On April 9th, National Former POW Recognition Day, we remember the American men and women held captive during war. Over 120,000 Americans were held as POWs during WWII. 12,228 died in captivity. National Former POW Recognition Day, as designated by Congress, falls on the anniversary of the United States’ surrender on the Bataan Peninsula, beginning the Bataan Death March.
Pfc Jack W. Grady was captured in the Philippines and survived the Bataan Death March and captivity as a POW in Japan. The Museum recently received a collection of material from Grady’s daughter. This material includes over 60 postcards and letters send across North America to Grady’s parents after hearing a shortwave Radio Tokyo broadcast that Grady participated in while a prisoner. Also included are the short notes that Grady was allowed to send to his family, letting them know that he was still alive. In the postcard pictured above, Grady mentions not having received word from his family for over a year. This was all too common in the case of Pacific Theater POWs, whose average length of captivity was over three years.
Many of the collections in our holdings relate not to battlefield maneuvers or combat tactics, but are very personal in nature. Some collections are so personal you feel like you’re invited to share in a very private moment, being let in on a secret. This is the case with the collection from Raymond Snelting and Anna Mae Milazzo Oertel Snelting.
Raymond was one of seven children from the rural community of St. Charles, Illinois. He left school to join the Civilian Conservation Corps to earn a living. Ray joined the Army when the war began and was assigned to a Signal Corps unit and underwent basic training at Fort Polk in Louisiana before being transferred to Camp Plauche in New Orleans. While here he fulfilled a variety of different roles, including trips to the Caribbean and South American observing weather patterns. In New Orleans, Ray worked in the motor pool, as an MP, and as a telegrapher, and teletype repairman. Because of one particular teletype repair call, Raymond met Anna Mae Milazzo Oertel, a young teletype operator and widowed mother of two children.
Anna Mae married Carl Jacob Oertel and had two children, Carol Ann and Carl Jacob. On October 16, 1939, Carl was in an automobile accident and suffered a spinal cord fracture, from which he died two days later. Anna and the children moved in with her parents. With the help of lessons from her uncle, a teletype operator, she translated her skills as a pianist (she graduated from the Southern College of Music) to a teletype job at the Port of Embarkation.
Ray was welcomed for Sunday dinner with Southern hospitality in the Milazzo home. And because her mother did not approve, Ray courted Anna Mae secretly. They fell in love despite their very different backgrounds. They were married on April 16, 1944 in a simple ceremony at the Post Chapel at Camp Plauche. Carol Ann and Carl Jacob now had a “Daddy Ray.” On September 1, 1950, the couple had a daughter, Carla Rae Snelting. Carla Rae shared a collection of her parents’ memorabilia with the Museum. In honor of Valentine’s Day, we are pleased to share this story of wartime romance and a happily ever after, just one example of the tender moments our artifact donors bring to us daily.
Carnival festivities went on hiatus while the nation was at war, but with peace, returned revelry. On March 5th, 1946, New Orleans celebrated the first official Mardi Gras since 1941. Seventy years later, in 2016, we are gearing up for an early Carnival on February 9th. Costuming is a vital part of Mardi Gras fun. We recently received a bright addition to the collection of The National WWII Museum. Although this costume was not originally worn as a Mardi Gras get-up, it is appropriate nonetheless.
Mary Emily Rouse Molstad was a high school student during World War II. She received the gift of a grass skirt from a friend who was stationed in Hawaii. At eighteen she tested out her new hula costume for Costume Day at Florence High School in Florence, Colorado. Mary Emily was suspended for wearing the skirt by her uncle, Norman V. Gorman, Superintendent of Florence Public Schools. The young delinquent, Mary Emily, according to her daughter, “worked as a Western Union telegrapher from 1943 until 1950 when she resigned to get married, as Western Union did not employ married women at the time.”
To read more about Mardi Gras during the war years and to see some very thematic costumes, have a look at: images from the Thomas Weiss collection here in our Digital Collections, our Wartime Carnival flickr set, and previous blog post.
I promised to provide an update on the progress being made to restore Charity, our WC-9 Field Ambulance (2005.007.001). The ambulance was purchased by the Museum in 2005 with funds raised by the Charity Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association. The funds for the restoration were made possible through a generous donation by Tom, Lois, and Leo Knudson in honor of Edith M. Rubright “Ruby” Knudson Key. The Museum’s Restoration Specialist, Joey Culligan, has been hard at work making our ambulance resemble a vehicle that would have been a common site with the Allied forces in Italy in 1943. In August Joey was finally able to turn the engine over and in September he was able to move the vehicle back and forth under motor. Joey has been heavily involved in performing a multitude of fixes on Charity and the vehicle is starting to come together. While Joey works alone and on several different vehicles simultaneously, he estimates that he has put in between 300 and 400 hours of time restoring this piece of history (he also told me that he has enjoyed every minute of it). As a point of comparison, between 1941 and 1945 the United States, on average, manufactured approximately 175 WC-series trucks per day (that’s seven trucks per hour). And yes, while Joey is fast and thorough at what he does, he isn’t quite that fast.
For the curious, here’s a partial list of some of the projects Joey has been working on with this specific vehicle:
Flushing the coolant and oil and replacing the oil seals in the transfer case
Replacing the drive gears, differential, and universal joint on the driveshaft
Cutting out and removing rust spots on the vehicle body and welding and forming sheet metal to replace it
Rebuilding the interior
Replacing the electrical system (including the exhaust fan and the headlights)
Turning the motor over
Regarding this last task, Joey allowed me a special “interview” with Charity. Click to hear Charity’s 78 horsepower, six cylinder engine speak.
Joey and all of us here at The National WWII Museum are extremely pleased with the progress being made on Charity and we know that visitors will be thrilled when she rolls into line with the rest of our other historic vehicles in The US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center soon.
Posted on behalf of Lowell Bassett, who has left us to return to his hometown of Pensacola Florida. Thank you, Lowell, for years of great service.
Seventy two years ago, on December 23, 1943, the Christmas issue of The Higgins Worker featured a Santa fattened by a kapok life jacket. Santa is seen here visiting with workers at the Higgins Industries St. Charles Avenue plant, one of eight facilities in which over 20,000 were employed by Higgins.
Gift in Memory of Arnold Schaefer, 2012.359.001
See more from our Worker Wednesday series devoted to war production employee publications, in particular those of Higgins Industries.
Museum Intern Elise Ventura at work in the Museum vault re-housing an A-2 flight jacket.
The National WWII Museum is fortunate to have an extraordinary corps of over 250 volunteers and interns that offer valuable service and insight on a variety of projects and programs throughout our organization. Over the summer the Collections and Exhibits Department had the wonderful opportunity to host Elise Ventura, an intern through the French Heritage Society Exchange Program. Elise came to us from the Ecole du Louvre in Paris and was a huge help to us. Her primary project during her internship was the reorganization and re-housing of a portion of our flight jacket collection. Upon completion of her internship, Elise wrote about her experience here at the Museum in the following blog post. We hope you enjoy it.
-Lowell Bassett, Collections Manager, The National WWII Museum
I had just graduated in art history, museology and collection care from the Ecole du Louvre in Paris and was looking for a summer internship abroad when I found out about the French Heritage Society Exchange Program. This American association, dedicated to the preservation of the French architecture in the United States, offered four internships in New Orleans. Among those internships was one at The National WWII Museum. Because of my family history and my personal interest for the era, this was the only internship that I applied for. Once I learned that I was selected, the Museum’s Collections Manager, Lowell Bassett, quickly got in touch with me to let me know I was accepted and that he would be working with me. On my very first day at the Museum, Lowell introduced me to the basic principles of preservation for textiles and leather and he gave me an overview of my particular project: The re-housing of a portion of the Museum’s flight jacket collection. Later that day I was given a tour of the storage vault by Larry Decuers, one of the Museum’s knowledgeable curators, who acquainted me with the history and models of the different types of jackets that I would be working with.
The National WWII Museum owns a large collection of flight jackets of various models such as the A-2, 422-A, B-3, B-10 and B-15. These jackets made of poplin, leather, sheepskin and wool are very susceptible to damage from light, climate, and pests. For preservation and exhibit purposes their display within the Museum rotates quite often. Only a small portion of the collection is displayed in the different pavilions at any one time. The main venue for the jackets is in display cases among the “Warbirds” displayed in the Museum’s 26,000 square foot US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. The majority of the remaining collection of jackets is housed in climate-controlled storage in the Museum’s vault. As a summer intern, my mission was to locate various jackets in the different areas of the Museum’s vault, re-house those jackets in acid-free boxes and pad them with acid-free paper to avoid any hard creases or folds. Once the jackets were all properly stuffed and labeled as well as the boxes containing them, I was tasked with reorganizing a specific cabinet in the vault in which to store and consolidate them. I was also tasked with creating condition reports and reference photography of the jackets I was working with. To complete the process, I had to record all of these changes by entering the new information into the Museum’s collection management system, KE-Emu.
Working in this amazing museum for two months and having the opportunity to handle such interesting items was an incredible experience for me. I was proud to take part in the preservation of these flight jackets. The whole project became an engaging history lesson on these particular museum artifacts. I learned that the jackets originally were created as standardized military uniforms and many became mediums for the young airmen’s colorful personalities. Jackets were sometimes personalized by their owners with leather patches indicating the squadron or bomb group they were in and some had amazing designs on the back featuring pin-ups, cartoon characters, planes and bombs. It would seem that familiar cartoons, glamorous pin-ups and names of loved ones were meant to give the airmen a sense of comfort and reassure them during their missions. Other, more menacing images, such as pirate flags or ferocious animals might be seen as magical charms for protection and strength during the sorties that claimed so many lives. The rarity of the highly decorated A-2 is hard to stress: While over 1,000,000 A-2 jackets were produced during World War II only 10-15% depicted images of art or patches. Of that number only a small portion survived the war and made it to present-day collections intact.
A-2 Flying Jacket of 1st Lt. Armando J. Sinibaldo painted on the back with pin-up girl and 35 bombs along with Berwin Darlin’. The front left chest is painted with “A.J. Sinibaldo” and has a leather sewn-on patch for the 91st Bombardment Group. Gift of the Sinibaldo Family. 2013.230.001.
Throughout my internship I was constantly reminded that these “men” who fought and died for their country in World War II were extremely young and their customized jackets were often a symbol of their young age. After being stripped of their identities and individuality in training, many expressed their youth and sense of humor on these jackets and often on their planes (many nose art images were painted by the same artist as the jackets). Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, many civilians enlisted in the military increasing the personalization of the jackets with motifs of American pop culture. The war would mark a heavy toll on these young airmen. Losses were so heavy during the early years of the War that from 1942 to 1943 it was statistically impossible for a heavy bomber crew in the 8th Air Force to complete their 25 mission tour. By the end of World War II over 40,000 airmen had been killed in combat theater and over 23,000 aircraft had been lost.
Having the opportunity to work with a portion of the flight jacket collection and learning about the jackets’ owners was a real honor and extremely touching. One of the most memorable and emotional parts of my internship was having an opportunity to meet one of the families of one of the veterans. One day, as I was working in the vault, Lowell asked me to retrieve an A-2 flight jacket for a veteran’s family who stopped by the Museum. The family wanted to see the jacket their grandfather had donated a few years earlier. We presented them with the jacket and it was one of the more beautiful examples I had worked with during my internship. The back of the jacket depicted a gorgeously rendered pin-up as well as 30 bombs indicating 30 combat missions. The family was delighted to see that the jacket was being well taken care of and that it was being treated as both an artifact and artwork. They commented on the respect that was being shown to its previous owner their grandfather and how well it was being preserved in the Museum’s vault. I came to realize that the re-housing project was not just about preserving the flight jackets but above all about preserving the memories of the young and brave airmen who wore them. In the end I think the true goal of my project was to help to make sure that these wonderful pieces of history were properly stored so that they could tell their stories to future generations.
The internship with The National WWII Museum was an invaluable experience for me. It provided me with an opportunity to learn more about World War II in an extraordinary setting with a rich collection. It inspired me to pursue my studies in collection management and perhaps apply for a position abroad in the future. Thank you very much National World War II Museum for this incredible opportunity!
Comic about Kuroki "Nisei Hero" from the Collection of The National WWII Museum
Kuroki and Curator Kim Guise at The National WWII Museum
Kuroki and Curator Kim Guise listen to and watch Kuroki's storiy in the Dog Tag Experience at The National WWII Museum
Kuroki in front of the Nebraska labelled train car at The National WWII Museum
Kuroki and friend Joe Duran at The National WWII Museum
Kuroki speaking at Heart Mountain War Relocation Center , April 24, 1944. Courtesy National Archives
Nebraska native Ben Kuroki volunteered days after Pearl Harbor, but was rejected by the Army because of ancestry. Months later, he was inducted into the Army Air Corps, slipping through on a technicality. In 1942, Kuroki fought to be sent to Europe as a clerk with the 8th Air Force. There, with a shortage of aerial gunners, Kuroki became part of a crew. He flew 30 combat missions in Europe including raids on the Ploesti oil fields. Upon returning to the US, Kuroki was asked to visit Topaz, Heart Mountain and Minidoka with recruiters trying to solicit Nisei volunteers. Seeing American citizens like him under armed guard was a shock that Kuroki would never get over. After receiving special permission from Secretary of War Henry Stimpson, Kuroki flew 28 missions with the 20th Air Force over Japan. His crew named their B-29 “Sad Saki” in honor of Kuroki, who they termed “Most Honorable Son.”
His quiet determination, courage, and humility are his legacy. Every day at the Museum, Kuroki’s legacy lives on as visitors to the Museum follow his life during World War II in our interactive Dog Tag Experience.
He was an inspiration to all who came in contact with him, and he will be missed.
Ben Kuroki’s oral history interview conducted by Museum Historian Tom Gibbs in 2013 (one of Mr. Kuroki’s last) can be viewed in our Digital Collections.
This blog post is one in a series on a recent tour to the Ardennes which gave Museum volunteers and staff an in-depth look into the scenes of the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last desperate attempt to stop the Allied drive in western Europe in the cold winter months of December 1944 and January 1945.
During the tour, we visited two of the American cemeteries maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which became the final resting place for thousands of American combatants who lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge. One of the largest and costliest battles the US Army would fight, the Battle of the Bulge resulted in 67,000 American casualties.
At Luxembourg American Cemetery, we visited the grave of General George Patton, laid a wreath in the chapel to honor all of those buried there, and paid tribute to one particular serviceman, Wendell Wiley Wolfenbarger, known to us previously only through the material held in the Museum’s archives. Wolfenbarger was a husband, father, and postal employee from Neosho, Missouri.
Photo courtesy Alan Raphael
Photo courtesy Alan Raphael
On January 1, 1945 Wendell wrote to his wife, “I still can’t say where I am , but I guess that as long as I’m not in the good old United States it doesn’t make any difference…I nearly cried when you told me about Wylene waking up & crying for me, but it can’t be helped. Try to make her understand that it’ll be sometime before I can be there.”
Three days later, on January 4, 1945, Wendell wrote;
“I wonder how everything is going down at the post office? Does Archie ever say anything about it? Man alive, how I wish I were back there. I would work 24 hours per day, Sundays included and not say a word about it, no use bitching about it though, I’m here and that’s all there is to it.
Are you & the kids all right? I really do miss you all more and more. Everytime I look at your pictures I get more homesick. But at the same time I realize why we’re here and know the job musr be done. All my love to you & the kids. Darling, keep praying. Love, Wiley”
Wolfenbarger was killed in action on January 18, 1945 near Berle, Luxembourg. He served with the 26th Infantry Division. He left behind a wife, Ruby and two small children. The collection was donated to the Museum in 2012 in Memory of Ruby May Barlow Wolfenbarger.
For more information about the tours offered by the Museum, see The National WWII Museum Tours.Stay tuned for more in the series on the April tour of Museum staff and volunteers to the Ardennes region.
The National WWII Museum offers a variety of opportunities to travel in the footsteps of those who fought. Included among the tours are trips geared toward Museum staff and volunteers, bringing a greater understanding of particular battles to those who guide visitors through our campus. A recent tour to the Ardennes gave Museum volunteers an in-depth look into the scenes of the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last desperate attempt to stop the Allied drive in western Europe in the cold winter months of December 1944 and January 1945. It would be one of the largest and costliest battles the US Army would fight. Nearly one million soldiers were engaged during the six-week battle, resulting in 67,000 American and more than 100,000 German casualties.
Many of these Americans were buried overseas. Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, in Homborg, Belgium, was one of the first sites that the April tour group visited where we were met by the Assistant Superintendent Ludwig B. Aske. Aske assisted as we laid a wreath at the foot of the bronze statue of the Angel of Peace. Nearly 8,000 American military dead are buried on the 57 acre site. Many of these men gave their lives during the Battle of the Bulge. The site was established months prior to the battle, on September 28, 1944, barely two weeks after the area was liberated by American forces.
While at Henri-Chapelle, we paid tribute to one particular serviceman, Carl Greise, known to us previously only through the material held in the Museum’s archives. Greise was born in Zwickau, Germany on August 31, 1920 and emigrated to the American Midwest with his parents as a child. He graduated from high school in Cincinnati, Ohio and attended art school. On August 29, 1942, he married Catherine Littmann and lived together with her in Chicago before being inducted into the Army on January 4, 1943. Greise served with the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. He was killed in action on October 8, 1944 during the attack on Aachen, Germany, the first German city to be liberated by the Americans. Greise’s widow, Catherine, was sent his belongings, along with a picture of Henri-Chapelle and condolence letters. The Museum received these items as a gift from Dr. David C. Heins in 2010. They tell the story, one of thousands, of an American life cut short by WWII.
Angel of Peace Statue
Carl Greise's grave
Carl and his bride, Catherine. Gift of Dr. David Heins, 2010.164
Henri-Chapelle, 1947. Gift of Dr. David Heins, 2010.164
Carl and Catherine Greise. Gift of Dr. David Heins, 2010.164
Letter to widow Catherine Greise. Gift of Dr. David Heins, 2010.164
Carl Greise. Gift of Dr. David Heins, 2010.164
Stay tuned for more on the April tour of Museum staff and volunteers to the Ardennes region. For more information about the tours offered by the Museum, see The National WWII Museum Tours.
An ambulance moves past the rubble of a destroyed German fortress at Terracina, Italy on 26 May 1944. 2002.337.576. U.S. Army Signal Corps photograph, Gift of Regan Forrester, from the Collection of The National World War II Museum.
During WWII the US military had thousands of vehicles at its disposal. All were made possible by the “Arsenal of Democracy” that President Roosevelt referenced in his 1940 speech. As WWII progressed, so did the US manufacturing of weapons, vehicles, and war matériel. This subject is detailed marvelously in the current exhibition Manufacturing Victory: The Arsenal of Democracyon view now through May 31, 2015 in the Joe W. and Dorothy D. Brown Foundation Special Exhibit Gallery.
Deployed alongside the multitude of vehicles, boats, and airplanes that were used on the front lines were the soldier/mechanics that kept the machines running smoothly or at least patched them up and helped get them back in the fight. These soldiers’ ingenuity and tenacity were the stuff of legend. Often working on little sleep, without proper tools or materials, and under intense pressure, they did what they had to do to keep bringing the war to the enemy.
Here at The National WWII Museum, we are fortunate to have our own mechanic that not only keeps our fleet of historic vehicles running but also restores some of the Museum’s soon to be seen vehicles. Most days of the week you can find Joey Culligan, a retired NASA employee of 30 years, working away in our warehouse on a tank, truck or jeep. Joey’s current challenge is restoring a WC-9 Field Ambulance (2005.007.001) to its former glory. Nicknamed Charity, the ambulance was purchased by the Museum in 2005 with funds raised by the Charity Hospital School of Nursing Alumni Association. The funds for the restoration were made possible through a generous donation by Tom, Lois, and Leo Knudson in honor of Edith M. Rubright “Ruby” Knudson Key.
Joey Culligan at work on Charity’s engine.
Charity weighs about 5600lbs, has a payload of 1000lbs (hence the ½ ton designation) and gets 12 miles to the gallon on a 78 horsepower, six cylinder engine. The ambulance’s 55mph top speed never seemed quite fast enough for the ambulance drivers or their passengers. The ambulance could carry four stretchers or seven seated patients and a two person crew. Charity is one of 2,288 WC-9s that were built in 1941 by the Dodge Division of the Chrysler Corporation. Ambulance crews were a very busy breed. The 68th Medical Group supported the First Army in the ETO from June 1944 to May 1945 during which their ambulances traveled 2.6 million miles and transported over 200,000 patients.[i]
The current plan is to restore Charity to resemble a WC-9 that would have been assigned to a medical group in Italy in 1943. While the exact date for completion of the project has yet to be revealed, Joey is busy getting Charity into working order. We promise to check in with him on Charity’s progress as she nears completion.
Maintenance Manual 1/2 Ton 4x4 Chassis Dodge Trucks built for United States Army, TM 10-1123/1443
Ginn, Richard V.N. The History of the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Surgeon General and Center of Military History United States Army, 1997. p.139
Posted by Lowell Bassett, Collections Manager at The National WWII Museum.
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.