Those of us who work with archival collections come into contact with unique handwriting nearly every day. Although we can normally decipher the script (predominantly English in our collection), from WWII, there are times when we have to poll colleagues and guess at what is written. Does it say —? There were times when handwriting played a more central role in communication. In writing to prisoners of war, especially in the Pacific, where letters would be read by both American and Japanese censors, writers received special instruction. Most importantly, the letters were to be short (no more than 25 words) and were to be typed or block printed. Letters that did not comply with these rules, were returned.
We have examples of these failed attempts at communication from a collection of material related to the imprisonment by the Japanese of USMC Sgt. Edward A. Padbury. POWs in Japan were allowed very little, if any, correspondence with their loved ones. Mail was regularly delayed by nearly a year. General Jonathan Wainwright’s wife, Adele, reportedly sent him 300 letters over the three-plus years of his imprisonment. He received a total of six.
Catherine Faye, Edward Padbury’s sister, had some unsuccessful efforts to write to her brother. The first letter was returned on two accounts. It was longer than 25 words and written in cursive. The second letter was block printed, but also too long. We do not have any correspondence from Sgt. Padbury, but we do know that he survived the war and was liberated from Shinjoku POW Camp in the Tokyo Bay area.
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.
Seventy years ago this holiday season, some American servicemen were celebrating in POW camps across the world. They did not know it, but it was the last holiday season that they would spend in captivity.
Clair Cline, B-24 pilot from Minnesota, spent Christmas 1944 in Stalag Luft I. Cline had been shot down in February 1944. As a way to pass time and keep busy, Cline carved wood, beginning with B-24 models. In the fall of 1944, Cline took on a different project, a violin. Cline finished the project just before Christmas 1944. He later recalled the holiday (excerpted from Guideposts Magazine):
My most memorable moment was Christmas Eve. As my buddies brooded about home and families, I began playing “Silent Night.” AS the notes drifted through the barracks a voice chimed in, then others. Amid the harmony I heard a different language. “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht, alles schläft, Einsam wacht…” An eldery white-haired guard stood in the shadows , his eyes wet with tears.
At first glance, the pages of the 1944 Résumé yearbook make Rohwer Center High School seem like any other high school on the Home Front, rich with student life, activities, victory gardens, and dances. In reality, however, the experience of Rohwer Center students couldn’t have been more different. The school, located at the Rohwer War Relocation Center in McGehee, Arkansas, was created to educate the children of Japanese American descent who were forced from their homes along the West Coast of the United States and required to live behind barbed wire for the duration of WWII, far from the homes they knew. Located in remote areas of the country, these camps were modeled after military facilities: tar-paper barracks, central latrines and washrooms, mess halls, and recreation halls. Guard towers and barbed wire were everyday features of the lives of these Americans.The majority of those incarcerated at Rohwer came from California, from both rural and heavily populated urban areas like Los Angeles. Most were not used to the climate; inmates were subjected to heavy rains, extreme heat and humidity in the summertime, and poisonous snakes.
Rohwer became home to approximately 2,000 school-age children, who attended classes within the confines of the camp. While these students were able to participate in sports and other activities, their forced confinement meant they did not get the same opportunities as students who lived beyond the barbed wire. Basketball and football teams, for example, had to play all games within the camp, unable to travel to their rival schools. Teachers were made up of both inmates and white teachers from outside communities, paying inmates just a fraction of the salary teachers from the outside were paid for doing the same job.
In 1943, the War Relocation Authority (WRA) began requiring all adults to take a loyalty questionnaire, forcing them to answer questions about their willingness to fight for the United States military and deny any allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. Those who refused or answered in ways that were deemed disloyal were transferred to the Tule Lake Segregation Center, once again uprooting families and punishing inmates without due process.
Rohwer War Relocation Center was one of the last camps to close, shuttering its doors on November 30, 1945.
Roughly 120,000 men, women and children were held without trials, and nearly 70,000 of those evicted were American citizens. Ultimately, not a single Japanese American person was ever convicted of espionage or acts of sabotage against the United States. Learn more on this topic and on the special exhibit presented by The Museum, From Barbed Wire to Battlefields: Japanese American Experiences in WWII, a traveling version of which is currently in development. From Barbed Wire to Battlefields featured the Rohwer High School yearbook and it can be viewed in its entirety on the companion site as well as on our site devoted to high school yearbooks of WWII, See You Next Year!
Posted by Curator Kimberly Guise and Assistant Director of Education for Curriculum Gemma Birnbaum
Opel Staff Car in Road to Berlin exhibit before winter camouflaging.
Camouflage was a critical means of survival during World War II and as seasons changed and armies moved from theater to theater staying camouflage became a problem for many armies. During winter this was particularly an issue; vehicles painted green, grey, tan, brown, or black in a variety of patterns stood out in the white snows of Europe. As soon as the snow melted the newly-painted white tank would stick out even more and require another coat of paint. This resulted in a number of temporary solutions being invented. Bed sheets and other white linens could be used to make vehicle covers and ponchos for men, but this meant trying to acquire large quantities of linens which proved to be difficult in combat zones.
Instead a simple solution was devised and used by nearly every army fighting in Europe, from the Finns in the north to the Russians in the East and the Americans and Germans in the west. Lime, easily acquired by burning limestone, was mixed with water to make whitewash. Whitewash was similar to plaster and was popular throughout the western world for painting exterior structures like fences. The wash was quickly daubed all over vehicles and after drying the car or tank would appear to be painted in white camouflage. The true genius of this solution was that when winter ended the vehicle did not require repainting. The mixture dissolved when rained on, and the white coat washed away to reveal the vehicle’s original color. This process saved a huge amount of time and resources; the whitewash could be applied in minutes and after washing away did not require the vehicle to be repainted when the weather warmed up.
The National WWII Museum’s Road to Berlin features such a whitewashed vehicle in our Battle of the Bulge gallery. An Opel 6, painted in a brown and tan pattern, was chosen to illustrate the desperate state of the Nazi German mechanization during the war. Despite popular perceptions of the Nazi military as a highly modernized and mechanized force, vehicles were always in short supply. Civilian vehicles were often used to fill in as staff cars, ambulances, and courtier vehicles, including this Opel luxury sedan. This vehicle was whitewashed by Museum curators to demonstrate the technique used by soldiers throughout the war. The addition of blackout slits painted onto the vehicle’s headlights and branches to the top of the car would have made it nearly invisible from both the air and the ground.
Opel Staff Car in Road to Berlin exhibit as it will appear to visitors in winter camouflage.
This WWII camouflaging technique even has its benefits for this artifact. If the Opel is taken off of exhibit and needed elsewhere, the white color of the vehicle can easily be washed away. The entire process, takes only 20 minutes in addition to drying time. When the whitewash is first applied, it appears clear, but as it dries it becomes almost-solid white. The underlying camouflage pattern is scarcely visible, and helps to further break up the outline of the car. Simple modifications or additions such as this whitewashing are often used by museum staff to better illustrate conditions on the ground during the war.
Visitors to the Museum can now see this staff car and learn more about the war in Europe in our exhibit The Road to Berlin.
Post by Brandon Stephens, Curator at The National WWII Museum.
On our journey through the Road to Berlin, we highlighted the German Messerschmitt Bf-109, the most produced fighter aircraft in history. In celebration of Veterans Day this week, the Museum is proud to announce that the Messerschmitt has now been generously sponsored by WWII Veteran Paul Hilliard and his wife, Madlyn. Their name will be proudly displayed by the warbird in honor of their continual generosity. The Museum would not be where we are today without the Hilliard’s dedication.
Madlyn and Paul Hilliard
The National WWII Museum is fortunate that Madlyn and Paul Hilliard have shared their intense interest and love of what the Museum is doing through their generous commitment to The Road to Victory Capital Campaign. Paul is a World War II veteran who flew his missions overseas in a SBD Dauntless aircraft, and he has made it his mission that “as part of the Museum’s evolution we would acquire all of the weapons of war.” He believes that the ME-109 is a vital part of the air war story in the European Theater.
Paul and Madlyn have played a large role in assisting the Museum acquire and restore several of our iconic warbirds and macro artifacts. They both feel passionately that seeing these artifacts up close is “different than seeing them on TV or in simulation.” Madlyn is always impressed by the faces of the children “so focused and interested in what they are seeing. They do not get this in a classroom, and it is so meaningful for all visitors to learn the price of freedom for our country.”
Paul believes that the acquisition of enemy weapons and artifacts, like the Messerschmitt, is important in explaining the various sides of war. By exhibiting weapons used by the Axis enemies, it better clarifies the weaponry the Allied forces built and employed in response, in order to defeat the enemy.
They Hilliards have felt encouraged to see how we have grown to where we are now in 2014. We feel privileged that they have played a major role in telling the story of “what this country can do when you threaten the liberty of Americans.” They feel that being part of the Museum family has been a wonderful experience that they “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
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!
PT-305’s original flags. In the frame, the battle flag is pictured above while the commissioning flag lies below it.
The Museum’s PT-305 restoration project recently received a valuable piece of the boat’s history this past September when the boat’s original flags were returned to the vessel. The flags were donated by Mitch Cirlot, the son of one of the original crew members on PT-305, Joseph Cirlot.
Mitch’s dad, Joseph, was the longest serving sailor on PT-305. According to Mitch, how his father ended up with the flags is because he was the last one to rotate off the boat. Joseph’s skipper asked him to take the battle flag and the commissioning flag home with him. He was also given the captured Nazi flag containing the signatures of the PT boat squadron sailors.
With the donation of these flags, Mitch also gave a photograph of his father’s wife Marion Cirlot that was affixed to Joseph’s bunk within PT-305 during the war. Our restoration crew will be placing this photograph back in Joseph’s bunk just as it was nearly 70 years ago during World War II.
We would like to reach out to the families of PT-305 and obtain photos of the crew’s sweethearts, wives, and family that would have likely attached to the bunk. If you have anything to share with our restoration crew about PT-305, please contact us here.
In addition to stories about production and factory life, The Higgins Worker also profiled and memorialized former Higgins workers killed in action. The issue from 20 October 1944, reported on the death of Anthony Sconza, who, prior to entering the service, had been a shipfitter at Higgins’ Industrial Canal plant.
Sconza’s service and sacrifice are featured in our upcoming exhibit in Campaigns of Courage: Road to Berlin. Sconza’s family donated the casket name plate from his casket, when his remains were returned home to New Orleans.
We are in the closing days for our Special Exhibit, From Barbed Wire to Battlefields: Japanese American Experiences in WWII at the National WWII Museum. Stay tuned for a traveling version of this show that we hope will bring this story to new audiences. Last week we received a visit from someone with intimate knowledge of the subject, the little girl seated fifth from the left in the front row. This photo is of the Nursery Class I in Jerome Relocation Center in May 1944. Jerome housed 2,483 school age children, thirty-one percent of the total population. The photo is surprising, as it goes against the notion that all of the children in the camp schools were Japanese American or at least visibly identifiable as such. Some of the children may have been local children or children of the WRA personnel. We are seeking more information about this photo and about children who attended school in any of the WRA camps. If you have artifacts, photographs, or stories related to Japanese American experiences in WWII, we invite you to share them with us. Visit our special exhibit show here at the Museum by October 12, 2014.
Jerome Relocation Center, 1944. Courtesy of Marcella Lecky.
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.