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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

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Home Front Friday: Artists For Victory

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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!

Today is International Animation Day, so in honor of cartoons, drawings, and other styles of art, let’s take a trip back to WWII to see the impact art had on the Home Front. Whether it is a piece of propaganda or a sketch of a battlefield, pieces of art have served as representations of humanity for centuries. They’ve evolved from sculptures to portraits to images with detail so perfect they seem to have the equivalence of a photograph. The emotions expressed through art challenge audience members to change their perspectives and to see the world through a different set of eyes, and during WWII these eyes were those of soldiers.

Artists on the Home Front decided to put their talents to work and support the war effort. Propaganda became a major source of communication all across the nation that rallied civilians to scrap, to carpool, to ration their food items, and called, women in particular, to join the workforce. They were artists for victory; reminding citizens that they were part of the fight too.

Created by Norman Rockwell. via National Archives.

Created by Norman Rockwell. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

WWII revolutionized art. Propaganda artists learned to target emotions of those on the Home Front while field artists portrayed events from the Pacific and European Theaters through their strong brushstrokes and revealing sketches. The war was shared with the Home Front through so many ways, and art was just a bonus form of communication that captured scenes and sentiments through a more creative approach. Photos instantly capture, but drawings and paintings take time to come to life. They used their skills to hone in on what they saw in battle and, for propaganda artists, what they knew needed motivation on the Home Front. Some artists, like Tom Lea, decided that it was best for them to change their perspectives from the Home Front to the battlefield. So, they went overseas to draw what they saw.

Titled "Sherman Tanks Invade." Painted by Army artist Ogden Pleissner. via PBS.

Titled “Sherman Tanks Invade.” Painted by Army artist Ogden Pleissner. Photo courtesy of PBS.

Photograph of an illustration of an invasion of a waterfront town and buildings along the shore line in Italy. 1944-45.

Photograph of an illustration of an invasion of a waterfront town and buildings along the shore line in Italy. 1944-45.

Tom Lea was an artist correspondent for LIFE magazine during WWII whose painting, sketching, and writing appeared in issues of the magazine from April 1942 through July 1945. His job as a correspondent was to go ashore with the United States Marines and to record what he witnessed and experienced through sketches. His most well known campaign was that of the Marine landing at Peleliu Island, where he could not sketch nor write about his experience until the next day because of the fear he had to overcome and let settle after the invasion. His sketches and artworks have been etched into their audiences’ minds as reminders that the effort was no easy task and that the soldiers were brothers in arms; assisting one another and fighting together to be able to restore peace and return home. The National WWII Museum has an exhibit with 26 of Tom Lea’s original pieces of art on display until January 1, 2017. If you find yourself with an interest in his art of WWII, you can experience this man’s talented way of revealing emotions of soldiers and harshness of battles during your visit to the museum.

Excerpt from LIFE magazine in 1942 with feature of Tom Lea's sketches from the North Atlantic.

Excerpt from LIFE magazine in 1942 with feature of Tom Lea’s sketches from the North Atlantic.

Lea's sketches in copy of LIFE.

Lea’s sketches in copy of LIFE.

Along with artists, many art historians put in an effort. From the Home Front, they worried about world renowned masterpieces falling to not only Nazi thievery but also to allied bombing efforts. The well-known, some what new movie, The Monuments Men, directed by George Clooney, was based on the book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in Historyby Robert Edsel. It recalls the lives of American professors, architects, and artists who put their Home Front jobs on hold to go be soldiers of art and save important pieces that define our culture as a humanity.

The propaganda and field art of WWII have impacted the constantly evolving world of art. Both of these forms encouraged the sharing of information through a medium other than the written word or the radio. Propaganda has inspired new approaches to advertising and sharing information with people about new products or who to vote for in an election. During the war, all emotions were hit with propaganda. Artists instilled fear, sadness, happiness, or motivation within its audience through their creations. Some ads today that focus on products like cigarettes and other harmful items target a similar sense of fear within people, while most others aim to reveal how content a person’s life can be if they purchase a particular product. Propaganda struck a cord with the Home Front during WWII, and advertising today does the same. Actual art from the field allows people to study and reflect on this war. Propaganda and field art live on with lasting effects, reminding us of how everyone, even artists, were a part of the fight for victory both on the Home Front and in battle.

Since a lot of Americans on the Home Front read magazines and newspapers to learn about the war, they found themselves flipping through ads, propaganda, and political cartoons. For us, it is essentially the same. Magazines are full of coupons and advertisements encouraging us to buy, for example, the newest shoes available. When we’re done with these magazines, they typically find themselves sitting on coffee tables until someone decides to toss it into the recycle bin. Well, here’s a fun craft you can do with left over magazines and/or newspapers. Call on your inner artist and give these news outlets a new life. This is a simple way to embrace the spirit of scrapping just as people did on the Home Front.

American Flag mosaic coaster supplies:

  • Old magazines
  • Old coasters or bulletin board
  • Glue
  • Paint brush
  • Mod Podge
  • Scissors

1. Cut red, white, and blue parts out of the old magazine/s that you’ve chosen.


2. Begin to glue them to either your old coaster or to your cork board in the formation of an American Flag.



3. When you’ve finished gluing, cover the coaster with a coat of mod podge and allow it to dry. Once they’ve finished drying, put them out on your coffee table and revel in your artistic skills.


Posted by Camille Weber, Education Intern and Lauren Handley, Assistant Director of Education for Public Programs at The National WWII Museum.

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Home Front Friday: Victory Apple Pie

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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!

Representative of so much more than a rich blend of apples and sugar tucked into a flaky crust, apple pie may have faced recipe changes during WWII due to the rationing of ingredients, but it did not find itself on the back burner when it came to baked goods. When soldiers on the Front thought apple pie, they thought home, and knew that as they continued making advancements they’d be one, slow step closer to reuniting with their family, friends, and a classic apple pie.


From The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book: Wartime Edition


The phrase, “as American as motherhood and apple pie,” rose in popularity from soldiers who answered reporters that they fought, “for mom and for apple pie.” If you have more interest in why we’re as American as apple pie, follow this link to the Huffington Post article that explains where apple pie originated and why it has become such a popular identifier for Americans.


On the Home Front, extravagant desserts were frowned upon because of the type and amount of ingredients they called for, but in the case of pie, adjustments were easily, and necessarily, made. A few ingredients for an apple pie were items on the ration list, most well-known is probably sugar. In the following recipe, sugar is used. So, whoever was making this pie, would have to make sure that they have the correct amount of stamps left to purchase sugar. Eggs were also rationed. If a person was out of eggs and no longer had the correct amount of stamps to purchase eggs, baking soda could be used in their places. 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda can be used in place of 1 egg, so in the following recipe, you would use the equivalent amount of baking soda for three eggs.

Victory Apple Pie from The Victory Binding of the American Woman's Cook Book: Wartime Edition.

Victory Apple Pie recipe from The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book: Wartime Edition.


  • 1/3 cup potato water
  • 1/2 cup yeast
  • 1/3 cup riced potatoes
  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/3 cup shoteneing, melted
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sifted flour
  • 6 apples
  • Cinnamon

Step 1: Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Combine potato water, crumbled yeast, cooled potatoes and 1/4 cup sugar.

Step 3: Let it rise for 1 hour.


Step 4: After the 1 hour, add:

  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Flour – the recipe calls for about one cup on the dough to make it stiff, but I had to use about 2.5 cups.

Step 5: Knead the dough well.


Step 6: Let it rise until double in bulk. This took about an hour.

Step 7: Roll out the dough into 2 circles about 1/2 inch thick.

Step 8: Place in two greased (or one) pie pans and press the dough to the edges.


Step 9: Cut the apples into eighths and arrange them on the dough.


Step 10: Beat the remaining eggs, add the remaining sugar, and pour this mix over the apples.

Mary Mutz, again, 1943 New Mexico baking apple pie. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Mary Mutz, again, 1943 New Mexico baking apple pie. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Step 11: Sprinkle with cinnamon, and cover it with a top layer of dough.


Step 12: Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.


Mary Mutz cooking her apple pie in 1943 New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Mary Mutz cooking her apple pie in 1943 New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.



Posted by Camille Weber, Education Intern and Lauren Handley, Assistant Director of Education for Public Programs at The National WWII Museum.

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SciTech Tuesday: Percy Spencer and the microwave oven

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Seventy one years ago, on October 8 1945, Percy Spencer filed a patent for a cooking oven powered by microwave radiation. He worked for Raytheon, who owned his intellectual property, so Spencer got a $2,000 stipend but no royalties for his invention.

Percy Spencer, born in rural Maine in 1896, had a very hard early life. His father died before he was 2 years old, and when his mom couldn’t support him after that she left him with an aunt and uncle. That uncle died shortly thereafter. Percy was working in a mill by 12, and as an electrician at 14. He enlisted in the Navy with an interest in radio, and learned there about the science of making and using electromagnetic waves to send information.

By 1939 he was an expert on radar tubes, and was working for Raytheon. Most of the government’s research on radar leading up to WWII was being conducted at MIT’s Radiation Laboratory and Raytheon won the contract based largely on Spencer’s reputation. At Raytheon Spencer developed new manufacturing techniques to build radar tubes much faster.

In 1940 the Tizard mission brought UK radar technology to the US, including a cavity magnetron that greatly improved radar technology. When Spencer was experimenting with magnetrons he discovered that a snack bar he had in his pocket had melted. He was not the first to notice that magnetrons created heat energy, but the next day he was the first to experiment with it. Spencer put a container of popcorn over the magnetron and made the first microwave popcorn. He worked to contain the waves in a metal box and focus their energy.

The first commercial microwave oven was made in 1945, but was very large and expensive. They became smaller and more affordable as the decades passed.

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

A Raytheon Radarange from the 1950s

A Raytheon Radarange from the 1950s

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Home Front Friday: Music Inspires

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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!

World War II was the time of the Big Band, and Americans all across the Home Front made their ways to performances at popular venues as well as listened to the newest hits on the radio by artists like Bing Crosby or groups led by Duke Ellington. Music kept people’s spirits high while husbands, cousins, friends, boyfriends, and other members of the family were off fighting to bring liberty to a world that found itself in a fierce battle.

Music of  the WWII era paralleled with the sentiments and proceedings of what was going on in the world. This hasn’t changed since. The only slight difference is that instead of 17 shined instruments, our musicians are found with guitars or mixes created with software on computers. Technology has changed the world of music, but what is has not touched is the sheer simplicity of an artist’s creation of songs that reflect the mood of the American public.

via National Archives

Photo courtesy of the National Archives.



Jazz was a popular genre nationwide during WWII. Before US involvement in the war, themes of music centered on American isolationism and support for the Allied forces. A popular song by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II titled “The Last Time I Saw Paris” was published in 1940. There are numerous versions of this song, but singer Kate Smith’s is one of the most well-known. The song creates a nostalgic feel of reflection for the beautiful city of Paris that unluckily fell to Nazi control earlier that year.

As the war progressed in Europe, songs continued to focus on the disapproval of US involvement, but when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, subject matters changed. Some songs called for scraps to be saved, collected, and donated while others encouraged enlistment. “We Did It Before and We Can Do It Again” by Barry Wood was released only days after Pearl Harbor. It is a rally song that convinced Americans they need not worry about fighting in a second war since they had already come out of WWI victorious. The upbeat attitude of the song was a hopeful disguise of the sentiment of worry most Americans were feeling. Elton Britton, a popular country music artist, released “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere” in 1942 to reassure families who had lost loved ones in the war that a flag would always fly in their honor.

There were also songs of love and of longing to reunite with loved ones. A well-known song that was released before US involvement in the war, but rose in popularity as more and more men were sent overseas was “I’ll Be Seeing You” sung by many artists, but most popularly by Bing Crosby in 1944.

Music today carries the same value it did during the war. There are artists like Toby Keith who have released songs that remind Americans of our strength of a country as well as express gratitude to soldiers for their sacrifice. A few favorites of Keith’s among the American public include “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” There are also songs today that expand beyond our military involvement with the Middle East and zoom in more on social issues happening stateside. “Same Love” released in 2013 by pop culture artists Macklemore calls for equality in the LGBT community. Whether it was 1940, is 2016, or any year in between, singers, songwriters, and composers have the job of creating songs that boost morale, open minds, or bring people together over a common cause.

If you’re a fan of music and are looking for a new playlist to celebrate the weekend, check out the one below. Enjoy taking yourself back in time to the 1940s through these lyrics and beats.

Posted by Camille Weber, Education Intern and Lauren Handley, Assistant Director of Education for Public Programs at The National WWII Museum.

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SciTech Tuesday: The Anniversary of the Jeep

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On September 27 of 1940 a vehicle prototype made by American Bantam Car Company began testing at Camp Holabird in Maryland. Bantam was the only company to respond to a request from the military for a small, lightweight, powerful, 4-wheel drive vehicle. The car tested well, but there were concerns about Bantam’s size and financial state, so the government gave Willys Overland and Ford a chance to study the vehicle and copies of its blueprints.

Willys and Ford submitted prototypes in November of 1940, and they also tested well, and were not-surprisingly all very similar. Orders were placed for 1,500 vehicles from each company.

In July of 1941 the military decided it would be best to standardize and choose one vehicle to use. They awarded the contract for the next 16,000 vehicles to Willys because it was less expensive and had a more powerful engine. In the end Willys could not meet production targets and Ford was licensed to make some of the vehicles too. During the war Willys made 363,000 and Ford made 280,000 ‘Jeeps.’

There is much conjecture and not a lot of evidence on the etymology of the term ‘Jeep.’ My favorite is that the soldiers loved the vehicle and named it after a popular cartoon character, Popeye’s sidekick Eugene the Jeep. The name was first used in print when Willys staged a publicity event and invited photographers to see the vehicle drive up the Capital steps in Washington, DC. The caption refers to the vehicle as a ‘jeep.’

The first 4-wheel drive vehicles were made for the military in WWI by the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company and Thomas B Jeffrey Company. After WWII, Willys produced the CJ (Civilian Jeep), and when American Bantam went bankrupt in 1950 Willys was granted the Jeep trademark.

Happy 76th birthday to the Jeep.

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

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Home Front Friday: Cornmeal Muffins with Jam

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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!

These days, making cupcakes or muffins or really any sort of dish, is simple. You raid your pantry, take a trip to the grocery store, and compile all ingredients you need without having to worry about limitations placed on the amount of, for example, sugar or eggs or milk that you choose to buy. This was not the case during WWII.

Certain foods were limited during the war, especially those that were processed because they could easily be sent overseas to troops. Families received ration books, and in each ration book were stamps that correlated with a particular food item. Each food required a certain amount of stamps in order to purchase it. Once a person ran out of their stamps, they had to wait until the next month to receive a new ration book. With this system came great responsibility, and families not only found their creative sides in the kitchen, but also learned to balance out their meals.


The cookbook that we’ve been using to pull recipes for “foodie” Friday, The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book: Wartime Edition, holds weekly calendars in the back that lay out example plans of what meals families could eat each of the days during the weeks.


Example of the weekly layout of what families could eat for their breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. At the bottom of the pages are substitute meal ideas in case a family was missing ingredients or didn’t have enough ration stamps for a particular meal.

This week’s “foodie” Friday recipe from the American Woman’s Cook Book is for cornmeal muffins with, or without, jam. This is served as a breakfast. In the above photo, it’s listed as a breakfast item for Wednesday. The recipe calls for sugar and an egg, both of which were rationed, but could have been purchased with your ration stamps. These can be served as breakfast for multiple days in a row since the recipe makes about 12. The muffins were a great dish because they lasted a while, so families could get a lot out of a recipe that didn’t call for too large of amounts from too many ingredients. It is simple, straightforward, and pleasing to the taste buds, so families on the Home Front ate this breakfast up and continuously participated in the fight for victory.



  • 1 cup of corn meal
  • 1 cup sifted flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 4 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of melted shortening

Step 1: Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Step 2: Sift the corn meal, flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder together.


Step 3: Beat the egg.

Step 4: Add the milk and melted shortening to the beaten egg.

Step 5: Mix together the dry ingredients with the egg mixture.


Step 6: Bake for 20-25 minutes.


IMG_2910 (1)



Taste tip: Spread some jelly on them for a touch of sweetness. Civilians on the Home Front made this breakfast their jam, no pun intended.

Posted by Camille Weber, Education Intern and Lauren Handley, Assistant Director of Education for Public Programs at The National WWII Museum.

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Service Learning to Start the School Year!

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Mooresville project finishers

Students from Mooresville Middle School, the first classroom to finish the project last year. They are showcasing the prizes they won for all of their efforts.

With schools back in session, we say welcome to a second year of the Museum’s service learning project, Get in the Scrap! Inspired by the scrapping efforts of students during WWII, Get in the Scrap! encourages today’s students to become environmental stewards with fun classroom activities that earn them points and prizes. Participants in our first year had  successful experiences in their classroom, and many students finished their activities in May with a greater interest in both recycling and WWII Home Front history. Kids on the Home Front led by example and have inspired young girls and boys today to realize that they, too, can have an impact on their schools and communities.

Curious on how it works?

Join us for our launch webinar on Thursday, September 22 at 12 pm central time: Your students will discover how kids helped win WWII by scrapping common household items to be converted into war materials.  Learn firsthand from teachers and students how the project works in their classrooms. If you sign up for the launch webinar, your class will be able to start their Get in the Scrap! project with 5 bonus points. This’ll have your students one step closer to receiving their first prize!

Registrants will receive details on how to sign up for the project and curriculum materials. Space is limited—sign up today!

What’s new?

Is that the Brady Bunch? No, just students from Lincoln Middle School pledging to make a difference in their school and community!

Is that the Brady Bunch? No, just students from Lincoln Middle School pledging to make a difference in their school and community!

If you’re a returning classroom, we have three new activities and brand new prizes that’ll have your students wanting to do more to rack up their points.  Our new activities are a game of Jeopardy, the creation of a Memory Jar to track progress and daily happenings during your class’ time with the project, and a Water Bottle Bank that is a build-up to the Water Bottle 100 Challenge. It will have your students’ brains churning about how a plastic water bottle can serve more than 1 use. Each of these new Get in the Scrap! activities incorporates  key themes including teamwork, writing, and creativity.

Make sure to share your students’ progress with the Museum via the hashtag #getinthescrap and your class could be  featured as the Get in the Scrap! Classroom of the Month, which will be highlighted in the monthly e-newsletter and this blog!

Want more?

Keep track of all things Get in the Scrap! by following the hashtag  #getinthescrap on Instagram and Twitter. Also, sign up for the Museum’s monthly e-newsletter “Calling All Teachers!” for the latest Get in the Scrap! news and project updates. We’re looking forward to year two and to see how your student scrappers will enthusiastically complete the project!

Post by Camille Weber, Education Intern and Chrissy Gregg, Virtual Classroom Coordinator

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SciTech Tuesday: The Hurricane Season of 1944

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At a time when we have been relatively free of tropical systems for a few years, it is interesting to look back at the historical pattern of hurricane activity. This year only Hermine, a relatively minor storm, and the ‘hurricane without wind’ that dumped 30 inches of rain in about 24 hours over parts of Louisiana, have reached the U.S. Gulf Coast. Hermine was the first hurricane to hit Florida in 10 years.

With all the major events that happened during WWII, it is easy to forget the regular hardships and crises that occurred. This includes tropical storm activity. In 1944 there was a very active tropical storm season in the Atlantic.

In 1942 there were 11 tropical storms in the Atlantic, 4 of which became hurricanes, 1 which became a major hurricane. There were 17 fatalities from these storms.

In 1943 there were 10 tropical storms in the Atlantic, 5 of which became hurricanes, and 2 of which were major hurricanes. There were 19 fatalities from these storms.

In 1944 there were 14 tropical storms in the Atlantic. Eight of those storms became hurricanes, and 3 were major hurricanes leading to 1,156 fatalities.

In 1945 there were 11 tropical storms in the Atlantic, 5 of which became hurricanes, and 2 of which were major hurricanes. There were 29 fatalities from these storms.

Hurricanes weren’t designated by names until 1953, so the storms of this era are named numerically, or referred to by names they got from press coverage. The two storms of the 1944 Atlantic tropical season that impacted U.S. territory were the Cuba-Florida hurricane and the Great Atlantic hurricane.

The Great Atlantic hurricane of 1944 started as a tropical storm near the Virgin Islands on September 9. As it moved west and north the system gained strength and reached peak strength as a Category 4 storm on September 13 near the Bahamas. It passed the Outer Banks, and then, weakening, made landfall on Long Island, NY and again on Rhode Island. At landfall it was a Category 2 storm. It ended when it merged with another extratropical system near Greenland on September 16. The lowest pressure recorded was 933 mbar, and the highest sustained winds were recorded at 145 mph. (Airplane reconnaissance of storms began in 1943. Regular radar tracking of storms began after WWII.) This storm sank the USS Warrington (a destroyer) 450 miles out from Vero Beach, leading to the death of 248 sailors. The hurricane was a category 4 producing 70 ft waves when the Warrington encountered it. The storm also sank 2 coastguard cutters, a minesweeper, and a lightship. The Jersey Shore was heavily damaged.

The 1944 Cuba-Florida hurricane developed off the coast of Nicaragua on October 12. The storm moved northward and strengthened, reaching Category 2 status as it approached Grand Cayman. It moved north again and still strengthened, reaching peak winds of 145 mph as it crossed Cuba. By October 19 the storm weakened and made landfall near Sarasota with a windspeed of 75 mph. It weakened more as it moved north and east across Florida, and then went out over the Atlantic near Jacksonville. When it reached Savannah, GA, it came ashore with winds near 50 mph, and moved over the eastern Carolinas, and then went to sea again near Norfolk. It traveled along the shoreline as it moved north and east, causing gale force winds off Newfoundland. The most deaths in this storm were in Cuba, where about 300 people died. The storm also destroyed much of the Florida citrus crop.


All the Atlantic tropical storms of 1944. From Wikimedia Commons

All the Atlantic tropical storms of 1944. From Wikimedia Commons


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

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Beaches and Battleships: A V-J Day Guest Blog

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Image Courtesy of Harry S. Truman Presidential Library

Image courtesy of Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, “Photo Number 98-2437,” Photographer Unknown.

To commemorate Victory Over Japan Day 2016, Jay Mehta of Overland Park, Kansas, a 10th  grader at the Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, Missouri, composed this guest blog detailing his experiences after traveling to The National WWII Museum in December 2015 and hearing the oral history of Lieutenant Commander James Starnes, who was officer of the deck aboard the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945, when the Japanese Instrument of Surrender was signed to officially bring WWII to a close. Jay later continued on his journey, traveling with family to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to visit “The Mighty Mo” herself.

“Beaches and Battleships,” by Jay Mehta

History shapes our lives. This saying often refers to the decisions and battles of times past that are still affecting the world today. However, over the course of the past year I have come to understand another facet of this saying: that understanding history not only informs our decisions, but also inspires us to experience new things.

Last summer, at the National History Day competition in College Park, Maryland, I was one of 51 students (representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia) to receive the Salute to Courage Award from The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. In December, we each represented our state at the opening of the Museum’s new Richard C. Adkerson & Freeport McMoRan Foundation Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries. As a part of the award, each of us was privileged to study the life of one veteran or servicemember from our home state. When I received the name James Starnes and began watching his oral history, I was immediately befuddled. I represented the state of Missouri. James Starnes was born and raised in Decatur, Georgia. It was not until the end of his fascinating chronicle that I understood why a student from Missouri had been chosen to study him: James Starnes was the officer of the deck and navigator of the USS Missouri, the ship on which the Japanese formally surrendered to the Allied forces, thereby ending World War II.

The research drew me in rapidly. I began to watch footage of the historic event to try to spot a young Starnes or some aspect of the scene he described in his oral history. I also emailed the archivist at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, to see if the museum had any artifacts relating to the surrender, which happened during Missouri native Harry S. Truman’s presidency. Most interesting, however, were the facts I uncovered about the USS Missouri itself.

I began to wonder why the USS Missouri had been chosen for the surrender. This was soon answered when I discovered that it was Margaret Truman—the daughter of the then junior senator from Missouri—who had actually christened the battleship by smashing the ceremonial bottle of bubbly on its hull. According to Starnes, on that day Truman promised his daughter that “the ‘Mighty Mo’ will steam into Tokyo Harbor someday, with guns a-blazing, and the war will be over.” It made perfect sense, then, that four years later, when he was president and was choosing a location to mark the end of one of the bloodiest conflicts in history, he chose the ship named for his home state and christened by his only child.

I also began to listen to Mr. Starnes’s words more carefully. He mentioned that as officer of the deck his duty was to give the Japanese delegation the official permission to board the ship. He spoke of positioning eight men, each over six feet tall, at the Japanese entry point to project an aura of dominance.

He spoke of the infamous wartime incident aboard the Missouri when a young Japanese kamikaze pilot, en route to collide with the ship, was shot down. His plane left a dent on the side of the ship, but there were no American casualties. However, recognizing their shared roles as pawns in a larger, international game, the crew of the USS Missouri decided to honor the pilot with a navy funeral. Realizing they had no Japanese flags on hand, the crew stayed up all night sewing a red sun.

I read about how General Douglas MacArthur dropped a pen nib cover during the Instrument of Surrender signing ceremony—which took place on what would from that day forward be known as the Surrender Deck—but  was not willing to bend down and pick it up, as it would seem like bowing to the enemy.

These stories filled my mind while writing my oral-history project. After it was submitted, and only a week before the Road to Tokyo grand opening, I received an email from the Museum that I had been selected as the student speaker for the VIP gala the night before the grand opening. Writing that speech in the next few days allowed me a chance to reflect on what I had learned throughout the process. However, what best gave me a sense of the importance of studying and exploring history was the experience of actually delivering the speech in front of more than 600 people. I was floored to see the knowing looks on the faces of veterans throughout the audience as I spoke naively of battleships and campaigns. I was warmed to see their smiles as I read a poem that was included in the oral history I had researched. I was especially surprised when, after leaving the stage and heaving a sigh of relief, I ran into a gentleman who turned out to be the chief historian at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (a National Park at Pearl Harbor). The next morning, I carried the Missouri state flag into the grand opening along with my fellow students with a new sense of its historical weight. On the flight home, I discussed with my mother how incredible it would be to actually see the USS Missouri at its resting place in Pearl Harbor someday. My experience at the Museum was over, but my journey aboard the USS Missouri had only just begun.

Fast-forward a month or two. My family was planning a spring break trip to Maui, Hawaii, and my parents told me we were planning a day trip to Pearl Harbor to see the USS Missouri and the USS Arizona. I was ecstatic. On top of being a WWII nerd, I could not wait to stand aboard the ship I had spent months researching. Finally, March arrived, and my family and I flew west toward beaches and battleships.

When we arrived at the Missouri, I was immediately struck by its size and majesty. Even by today’s standards, the Iowa-class battleship—the last of its kind—is considered a leviathan. I began to recognize many historical odds and ends I had encountered in my research. After a guided tour, I began to explore on my own. I went to the navigation room in the high decks of the ship and sat in what would have been James Starnes’s seat. I found the Japanese entry point where the tall men had stood (marked by two poles which stand closer together than the rest). I saw the dent made by the kamikaze pilot (which, after countless paint jobs and modernizations, still has not been removed). I even saw the place where General MacArthur signed the Instrument of Surrender and where the pen nib cover was later found. However, the most incredible moment aboard the Missouri for me was standing on the highest deck open for tourists, where one can see the USS Arizona Memorial, which I would visit in the coming hours. The green outline of the sunken Arizona can be seen directly off the bow of the Missouri. Some nearby guide was telling a tourist that the ships, one above and one below water, were positioned in this way so that the Missouri could watch over the fallen servicemembers still on board the USS Arizona.

This visual summed up my entire experience learning about the war in the Pacific. In one body of water off the coast of Hawaii, in one day, a person can visit a ship that witnessed the beginning of World War II in the Pacific theater and the ship that witnessed its end. To have stood atop both of those ships and to have captured a glimpse of war and its consequences continues to inform my decisions today. My oral-history project and my trip to The National WWII Museum served as the impetus for visiting Pearl Harbor. However, my experience at Pearl Harbor was also, in turn, deeply enriched by my oral-history project and my trip to the Museum.

When I left Pearl Harbor, I remember scribbling down a note to myself. While writing this blog entry, I found it and pulled it out. To me, it sums up how I felt immediately after leaving the park and what thoughts were rushing through my mind about the war in the Pacific. The note reads as follows: “The fire of World War II was ignited by blood and smothered by a signature.”

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Home Front Friday: Lifting Spirits Since 1941

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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!

As a way to relieve the stress and nerves of soldiers, numerous charities and organizations held events to offer them an escape from training and their inevitable thoughts of war. In the Broadway Theater District of New York City, the American Theater Wing, a volunteer organization, opened the Stage Door Canteen. This was a club that offered a wide variety of entertainment and food to servicemen. If you’re wondering what it was like to attend the Stage Door Canteen, check out BB’s Stage Door Canteen here at the National WWII Museum and take a trip back to the time of big band and red lipstick.

In February of 1941, President Roosevelt started the United Service Organization for National Defense (USO). It is a nonprofit that still holds events today and aims to keep the morale of soldiers high. The USO offers a wide variety of services, and during WWII their clubs hosted many popular events stateside, all of which were relevant to the interests of their community. Some areas may have had a USO club that offered live music or sporting events to entertain soldiers, while others may have had a daycare service for mothers who found themselves working their husbands’, brothers’, and friends’ industrial jobs on the Home Front.

via Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library

Photo courtesy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library.

The USO holds a special place in Louisiana’s heart because the first USO house was built in DeRidder, LA. It stands today as a building that commemorates the work volunteers from the Home Front did to make sure their boys could experience a good time and take a break from the unfortunate reality of war. There were numerous soldiers all over DeRidder, so this was the perfect place to open a club. Americans on the Home Front volunteered their time at the USO houses to help soldiers, for example, write a letter, while others may have worked in the kitchen, cooked meals, and served plates. At DeRidder USO house, the events with the most people in attendance were the dances that were held at least three nights a week. Chaperoned female students from the University of Lafayette would bus over to DeRidder in formal gowns and tag dance through the night with different soldiers. Gatherings like these reminded the soldiers that their country stood with them.

via Beauregard Tourism

The DeRidder USO House. Photo courtesy of Beauregard Tourism.

The USO is still a very relevant organization today. It constantly reminds us to support our troops, wherever they may be stationed in the world.  Along with the strong volunteer support from the American public are celebrities, especially singers, who have also dedicated their time and put their talent to good use. Some, like the late Robin Williams and country artists Toby Keith, have made trips as a part of the USO Overseas Service to bring comedy, music, or a piece of home. The Overseas Service was offered during WWII as well and events like these were, and still are, what allow our troops to connect with home, and reassure them that we stand by their service.

Toby Keith in Afghanistan via United States Department of Defense.

Robin Williams on USO Tour via World Net Daily

Robin Williams on USO Tour via World Net Daily.

As was the fashion of the time, soldiers showed up to these USO events in uniform. With the WWII infantry uniform came a hat, and below you can attempt to make your own WWII origami infantry cap.

Here are the steps:

1. Find yourself a piece of newspaper, or a simple 8.5 inch by 11 inch sheet. Color of your choice.

2. Fold the paper in half on the vertical axis.


3. Fold the paper on the horizontal axis.


4. Fold the right and left corners to the center of the page.


5. Fold the horizontal strip upwards.


6. Flip the paper over.

7. Fold the tip downward so that the point meets the middle.


8. Fold the horizontal strip (bottom part of the hat). One side gets folded upward and will lay over the tip.

9. There should be four pieces to fold over in the upper right and left hand corners as well as the bottoms. (Reference this website for a clear picture!)

10. Fold the bottom half up and over the folded corners.


11. Add some color or a pin or patch of your choosing, and there you have it. An infantry cap.



Posted by Camille Weber, Education Intern and Lauren Handley, Assistant Director of Education for Public Programs at The National WWII Museum.

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