As the Collections Manager at The National WWII Museum, I am allowed the privilege of interacting with collection donors, often WWII veterans and their families. This is one of my favorite parts of the job. These collections almost always come to us with a story. Here is one story that I’d like to share.
In 1944, Ann Lehman was eight years old when her brother Alfred enlisted in the Army and shipped off for Europe along with his friend Marvin Harman. Ann’s mother Henrietta was a widow that worked hard to take care of her family in Forest Hills, Queens, New York.
Alfred and Ann Lehman in Providence, Rhode Island, Thanksgiving 1944. Gift in Memory of Alfred Lehman, 2013.342
After Alfred’s death in 2006, Ann donated her brother’s wartime scrapbook to the Museum. The scrapbook tells the story of Alfred’s journey through Europe with Company K of the Army’s 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division. Alfred saw fierce action during the Battle of the Bulge and after the war returned home to his family in New York. She included a few additional family photos taken just prior to her brother shipping out as well as one showing a proud Ruth Harman with her smiling 18-year-old son on the stoop of their Brooklyn home. Ann told me that Marvin was killed during the war and she wanted to include a picture of him so that he might be remembered. She didn’t know what had happened to her friend, as Marvin’s mother, also a widow, had become distant from Ann and her family after being notified of her son’s death. Ann had heard that Marvin was buried somewhere in Holland but was unsure about the details. She worried that her single photo of Marvin might be all that was left of him. Ann recounted:
“I remember when I was about eight years old in camp, Marvin, my brother and I were standing near the lake. Marvin spoke to me with such sweetness and warmth that made him so different than most of the people I knew.”
While researching Marvin’s service, I was able to locate his grave at the American Cemetery at Margraten in the Netherlands. Marvin enlisted in New York on September 23rd 1943 and served with the 311th Infantry Regiment, 78th Division. He was killed in action on January 31st of 1945 during the final battle of Kesternich, Germany, 20 miles from Aachen. Marvin was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. I passed this information on to Ann and hoped it might offer her some closure and solace. I contacted the cemetery and discovered that Marvin’s grave had been adopted and maintained since 1946. Marvin had definitely not been forgotten.
After emails on Ann’s behalf with the grave adoption agency in Holland, I put Ann in touch with the family maintaining her friend’s grave. She wrote to them:
“I would like to thank you for looking after a most wonderful boy’s grave. My oldest brother Alfred Lehman was a friend of Marvin’s, we all went to the same summer camp. Marvin was Ruth Harman’s only child and she had lost her husband.
In January 1945 I was almost nine years old. I can tell you this about Marvin, whoever knew Marvin loved him, including me. Over the years I have met people that knew him and they expressed the same feelings. He was a very special person and [his death was] a great loss to all that knew him. Nineteen years old was too young to die. May god bless you for what you are doing.”
Ruth Harman with her son Private Marvin Harman in Brooklyn, New York in Summer 1944. Gift in Memory of Marvin Harman, 2013.342.
Ann received the following response from the family looking after Marvin’s grave:
“I want to thank you for the time you took to search for the grave of Marvin, and me. . . .I can tell you that I adopted Marvin’s grave eight years ago but I was not the first. There was another woman in Maastricht who had adopted it in 1946. The woman in Maastricht who adopted the grave had lost her husband in a camp in Germany. Did Marvin’s mother ever have a chance to visit the grave of her son?I bring flowers to Marvin’s grave 3 or 4 times a year with my husband and our 2 sons. Sometimes there lies a white rose. I suppose that someone from the family in Maastricht still comes and visits him also. Whenever we visit Marvin’s grave at the cemetery we see all of those boys’ names on so many graves, it is difficult for my eyes to stay dry.”
Ann provided the family with the picture of Marvin, who until this time, had only been represented to them by a stone marker in the cemetery:
“I am so moved with this picture of Marvin and his mother. He was exactly as you described him…a beautiful boy! You can see from his face that he was a very kind person. His mother is so young and pretty. It must have been so painful for her to receive the awful news about her son. She seems so happy in this picture.”
Last year Ann paid a visit to her old friend Marvin in Holland and she made a few new acquaintances, Marjo and Winny Habets and their sons, the caretakers of Marvin’s grave. Ann keeps in touch with the Habets on a weekly basis and they have become close friends. Their conversations often, but not always, touch on Marvin. She is contemplating another visit to Margraten in May of this year.
(From left to right), Margraten Cemetery staff member Cecil Buis, Marjo Habets, Winny Habets, and Ann Lehman Brownstein at The Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten in 2014. Photo courtesy of Ann Lehman Brownstein.
Seventy years ago today, on 26 January 1945, Audie Murphy risked his life and went above and beyond the call of duty on a battlefield near Holtzwhir in northeastern France. He killed or wounded fifty German soldiers and held his position for hours, refusing to cede ground to the enemy. The citation for the Medal of Honor that Murphy received due to these heroic actions seventy years ago is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution and can be viewed in their exhibit Price of Freedom: Americans at War.
Murphy would become the war’s most decorated soldier. He would turn his story into a bestselling book. To Hell and Back, and eventually a film, in which he would star. Murphy died in a plane crash on May 28, 1971.
Murphy autographed his copy of the shooting script for the 1955 film on his life to his godson, who donated the copy to the Museum in 2012.
The 455-foot long Victory ship (VC2) was an enhancement of the design of the Liberty ship, complete with modifications enabling a higher speed. The first Victory ship, the SS United Victory, was launched on February 28, 1944. Liberty ships tended to be named after prominent individuals, with any group who raised two million dollars able to suggest a name. The early Victory ships, however, were named for the Allied nations. After these, the next 218 were named after American cities, then 150 after educational institutions, and the rest received miscellaneous names. In addition, the Victory ships often had the word “Victory” in their title. A total of 534 Victory ships were built by six different shipyards by the end of 1946.
When these ships were christened and launched, they were often done so by individuals associated with the name. In the case of Liberty ships, those honored at the launches were people from the cities after which the ship was named. The SS Gretna Victory was named in honor of Gretna, Louisiana, which was a small town directly across the Mississippi River from New Orleans settled by German immigrants. The SS Gretna Victory was produced by Permanente Metals Corporation at their yard in Richmond, California. She was launched on January 20, 1945. The launch was attended by an esteemed family from Gretna, the Bozzelle family. Mrs. Mary Bozzelle and her family were selected for the honor because she had eight children serving in the US Armed Forces.
The images presented appear courtesy of the Gretna Historical Society, whose collection includes this scrapbook devoted to the launch of the SS Gretna Victory, as well as the christening bottle used during the ceremony in January 1945. At the Museum, we scanned the images from the scrapbook and created a preservation copy, which we then shared with the Gretna Historical Society upon returning the original material.
Victims of the Malmedy Massacre taken on 14 January 1945. National Archives Image from the Collection of The National WWII Museum.
Seventy years ago, in the days of January 13th and 14th American troops began to uncover this gruesome scene in the snow in Belgium. The murder had occurred weeks earlier; murder, because the American victims had already surrendered to the Germans and were thus afforded the rights of POWs under the Geneva Conventions. Instead of being held captive and transported to a POW camp, on December 17th, 1944, outside of Malmedy, Belgium, 84 American POWs were murdered by their German captors, part of the 1st SS Panzer Division. The war crime now known as the “Malmedy Massacre” was part of a series of such killings in which 362 American POWs (and over 100 Belgian civilians) perished.
73 men were tried for these crimes in the War Crimes Trials held at Dachau in 1946, in which 1,672 German war criminals were charged. Of these 73, 42 received death sentences, 21 life imprisonment and the rest, long sentences. All of these sentences were eventually commuted and by 1956, all had been released from prison.
See an interview with Ted Paluch, survivor of the massacre on our Digital Collections site, recorded in October 2009 by the Museum’s Manager of Research Services Seth Paridon. And read more about Paluch in this Oral History Spotlight, previously featured on our blog. See also the entry on this tragedy in our digital exhibit on POWs in Europe, Guests of the Third Reich.
The Higgins Industries newsletter, The Higgins Worker, profiled in the Worker Wednesday series, begs for a Tuesday post in honor of this newsletter item about the religious holiday referred to as, among others, “Little Christmas,” “Epiphany,” “King’s Day,” and “Twelfth Night.” In New Orleans, January 6th signals the start of the Carnival season, culminating on Mardi Gras Day or “Fat Tuesday.” King’s Day is marked by the eating of King Cake, a tradition that was honored on January 6, 1945, in the Higgins Little Red School House in Ourtown, the settlement established for workers at Higgins Industries. To read more about Ourtown, see the previous post.
Flag-raising on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. Courtesy of The National Archives and Records Administration.
The National WWII Museum’s Annual Student Essay contest will officially begin on January 5, 2015! This year’s middle and high school essay contest prompt, “How do you define a hero?” was inspired by the upcoming 70th anniversary of the iconic flag raising on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima. The six men who helped to raise the flag in the midst of battle on February 23, 1945, are often referred to as heroes. Three of them, John Bradley, Ira Hayes (Pima) and Rene Gagnon, survived the war while the remaining three, Sgt. Michael Strank, Pfc. Frank Sousley, and Corporal Harlon Henry Block, were either killed on Iwo Jima or died before the war had ended. One of the survivors, Ira Hayes, was repeatedly asked by admirers if he considered himself to be a hero as a result of his wartime actions. Hayes replied:
“How could I feel like a hero when only five men in my platoon of 45 survived, when only 27 men in my company of 250 managed to escape death or injury?”
For this year’s essay contest, participating students are asked to think and write about what being a hero means to them. While not a research paper per se, students must use WWII as a starting point for their responses and provide specific examples from their own experiences that support their ideas and connect with the prompt, “How do you define a hero?” Essays will be evaluated based on the student’s use of historic and contemporary evidence to support their argument, historical accuracy, and the essay’s originality, as well as clarity of expression, adherence to the contest theme, grammar, and punctuation.
The 2015 Museum Student Essay Contest is open to all middle school students (Grades 5-8) and all high school students (Grades 9-12) in the United States, United States territories, and military bases, and closes on March 31, 2015. Middle school students in grades 5-8 must write and submit an essay that is 500 words or less and entries will be eligible to win up to $250 and other prizes. Participating high school students in grades 9-12 are required to submit an essay that is 1,000 words or less, with a chance to receive up to $1,000 for a first place essay. Both winning essays and honorable mentions will be posted on The National WWII Museum website.
All essays must be submitted through The National WWII Museum’s Essay Contest website by March 31, 2015, 5:00 p.m. CST. Only essays received before the deadline and in Microsoft Word or Pdf. format will be considered for awards. For more information about the 2015 Essay Contest, please visit the Museum’s contest site at www.nationalww2museum.org/essaycontests. We look forward to reading all of this year’s fabulous essays!
Flag-raising on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima on February 23, 1945. Courtesy of The National Archives and Records Administration.
Medal of Honor recipient Herschel "Woody" Williams fought on Iwo Jima as a Demolition Sergeant with the 1st Battalion, 21st Marines, 3rd Division.
D-Day on Iwo Jima with the 4th Infantry. February 19, 1945. U.S. Navy, Gift of Charles Ives, from the collection of The National WWII Museum. 2011.102.559.
David Severance fought on Iwo Jima with the 28th Marines, which raised both flags during the battle on February 23, 1945.
Aerial reconnaissance photograph of Iwo Jima prior to invasion, February 1945. U.S. Navy, Gift of Charles Ives, from the collection of The National WWII Museum. 2011.102.536.
Mass is held on Mount Siribachi with the 5th Division Marines attending services, February 1945. U.S. Navy, Gift of Charles Ives, from the collection of The National WWII Museum. 2011.102.562.
Wounded Marines on Iwo Jima are being taken to an aid station. U.S. Navy, Gift of Charles Ives, from the collection of The National WWII Museum. 2011.102.538.
Iwo Jima battle flags captured by 5th Division Marines. U.S. Navy, Gift of Charles Ives, from the collection of The National WWII Museum. 2011.102.526.
Uncompleted cemetery on Iwo Jima for the 3rd and 4th Divisions of Marines. U.S. Navy, Gift of Charles Ives, from the collection of The National WWII Museum. 011.102.539.
Joe Rosenthal's photograph of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima became famous quickly, as shown by the nose art on this B-29 Superfortress on the island of Tinian in 1945. Gift of David Lawrence, from the collection of The National WWII Museum. 2012.195.156.
Seventy years ago, on 30 November 1944, the “Kriegies”– short for Kriegsgefangener, German for POW– in Stalag Luft IV celebrated Thanksgiving. They used the traditional date of the 30th of November (for more on this see the previous post on “Franksgiving”). Naturally, this issue of Kriegie Kronikle spotlighted the work of the “Chow Chuckers,” the men who “perform the tasks which are inevitable & necessary in unpacking, sorting, repacking & loading of the chow we all idolize (the word is a masterpiece of understatement!).”
Gift of the Family of Willard Charles Miller, 2012.388
On this date 70 years ago, members of the 143 Field Artillery Regiment at Schofield Barracks in Wahiawā, Hawaii were entertained by “5 Big Bouts” of professional wrestling action. Included on the card that evening were matches between clear-cut “faces” (pro wrestling good guys), as evidenced by the service branch prefixes in their names, and menacing, identifiably-foreign-sounding “heels” (pro wrestling villains). Thus, in a contest between “Soldier” Axel Madsen and “The Bad Greek” Harry Dellis or “Irish” Mike Casey and Bolo Bataan, there would be no question as to which competitor the troops should be cheering for. Pro wrestling proved a popular attraction at military bases and posts throughout WWII, with matches like this taking place at Schofield Barracks on a tri-weekly basis; the card shown here being the 31st in the series.
This post by Collin Makamson, Family Programs & Outreach Coordinator @ The National WWII Museum
Seventy years ago today—on 7 November 1944—47,977,063 Americans voted in the Presidential Election. For those serving away from home, it was possible to vote in elections. The first step was for the service person to apply for a state ballot before September 1, 1944. If the state ballot had not arrived by October 1, which was the case more often than not, the service member received a shortened Federal ballot (containing only President, Vice President and Congressmen), given that the state in which the service member qualified to vote in had passed legislation to authorize use of the shortened Federal ballot. Not surprisingly, given all of these restrictions, in the end, only 85,000 Federal ballots were sent to those serving overseas. Thomas Dewey, the challenger, had hoped to become the first president born in the Twentieth Century, but President Franklin Roosevelt won by 3,285,567 votes and remained in office for a fourth term.
We have several pieces related to the 1944 election. One of the most unique is a newspaper, hand-drawn and hand-lettered by American POWs in Stalag Luft IV in Gross Tychow, Pomerania, which tells of the results of the election in the POW camp. The headline reads “Straw Vote gives FDR the Lager.”
Gift of the Family of Willard Charles Miller, 2012.388
The article (in the center column of the spread) reads:
On the seventh, some of our enterprising friends in the Lager decided to tale a “Gallop” pole & attempt to find who we would elect as President of the U.S. Our opinions probably being a typical cross section of Amer. sentiment during this history making epoch. It might be pertinent to some here & now that they Keystone State (PA.) forwarded ballots to her Kreigies in Germany, & we got the info therefrom. After taking the vote which we feel will materialize into a true forecast of the actual election returns if & when we receive them from the homeland We discovered not to our amazement that the now President Franklin D. Roosevelt carried the pseudo vote by a veritable landslide. Roosevelt & Truman polled 1810 votes against Dewey & Brickers’ 277. Evidently, we had some (only a few thank the good powers that be) would be “hooch peddlers” in our midst for the Prohibition count tallied to 62 pledges.
The Socialist Party collected only 13 votes and believe it or not, we seem to have one man who expects to work when her returns as he indicated by voting for the Labor Party!!!
Looks as if somebody is expecting to return to the “Land of milk and bonuses”!!
Well, cheer up gang, maybe we’ll be home in time for 1948’s voting. Whoknows?
Many of those serving during WWII, did vote for the first time in 1948, as many who were fighting were not old enough to vote. The voting age was finally lowered to eighteen in 1972, hastened by the “old enough to fight, old enough to vote” cries during the Vietnam War. Legislation is still being enacted and expanded to protect the rights of overseas citizens, uniformed service members, and their eligible family members to vote in Federal elections. In 2009, the United States Congress expanded the 1986 Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Voting Act (UOCAVA) by enacting the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act to provide greater protection for these rights.
See here for a previous post on the War Ballot of 1944. The ballot was received on December 5, 1944, nearly a full month after the election!
Seventy years ago this week, on 11 October 1944, Vice Presidential candidate Harry S. Truman visited Higgins Industries. Truman’s running mate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, had visited the company two years earlier on 29 September 1942 during his whistle-stop tour of production facilities across the country. Truman was the guest of Andrew Higgins at a luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel. Higgins called Senator Truman’s visit to New Orleans and to Higgins Aircraft a “perfectly happy occasion.” The visit was pictured in the Higgins newspaper, Higgins Worker issuefrom 20 October 1944.
Gift in Memory of Arnold Schaefer, 2012.359.001
Post by Curator Kimberly Guise.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.