Detail of Destination Home and Peace Mural (banner) painted in Germany by Cpl. Norman E. Linn of the 79th Division. Gift of the 314th Infantry Association WWII. 1999.115.001.
I am often asked about the variety of items we receive in the Collections & Exhibits Department from donors to the Museum. Donations run the gamut; from weapons, uniforms, and flags to letters, scrapbooks, and photographs. Sometimes collections come to us with little or no information, this can make for some fun and yet exhausting research by our curators, archivists, and collections staff. Other collections come to the Museum heavily researched and with a thorough provenance. Then there are those rare and serendipitous occasions in which one collection seems to provide insight to another.
Marlene Dietrich and Marvin Ryman in Europe in March 1944. Photograph courtesy of Bill Ryman.
A few months ago, we performed a condition check on an item in our holdings. The item was a banner that had been painted in France by Cpl. Norman E. Lin and was donated to the Museum by J.J. Witmeyer and the 314th Infantry Association WWII. The immense banner was well preserved and the colors seemed as bright as the day they were painted by Cpl. Lin back in 1945. The banner celebrated the stateside return of the US Army’s 79th Infantry Division, nicknamed the Cross of Lorraine Division for their exceptional effort in France during WWI. During WWII the 79th came ashore in Normandy a few weeks after D-Day and fought their way through France, Belgium and then into Germany. After inspecting the banner and conducting a condition report, we snapped a few photos and returned it to our vault. We assumed that the banner was used onboard a ship but we were unsure on the details and we all wanted to know more about this object.
Enter the Marvin Ryman Collection. About a month ago, Bill Ryman, a visitor from Kansas City, Missouri, dropped by the Museum to ask if we were interested in his father’s wartime scrapbook. Bill’s father, Marvin Ryman, had served with the 84th Infantry Division in Europe and had shot several photographs during his time in service. The 84th hit Omaha Beach in November of 1944 and fought their way through the Netherlands and into Germany, then to Belgium, and then returned to Germany until the end of the war. The photos highlighted Ryman’s military journey from start to finish. The images included photos from his initial training and even one of Ryman with Marlene Dietrich.
One tiny picture in particular stopped us all in our tracks. It was an image that Ryman had made on 28 November 1945 in Marseilles, France prior to boarding the SS CCNY Victory for his trip back to the United States. How is this for a photo? Anything look familiar on the side of the ship?
As I mentioned, sometimes collections can offer clues that help us with other collections.
“Boarding ship U.S.S City College New York to leave Marseilles, France for home.” Photograph courtesy of Bill Ryman.
Posted by Lowell Bassett, Collections Manager at The National WWII Museum.
Photographs courtesy of Bill Ryman and The National WWII Museum.
Laurence Shexnayder was born, one of eight children, on January 11, 1914 in the small town of Vacherie, Louisiana. Laurie was her school’s valedictorian and received a scholarship to college, but due to her family’s financial hardship, was unable to leave. In 1943, unbeknownst to her family, Laurie volunteered for the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services) without telling her family. She showed up at Easter dinner wearing her Navy uniform and said it was her “new Easter outfit.”
Laurie was stationed in Key West and Pensacola, Florida and then New Orleans in the Navy Procurement Office. She stayed in New Orleans after the war and married USAAF veteran, Silas Atkinson. She described the service years as “the best years of my life.”
Check out Laurie’s Easter bonnet!
Gift of Mrs. Laurence Schexnayder Atkinson, 2014.374
P-51 pilots shot down more than 4,950 enemy aircraft during World War II. With its combination of range, firepower, speed and maneuverability, the P-51 proved its worth as it escorted bombers, strafed targets on the ground and provided the Allies with all-purpose air support. The British Royal Air Force as well as the US Army Air Forces used the Mustang and many top aces flew the plane.
The pairing of the legendary Merlin engine and the P-51 Mustang eventually resulted in the P-51D, which provided the Army Air Forces with a high-altitude, long-range fighter that could escort heavy bombers to Berlin and back. More than 8,000 of this model were produced. Between 1941 and 1946, roughly 1,000 African American pilots were trained at a segregated air base in Tuskegee, Alabama. The most famous of the Tuskegee Airmen served in the 332nd Fighter Group, also known as the “Red Tails” for the distinctive markings of their planes. The Museum’s P-51 replica is painted in the markings of one of the aircraft flown by the Tuskegee squadron. An authentic P-51D is under restoration.
The acquisition of the Museum’s P-51 has been generously supported by the Ricketts Family. Todd Ricketts is a member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, Chicago businessman and owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
For the month of March, Women’s History Month, the blog series, Worker Wednesday, devoted to war production employee and their publications, in particular those of Higgins Industries, the Eureka and Higgins Worker, will focus on women workers.
This week’s Worker Wednesday deviates from Higgins Industries to spotlight a worker from Delta Shipyards, another New Orleans production facility which employed thousands of women workers.
Rose Rita Samona completed 204 hours of training at the National Defense School on Frenchmen St. in New Orleans. She was trained in straight-line free hand burning, free hand circles, angles and machine burning. Samona, 22, was welcomed into the International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers, Iron Ship Builders and Helpers of America. From May 1943 to January 1946 she worked as a burner for Delta Shipyards, cutting and burning holes in sheets of steel for the production of Liberty ships at the rate of $1.20 per day. Burners often qualified for extra money because of the dangers involved in the job. And indeed in November 1945 Samona had a minor injury when steel fell while she was working, burning her leg. She received the E-award and Ships for Victory medal for excellence in war production, given for outstanding job performance.
In late February 1946, Colonel Jesse Thomas Traywick, Sr. visited his niece Jean’s class at the Goode Street School, an elementary school in Montgomery, Alabama. Hardly half a year had passed since Traywick had been released from over three years of imprisonment by the Japanese. Some of the children wrote Traywick thank-you letters, including his niece Jean, whose letter (pictured in the center below) stated “I appreciate you coming here very much. One little girl said I was lucky to have an uncle like you.”
Traywick had served in the Philippines as Gen. Jonathan Wainwright’s G-3, or Assistant Chief of Staff and was entrusted to deliver a handwritten letter of surrender to Maj. Gen. William Sharp. Although Wainwright had agreed to surrender, General Homma wanted assurance that the forces under Maj. Gen. William Sharp would also put down their arms. Traywick was held as a prisoner of war by the Japanese from the fall of Corregidor on 6 May 1942, until the end of hostilities in August 1945.
Sybil Chandler, a WAC from Baton Rouge, Louisiana served in the Philippines from October 1944 to October 1945. One of the highlights of her time there was a visit and concert by composer Irving Berlin. After the war, she tried in vain to return to civilian employment, but nothing compared to Army life. She later said about her service “On March 1, 1967 I retired from the US Army, after serving 20 years, 13 days and 6 hours! Enjoyed every minute.” Tucker saved this card from Valentine’s Day 1945. She was definitely a girl in the service!
In 1945, Mardi Gras was on Tuesday, February 13th. It was the last Mardi Gras during which official, wide-scale celebrations were cancelled due to WWII.
Smaller celebrations happened both in New Orleans, and by celebrants scattered across the globe. One such celebration was documented by members of the US Army 24th General Hospital stationed in Italy. Almost all members of this hospital, including were graduates of or medical staff at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. The 24th General Hospital embarked in August 1943 for posts overseas, operating first out of North Africa and then, in Florence, Italy, where they celebrated Mardi Gras 1945.
In addition to masquerading, the hospital staff performed a “parody in pantomime” (think Chaplin’s The Great Dictator) celebrating the Third Anniversary Mardi Gras Carnival of the Mystic Krewe of Snafu. The play was co-written by Captain Weiss and the cast were various members of the 24th General Hospital. Characters included Mussolini (“Benito the man who is Finito”), multiple Hitlers, Hirohito (“the Imperial Mosquito”), the Roosevelts, Chiang Kai-shek and wife, Churchill, Stalin and the Court of Snafu. The skit is introduced as:
“The Axis gets axed and exits in two acts or King Snafu
King Snafu and his Merry Krewe
Pull the Big Four out of an Awful Stewe”
Images from the Thomas Weiss collection can be seen online here in our Digital Collections. For more on Wartime Carnival see our flickr set and a previous blog post. “Long Live SNAFU, the King of Merriment!”
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.
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.