utilized as a fiber source for rough clothing and ropes, and the leaves often used in soups and stews. The seeds were used for oils. Colonists brought the plant to the new world, where it was used in much the same manner, and made up a large part of plantation production in the colonial states. Hemp’s use declined after the Civil War, and and world-wide dropped as other fibers, including synthetic materials, increased in the 20th century. In the early 1940s production of rope, cord, webbing and cloth increased, and the ability to trade overseas decreased. The US Department of Agriculture advocated for the cultivation of hemp to meet the increased demand for fiber. Many of the rougher parts of packs and bags were made with hemp in wartime, and much of the webbing and straps on packs and parachutes was also made with hemp.

Hemp is botanically in its own family, the Cannabaceae. The family is small, with hemp’s closest relative being Humulus lupulus, the hop, whose flower is used to flavor beer. The seeds of hemp have all essential amino acids, a rarity for plants, and so can be used as a protein supplement.

Another plant whose important product was in short supply in World War II is mahogany. Many of the boats used in the war, particularly those made by the Higgins company, like the landing craft and the PT boats, were made of wood. Metal was in short supply, and the tight window for ramping up production often demanded the use of already-present technologies and construction plans. The PT boats were 78 foot patrol vessels that helped the Navy recover from Pearl Harbor. Though they were small, they could be built quickly and used flexibly. The relatively small PT boats were used in coastal battles against German and Japanese ships. Higgins industries made about 200 PT boats, many of which went to Russian and British forces early in the war.

Higgins PT boats were made of mahogany. Mahogany comes from tropical trees in Central and South America. These are typically trees from Swietenia. The wood from these trees is the opposite of another tropical tree also used in the war effort—balsa. Mahogany is a dense hardwood with a fine and straight grain. Swietenia is threatened in its native range, and so logging it is now restricted. Most commercial mahogany today comes from plantations of Swietenia in Asia, or from related members of the family native to Asia. The mangrove is also in this family of trees.

The National WWII Museum has one of the original Higgins PT boats—PT 305. PT 305 served in the Mediterranean late in the war, and saw action against German forces there. After the war the boat was trimmed to be smaller and used to seed oyster beds. It was purchased in 2007 by the museum as a renovation project.

In the renovation of PT 305 we’ve learned much about the boat’s construction. Both the hull and the deck are made of two layers of mahogany planks set at cross-angles. In between the layers is a sheet of cotton ducking that is soaked in a polymer that never dries. The two layers of wood at angles strengthen the structure and allow it to withstand traveling at speed in rough seas. The cotton layer makes it waterproof.

These two plants, mahogany and hemp, played an important role in winning the war. Their own history and botany bring an interesting twist to the roles they played in the technology of World War 2.

Next week’s post will be about rubber and the chemical revolution of polymers.


Posted by Rob Wallace, STEM Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.

Digital Learning for All Ages

The National WWII Museum strives to teach the lessons of WWII history to learners of all ages. As the new school year heats up, we’re proud to offer four specialty websites that bring WWII history to life for students ranging from elementary through high school.

For High School: See You Next Year! High School Yearbooks from WWII

wwiimuseumyearbookwebsiteThis website offers teens and adults alike a perspective on a world in upheaval that is both rich and uniquely personal. Millions of teenagers coming of age during the war years documented their school days in much the same way students still do today: in annuals and in yearbooks. from across the United States, the words and pictures of these yearbooks present a new opportunity to experience the many challenges, setbacks, and triumphs of the war through the eyes of America’s youth.



For Middle and High School: The Science and Technology of WWII

sci-tech-logoExplore the Science and Technology of WWII! Throughout history, warfare has spurred scientific and technological innovations. Conversely, science and technology have always made substantial impacts on the field of war. WWII is no exception. This website offers information, lessons, and activities about the innovations and advancements of WWII to give teachers, students, and learners of all ages an opportunity to broaden their understanding of WWII history.


For Elementary School: The Classroom Victory Garden Project

victory-garden-logoThe Classroom Victory Garden Project teaches young students about the role of community during WWII, connecting the past and the present. Millions of Americans grew Victory Gardens to supplement their wartime rations. Complete with lessons, games, gardening tips, an interactive timeline and more, this website focuses on the can-do spirit can offer young children an age-appropriate entrée into the history of WWII.



For Kids of All Ages: Kids Corner Fun & Games

kids-cornerMake your own propaganda posters, test your memory, solve puzzles and more! Learn about World War II and have fun at the same time. With the school year starting up again, it’s the perfect time to play some games and stay sharp for summer reading.


Posted by Gemma Birnbaum, Digital Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.

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Home Front Friday: Hand-Made Souvenirs

Luzon, Philippines. From the Education Collection at The National WWII Museum.

In Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. Gift of Otto Toennies. From the Education Collection at The National WWII Museum.

Home Front Friday is a regular series that highlights the can do spirit on the Home Front during World War II and illustrates how that spirit is still alive today!

During World War II, soldiers sought to remember their experiences in many different ways. For many, it was the first time out of their home state and they were thrust into foreign lands all over the world.

Many servicemen and women took advantage of down-time between fighting and the post-war occupation to see the sights and experience cultures that would have been so foreign to them. The National WWII Museum’s collection contains a number of scrapbooks, images, letters home and souvenirs from these “soldier tourists.”

In looking through photographs and war memorabilia recently, we came across a hand-embroidered handkerchief that had “Souvenir of My Service” embroidered across the top and “Victory Philippines 1945.” More digging through the collection revealed a photograph of a scene in Luzon and a picture of a young corporal there as well.

Embroidery is a fairly simple yet beautiful craft that can be personalized for anything. As the map shows, it can commemorate your travels and personalized. Consider embroidering a memory from an upcoming trip of your own. Alternately, you can add embellishment to everyday items to make you feel like you are on vacation, such as in the pillowcase examples made by the soldier’s wife later in life.

Note: The people featured in this post were the author’s grandparents.  If you have stories and artifacts from your family members, dig around and see what neat things you discover! And join us on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 for a special webinar, Caring for Your Own WWII Collection with Museum Registrar and Assistant Director of Collections & Exhibits Toni Kiser.

Post by Lauren Handley, Education Programs Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.

Letters Home: September 11, 1944

This morning we were visited by artifact donors from Texas who made the trip to New Orleans to share material with the Museum. We sat and went through the collection together, looking over the service material from Albert Dean Bryant from Midland, Texas. Bryant served with the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron of the 7th Armored Division. Seventy years prior to his daughter’s visit, on 11 September 1944, Bryant wrote a letter home to his family. He describes the weariness and restlessness of battle, “There are things that happen over here which takes complete control over your mind…”

He writes of running remaining Germans out of French towns and the liberation of those towns: The aftermath was something which almost made the danger & unpleasant things we had to endure worth it—People by the hundreds standing in the streets with hands upraised & shouting & laughing & crying with appreciation for being liberated—Bottles of wine and champagne (which would cost $20.00 in the US) were freely given to us as we went through the streets (bottles which had dirt & dust on them to show they had been buried or hidden for years from the greedy Boche).

Gift in Memory of Albert Dean Bryant, 2014

A little over one month later, on 27 October 1944, Bryant was captured and would spend the remainder of the war as a POW of the Germans.

Interested in learning more about donating artifacts to the Museum? See our information on how to Donate an Artifact.

Post by Curator Kimberly Guise.



This week on the Countdown to Road to Berlin we are taking a quick break from walking you through the galleries to highlight the Messerschmitt Bf 109. This German airplane is suspended the Atrium of Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters, and can already be seen by Museum visitors passing by as they anxiously await the pavilion’s grand opening this December.


Atrium within Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters

Atrium within Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters

The story of the European Theater of World War II cannot be told without discussing the Messerschmitt Bf 109. Also known as the Me-109, the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was the most produced fighter aircraft in history and was flown by the top German fighter aces of World War II. With a range of 621 miles and a maximum speed of 398 miles per hour, it was a formidable foe for allied air forces. The US Army Air Corps engaged in countless air battles with the Bf 109 while on bombing and reconnaissance missions over Europe. Undoubtedly the major threat that the 9th Air Force and its B-26 pilots faced daily was from such German fighter planes. Faster and more maneuverable, the Bf 109 offered fierce opposition to the B-26, which had a maximum speed of only 282 miles per hour.


This plane will “dive” toward you both virtually and acoustically, creating the sensation that one is under attack by the Axis enemy, and sounds of the Messerschmitt flying will encompass you as you enter the Atrium. A “Fly Boys” interactive feature will also allow you to explore the plane’s cockpit.


Next up- The Battle of The Bulge gallery.

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Sci Tech Tuesday: Parachutes and Paintings, Hurricanes and Flooring

One of the oldest domesticated plants is flax. It was probably domesticated in Mesopotamia, and was grown and used in Ancient Egypt. Today flax (Linum usitatissimum) is the rare plant that gets the hat-trick for utility—used in three very different ways to make important products. There are examples for two of those uses in World War. The third use is a relatively recent one.

One major theme in the story of World War II technology is the continued application of tools and processes that had already been used in the past. The war came on fast for the US, which had avoided it as long as possible, and for the UK, which didn’t foresee the rapid fall of France. Planes in World War I were wooden, covered with fabric. Some of the RAF’s earliest and most successful planes in World War II were also fabric covered. In the US cotton was relatively inexpensive, and available within its borders. In the UK there was no cotton production and transport overseas was problematic. Planes produced in Australia for the Pacific theater used cotton, but planes produced in England used linen covering. Linen is made from fibers in the flax plant.

Linen was produced in Northern Ireland and western Europe during in the early 1900’s. The German advance across the continent made most linen produced there unavailable. The Republic of Ireland began producing flax for production in the North. This linen was used to cover planes like the Hawker Hurricane and for the straps of parachutes and other parts of equipment. Linen stretches very little, even less than cotton, and is tough and weather resistant.

Eisenhower looking at rescued paintings--painted in linseed oil on flax canvases

Eisenhower looking at rescued paintings–painted in linseed oil on flax canvases. From the National Archives.

Flax is also used for oil production. Oil paint was, and for art paints still is, based on linseed oil, which comes from flax seed. Those paintings of the masters, captured by the Germans and rescued by the Monuments Men, were made in linseed oil paints on linen canvases (cotton is common for canvases in the US, where linen is more expensive than in Europe).

Linseed oil, mixed with cork or wood fibers, was made into flooring (Linoleum) by British inventor Frederic Walton in 1855. Today what we call linoleum has no linseed oil in it, but is made of polyvinyl chloride from petroleum.

So flax is used for fiber in clothing and industry, and for oil in industry. The usitatissimum in its name means ‘most useful.’ What is the third use that gives it the hat trick?


Well you’ve guessed already. Flax oil is a hot nutritional and dietary product. The oil has omega 3 fatty acids, and lignan phytoestrogens believed to be healthful for heart and digestive diseases. The oil used for industry and nutrition are basically the same—cold pressed from the seed. Oil production for industry is often aided with chemical extraction using petrochemicals not safe for consumption.

Learn more about sciences during World War II in our upcoming lecture:

Ethnobotanist Dr. Mark Plotkin will be discussing the use of plant products like quinine and rubber, in WWII, at the Museum on Thursday, September 11th. For more information on this lecture, visit us here.

Check in next week to read about some plants that have been important for Home Front and war technologies, in honor of this event.

Posted by Rob Wallace, STEM Education Coordinator at The National WWII Museum.

Start of Distance Learning Season!

School shopping lists checked off, yellow buses rumbling down the street, and classrooms bustling with activity are all sure signs the school year has begun again. Another indication here at the Museum is that our distance learning programs are now in full swing. With a successful year of connecting with close to 18,000 students across the country and internationally, we’re ready to start it all again.  With three distinct virtual connections, there’s a program perfect for every classroom, no matter the technology, budget, or length of time.  Check them out:

Virtual Field TripVirtual Field Trips:

In-depth, hour long programs with a Museum Educator about specific topics in WWII that are videoconferenced LIVE into classrooms across the country. Guided by a Museum Educator, students analyze maps, photographs, artifacts, posters, speeches, and songs as they explore the chronologies, strategies, motivations, and outcomes behind these fascinating chapters of WWII history. Popular topics include D-Day, Pearl Harbor, Science and Technology in WWII, and the Home Front.  Cost: $100/session

Be sure to check out our latest program, Choosing and Using Primary Sources with WWII High School Yearbooks. It’s perfect for introducing or reinforcing the basics of historical research with your students, especially at the beginning of the school year! During the program, students explore and analyze our primary source yearbooks from across the country.

Not to miss during November’s Native American Heritage Month is our new and improved program on American Indians in WWII. Students will hear first-hand accounts from our oral history collection of Medal of Honor recipient Van Barfoot, Crow Indian Chief Joe Medicine Crow, and Code Talker Thomas Begay. Students will focus in on the importance of American Indian languages, both during wartime and today.

Dr. Seuss SkypeSkype programs:

15-30 minute Q&A and lesson follow-up sessions utilizing the most familiar online communication platform: Skype. Connect with a Museum Educator for further questions and analysis after completing one of our lessons or explore our pavilion spaces. Be sure to check out Mystery Skype, the geographical guessing game invented by teachers. Have your students guess the subject and location of the Museum, broadcast right in front of our Higgins Boat! Cost: Free



sacred heart 3_mediumLarge-scale webinars:

One-time-only, live connections that are broadcast to classrooms throughout the country. Students have the opportunity to interact with authors, historians and Museum experts to explore a broad of array of topics that bring WWII history to life. Covering important anniversaries, special events, and the latest Museum exhibits and projects, each program is unique. We’re hard at work planning webinars for the 2014-2015 school year and will post them soon. In the meantime, check out recordings of last year’s programs featuring authors Graham Salisbury and Robert Edsel, and poet Brian Komei Dempster. Cost: Free

Don’t forget about Operation Footlocker traveling trunks, bringing authentic WWII artifacts right to your classroom. It’s a perfect hands-on companion with any of our distance learning programs!

Post by Chrissy Gregg, Virtual Classroom Coordinator

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Saturday Family Workshops Back in Session at the Museum

Code SchoolJust in time for the new school year, The National WWII Museum’s Saturday Family Workshops have returned for the Fall 2014 season!  Family Workshops take place each month on a designated Saturday, featuring a central WWII theme or lesson for both children and adults to explore together.

Our first Family Workshop of the Fall, on Saturday, September 20, is our ever-popular Code School.  During Code School, participants will explore the history of secret codes and deception as well as the vital importance played by real WWII spies, code-breakers and intelligence officers.  In Code School, participants will learn to write in five secret code languages, send and translate Morse code, test their lie detection abilities and experiment with different recipes for invisible ink.

Designed as both fun and educational for children ages 8 – 12 and their parents or guardians, each Family Workshop is 90 minutes in duration, beginning at 10:00 AM and concluding at 11:30 AM.  Family Workshop costs are $9 per child and FREE for Museum members.  Regular Museum admission applies for families who wish to spend the day at the Museum.  Discount for attendees available onsite.

In all of the Museum’s Family Workshops, space is limited so don’t delay!

Register for the Code School Family Workshop today!

Family Workshop:  Code School

Date: Saturday, September 20, 2014
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

Upcoming Fall 2014 Family Workshops:

September 20 – Code School

October 18 – Airborne School

November 22 – Navy School

December 13 – WWII Toys & Games


This post by Collin Makamson, Family Programs & Outreach Coordinator @ The National WWII Museum.


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