Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
– Winston Chruchill, 1942
This site is now an archive of our blog posts from July 9, 2011 – July 12, 2017. It’s the end of an era here. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about World War II history as much as we’ve loved sharing with you. We’re moving all of our Museum publishing to our brand new site. We hope you’ll come and visit us often.
Howard and Jean Hart at the opening of Road to Tokyo.
A storied CIA operative, Howard P. Hart died recently at age 76. His connection to The National WWII Museum includes a substantial donation of wartime arms currently on display in multiple galleries on our campus, as well as two separate oral history interviews for our Digital Collections. The interviews, conducted by historian Tom Gibbs, covered Hart’s experiences as a child during the war while his family was held in a Japanese civilian incarceration camp in the Philippines. Now Museum Project Manager, Gibbs recalled meeting Hart for the first time in this post for the Museum blog:
I had the honor of sitting down with Howard Hart on a cold and snowy day in 2013 outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. When I arrived at his property, I did not know what to expect. What I did know was that I was about to meet someone extremely intelligent who had a heck of a story to tell about World War II. I was instructed by Mr. Hart to meet him at a post store—an old-timey general store that sold everything from wine to ammunition—at the base of the mountain where he lived. A white jeep stopped directly in front of me. A white-haired man in a low voice asked me for my identification. It was an unusual first step, and something that had never happened when I had interviewed other WWII veterans. I felt like I was in the middle of a Tom Clancy novel. When Mr. Hart determined that I passed muster, the warmest smile and greeting ensued, and I took a trip up the mountain to his famous home.
I knew Mr. Hart had a long and decorated CIA career, but the real reason I was there was to capture the story of the Los Banos civilian POW camp, and the incredible story of its liberation in 1945. The liberation coincidentally occurred on the same day the US flag was raised on Mount Suribachi, relegating it to back-page news. Over the course of three and half hours, Mr. Hart proceeded to tell me one of the most engaging and unbelievably human stories I ever captured on tape. Learning of the horrors of—and the actions required to survive in—a Japanese prison camp was humbling. It was his story of the camp’s liberation, however, that struck a chord with me, and it’s something I will never forget.
“I looked up, I had no idea what I was looking at,” he said. “I had never even seen a parachute before. It was as if some magical apparition was occurring in front of my eyes. And before I knew it, an American paratrooper was standing in front of me. He must have been 35 feet tall. He was angry and fired up and ready to kill Japanese. . . . This American paratrooper picked me up under his arm. It was a mile and half to the beach, and the entire time he told me, ‘Kid, I’m gonna get you home. Kid, I’m gonna get you home.’”
When 2,000 US civilian POWs who had been imprisoned since 1941 arrived in San Pedro, California, a band was waiting for them. “They had a band on the dock and they were playing the The Star-Spangled Banner,” he said. “I had never heard The Star-Spangled Banner before! We all wept. It was the most beautiful thing I ever heard, and I weep now telling this to you.”
Mr. Hart’s legacy lives on here at The National WWII Museum, both through his oral histories and his generous artifact donation, which allows our visitors to see top-notch examples of weapons used during the war. The 16 donated weapons, part of the Howard and Jean Hart Martial Arms Collection, are on display in The Duchossois Family Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries, the Richard C. Adkerson & Freeport McMoRan Foundation Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries, and The Arsenal of Democracy: The Herman and George Brown Salute to the Home Front.
Assistant Director for Curatorial Services Kimberly Guise remembers a friend—WWII veteran and longtime Museum volunteer and supporter Thomas P. Godchaux, who passed away on May 16, 2017, at age 93:
Making friends at the Museum is incredibly rewarding, but can be difficult knowing that friendships with our WWII veterans are brief as they leave us every day. Mr. Tommy was a fixture at the Museum, having volunteered since 2000, initially leading tours and then guiding visitors through his personal experiences during the war years behind a table in the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center and then the Campaigns Of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters pavilion.
Tommy’s time with the Museum was a gift. He was beloved by his fellow volunteers, by staff members, and by thousands of visitors who came in contact with him. Tommy was passionate about telling stories—stories of his experiences of the war, but also of nearly a century of other encounters. He loved sports—in particular baseball—his family, the symphony, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, New Orleans, ice tea, oysters, civic engagement, and discussions about books, both fiction and nonfiction. Even after his eyesight failed, he would read with welding goggle-like magnifying glasses—and not just any books, but ones like the 736-pager A History of the World in 100 Objects.
His passion for lifelong learning was inspiring. He always had suggestions for the Museum about exhibits, visitor engagement, and the visitor experience. Tommy loved hearing about trips and adventures, museums visited, people met, meals eaten, and games and concerts seen– and he always had some story to relate himself. He could be the life of the party, a great conversationalist with an amazing memory of a life well lived. Tommy could relate to almost anything, and I looked forward to sharing stories with him that he might find interesting, which wasn’t difficult.
Tommy graduated from Isidore Newman School in New Orleans in 1942. His family had emigrated from Alsace-Lorraine to Louisiana and established a sugar plantation network and then a chain of department stores, the flagship store on Canal Street in New Orleans. He joined the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps and after one semester at Lehigh University, was called up in February 1943 and sent to Fort Meade, Maryland, for induction. From there, he was sent to Camp Pickett, Virginia for basic training in the Medical Corps. Tommy then elected to join the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and was sent to Virginia Tech for two quarters before the program was canceled. In March 1944, he was then sent to Camp Bowie to join a new company, the 1475th Engineer Maintenance. After training in Granite City, Illinois, the company sailed in June 1944 from Seattle to Ie Shima in the Okinawa Islands, where they spent two months.
On August 14, Tommy and others witnessed a historic event on the airstrip at Ie Shima. A Japanese delegation flying in “Betty” bombers, painted white with green crosses, landed on Ie Shima to transfer to a C-54 to fly to Manila to sign a cease-fire. After witnessing the surrender, he spent time on Okinawa and was there for the great typhoon on October 9, 1945. In November, his unit was sent to Korea. In March 1946, he boarded a troopship for the United States and on March 15, 1946, received his discharge. In 1947, he began a 41-year career in the family’s clothing store business, Godchaux’s, eventually becoming company President.
I’ll remember Mr. Tommy for his service to our country, to the city of New Orleans, and will be forever inspired by his passion for learning, for reading even when eyesight fails, and for listening even when you can’t hear very well at all. I’d love the chance to tell him another story or two about what I’m working on and hear his response.
Godchaux in Okinawa at age 21, 1945.
Godchaux in the PTO at age 20, 1945.
Portrait of Thomas Godchaux
Godchaux's on Canal Street with US flag flown during the war, c.1945
Medium bombers had not been launched from a carrier before—carriers had only 467 feet of takeoff space. The idea for the mission came from Navy Captain Francis Low, who saw planes landing and taking off from an airstrip in Norfolk, Virginia, where a carrier’s outline had been painted on the runway for practice. He noticed that the medium bombers could often take off before crossing the carrier’s outline. Doolittle was put in charge of planning a mission to boost American morale and to damage Japanese confidence.
The B-25 was chosen, even though it was new and untested, because of all the two-engine bombers it was the most capable of taking off from an aircraft carrier. Other planes had longer ranges, but their wingspan was longer and would limit the number of planes that a carrier could fit. The aircraft were modified so that they could complete the 2,400-mile mission with a payload of 2,000 pounds of bombs. The normal range of the B-25 was 1,300 miles. To extend their range they were equipped with extra fuel tanks, most of their defensive guns were removed, and their Norden bomb sights were removed, too.
The 15 planes took off from the carrier Hornet in the western Pacific, flew over Honshu to target military installations in Tokyo and other cities, and then headed for mainland China. The planes each carried three high-explosive bombs and one incendiary bomb. The planes had to take off hours sooner and hundreds of miles farther from Japan than expected when Japanese airplanes were spotted from the Hornet. The Hornet was accompanied by the Enterprise and her escort ships, which comprised Task Force 16 under the command of Admiral William Halsey. Landing in Vladivostok would have made a shorter trip, but the Soviets had signed a neutrality pact with Japan in 1941.
The planes flew over Honshu at about 1,500 feet, receiving little resistance, about six hours after their launch. They dropped several bombs around Tokyo, and others near Yokohama, Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaka. After dropping their bombs, all but one plane turned southwest toward eastern China. One B-25 was low on fuel and headed toward Vladivostok. That plane landed on a base at Vozdvizhenka, where the plane was captured and the crew interned. Aided by a strong tailwind of about 29 miles per hour, the remainder of the B-25s reached the Chinese coast about 13 hours after launch. Without that tailwind, they probably would not have made it to China. Over land, the pilots crash-landed or bailed out. Three men died while bailing out, two perished at sea, and one over land. Three men were executed after capture by the Japanese, and another five were held as POWs. Of those, four survived to the end of the war and were liberated in August 1945. The remainder were rescued, often aided by Chinese, who suffered severe retribution afterward.
Doolittle feared that his loss of all 16 planes would lead to a court-martial. Instead, he was promoted to brigadier general while still in China, and awarded the Medal of Honor by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon his return home.
The raid caused little material damage to Japan. However, it did have its intended effects—to boost morale in the United States and to dent Japan’s confidence. It also led to the Japanese military’s determination to hold the central Pacific, leading to the Battle of Midway and the overextension of Japanese naval forces in that direction.
The last surviving Doolittle Raider is retired Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole, who was Doolittle’s copilot. He is now 101 years old.
Patrol-torpedo boats were only given a numerical hull designation, unlike their larger counterparts. Crews were allowed to give their boats a nickname, and often got creative. Nicknames for some of PT-305’s squadron mates were USS Cherry (PT-304), La-Dee-Da (PT-308), Oh Frankie (PT-309), and Sea-wolf (PT-313). PT-305 was given two confirmed nicknames during the war, the first coming from a crew mishap, as told by Baker First Class Benedict Bronder, from Minnesota. Bronder came aboard PT-305 with the first crew in 1943.
“The one we had was Sudden Jerk,” he said. “And the way they got that (was) they were backing in to park it and they sped up a little bit too much and when it come back, it hit where it was tied up. And they said ‘That was a sudden jerk!’ and then they said, ‘That’s a good name!’ It didn’t ruin anything on the boat, but that’s where it got the name Sudden Jerk.” She carried that name throughout 1944 and into 1945, when a new crew renamed her. Stay tuned for the story of the Half Hitch!
Service-era photo: Lieutenant William Borsdorff, from New York, served as the first commanding officer aboard PT-305 from November 1943 until June 1944. He then took a squadron command position and directed patrols. He is shown here in late 1944, aboard the USS Sudden Jerk in Leghorn, Italy. Photo gift of Mitch Cirlot 2014.445.086.
Lester Tenney, a survivor of the Bataan Death March whose harrowing oral-history account of his ordeal as a WWII prisoner of war is an unforgettable component of The National WWII Museum’s Digital Collections, died Friday, February 24, in Carlsbad, California. He was 96.
Tenney’s postwar life was dedicated to education—both as a university business professor and as a staunch advocate for his fellow POWs in the quest for official acknowledgment by Japan of the wartime atrocities they endured. He was a regular speaker at the Museum, most recently capping the 2016 International Conference on World War II with a stirring presentation titled “The Courage to Remember: PTSD—From Trauma to Triumph.”
“He gave the speech of his life,” said Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD, the Museum’s president and CEO, in a message to his staff following news of Tenney’s death. “Lester’s DNA resides in this Museum.”
Tenney was tank commander with the 192nd Tank Battalion when he, along with 9,000 American and 60,000 Filipino troops, surrendered to the Japanese at the Battle of Bataan in April 1942. The ensuing Bataan Death March killed thousands during a 90-mile forced march to POW Camp O’Donnell.
“Number one, we had no food or water,” said Tenney in his Museum oral history. “Number two, you just kept walking the best way you could. It wasn’t a march. It was a trudge. . . . Most of the men were sick, they had dysentery, they had malaria, they had a gunshot wound.”
Their Japanese captors showed no mercy for the ill or wounded, Tenney said. “A man would fall down and they would holler at him to get up,” he added. “I saw a case where they didn’t even holler at him. The man fell down, the Japanese took a bayonet and put it in him. I mean, two seconds.”
Tenney’s march lasted 10 days. Conditions at Camp O’Donnell killed thousands more prisoners. Tenney survived that camp and others, passage to Japan in a “hell ship,” torture, and three years of forced labor in a coal mine before he was liberated at the end of the war. His WWII experiences, which he documented in a memoir titled My Hitch in Hell, haunted him all of his life.
“I feel guilty many times, even today,” Tenney said in his oral history. “I feel guilty that I’m back. I feel guilty that I’m living such a wonderful life. I feel guilty that a lot of my friends didn’t come back. Nothing I can do about it, but I can feel guilty because I feel that they were better than I was. I’m sure that my buddies who came back all feel the same.”
After the publication of his memoir in 1995, Tenney “shifted into a role as a prominent thorn-in-the-side of Japanese authorities unwilling or unable to acknowledge what had happened during the war,” said his obituary in TheSan Diego Union-Tribune. “Stories he shared with reporters, civic leaders, schoolchildren in the United States and Japan,” along with his published memoir, “eventually wrung apologies from government leaders and from one of the corporate giants that benefited from POW slavery.”
Tenney is survived by his wife of nearly 57 years, Betty, a son, two stepsons, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Our deepest condolences go out to his family, friends, and fellow WWII veterans. Our gratitude for Lester Tenney’s service and sacrifice—and for his decades of dedication to ensuring that his wartime experiences and those of his fellow POWs would not be forgotten—lives on.
Lester Tenney’s oral history is part of The National WWII Museum’s Digital Collections.
We’re honored to be hosting this thought-provoking exhibition, which was created in 2009 by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and has been displayed in other great institutions around the country, including the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and, most recently, the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, Texas. State of Deception is a historical study of propaganda, and poses questions about the power of communication and the importance of mindful media consumption. Some have asked if the Museum timed the exhibit to coincide with the current political climate. We did not. In fact, the exhibition has been scheduled since January 2015, and was created by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum before that—in 2009. However, we know that the tone of the recent election and other current events have heightened sensitivity to this subject matter.
Please note that the exhibit itself (which predates the recent election by seven years) does not have any political agenda. Nor does the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum or The National WWII Museum. Rather, the exhibition’s goal is to raise questions about the power of propaganda and to encourage people to think critically about the messages they receive. It’s exciting to see that the exhibit is already striking a chord with so many.
We encourage you to visit the exhibition while it’s in residence at the Museum (through June 18) or experience it virtually via the links presented below to form your own opinions. On Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we’ll share the latest news about the exhibit and surrounding programs, and we hope you’ll Like and Follow us to hear the latest. These channels are also a wonderful forum for discussion and we welcome your engagement! However, in order to ensure that the conversation remains welcoming to all who view our posts—including people of every political stripe as well as school groups, veterans and their families, Museum visitors, and more—we ask that all commenters on these channels remain mindful of the educational intent of these posts, and respectful of the community receiving them.
To that end, please pause before posting to consider the following social media guidelines, modeled on the guidelines used by our friends at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to encourage an engaging, inclusive dialog.
Social media guidelines:
The goal of our social media platforms is to share news of The National WWII Museum and World War II, and secondarily offer a forum for conversation and feedback about our posts. We reserve the right to remove posts and comments that violate these guidelines:
— Comments should be relevant to the post’s topic.
— Courtesy is essential. Comments with vulgarity, threats, or abuse aimed at others are not acceptable.
— Comments are an appropriate place to question or disagree with ideas and opinions, but not make attacks against groups or individuals.
— Comments that share misleading or historically inaccurate information will be deleted.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of the above guidelines, and thank you for your continuing support of The National WWII Museum.
Our social media channels:
State of Deception links:
Find a listing of all of the public programming scheduled for the exhibition here.
Find the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s main site for the exhibition here.
Find the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s accompanying educational site here.
Watch a live walk-through of State of Deception with United States Holocaust Memorial Museum educator Sonia Booth here.
Stream the January 26 opening reception for the exhibition here.
Watch a Lunchbox Lecture by Assistant Director of Education Gemma Birnbaum about propaganda specifically aimed at the youth of Nazi Germany here.
Dr. Harold Baumgarten speaks to a Museum tour group at Normandy, France, in 2006.
A photo from Dr. Harold Baumgarten's oral history for The National WWII Museum.
A service-era photo of Private Harold Baumgarten.
The wristwatch Private Harold Baumgarten wore ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day. From the Collection of The National WWII Museum.
Dr. Harold Baumgarten with his wife, Rita, at the 2015 Victory Ball.
Dr. Harold Baumgarten at Omaha Beach with a Museum tour in 2006.
Private Harold “Hal” Baumgarten, Company B, 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. Part of the first waves of the assault force, Baumgarten endured murderous enemy fire, was wounded five times in just 32 hours of fighting, and had to be evacuated by hospital ship.
The Museum’s Digital Collections contain a minute-by-minute personal account of his harrowing D-Day experience. Watch the oral history here—https://goo.gl/Yo8jaF—and join us in a heartfelt final salute to an American hero, retired physician, and dear friend of The National WWII Museum. Dr. Baumgarten died December 25, 2016, at age 91.
One of the Museum’s earliest and most enthusiastic supporters, Dr. Baumgarten was a featured speaker in The National D-Day Museum’s 2000 grand opening ceremonies. The wristwatch he wore ashore at Omaha, given to him by his father, has been on display at the Museum ever since. In 2015 he received the Silver Service Medallion, awarded to veterans and those with a direct connection to World War II who have served our country with distinction, at the Museum’s Victory Ball. He was a frequent speaker at Museum events, including the International Conference on World War II, and returned to “Bloody Omaha” several times with Museum tours of the Normandy beaches.
Of the 30 men on Dr. Baumgarten’s landing craft on D-Day, 28 did not survive the invasion, a chilling fact cited by Museum president and CEO Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD, in remarks after receiving the French Medal of Honor in May 2016.
“Many years later, Harold would make a point of reciting the full name and hometown of fellow soldiers who didn’t come home,” Mueller said. “‘I want them never to be forgotten,’ he would say.”
According to Dr. Baumgarten’s obituary at Legacy.com, his WWII service—for which he received a Purple Heart and two bronze stars, among other honors—inspired him to devote his life to “paying back,” first by becoming a teacher, then a doctor.
His vow to honor the memories of the men who fell around him on D-Day was evident in scores of interviews, his own writing, countless speaking engagements around the world, and his dedication to the Museum.
Dr. Baumgarten credited Museum cofounder Stephen E. Ambrose with encouraging him to write and speak about his war experiences, and it was through the Ambrose connection that Dr. Baumgarten’s journey onto and across Omaha Beach reached its widest audience: at the D-Day Museum’s June 6, 2000 opening, Saving Private Ryan director Steven Spielberg told Dr. Baumgarten that the film’s unforgettable beach combat scenes were drawn from the recorded interviews Ambrose had done with the veteran.
“He is the real thing,” said Saving Private Ryan star Tom Hanks at the Museum’s opening.
We send our condolences to Dr. Baumgarten’s wife, Rita, who frequently accompanied him at Museum events and on tours, as well as all of his family and many friends.
Robert M. Citino, PhD, recently joined The National WWII Museum as Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian, a job title that only hints at the many roles he’ll play here.
Robert M. Citino.
Consider: With Museum Senior Director of Research and History Keith Huxen, PhD, Citino will cohost the upcoming 2016 International Conference on World War II—stream it live at ww2conference.com from November 17–19—and will cap the Conference’s prelude Espionage Symposium by conducting a sure-to-be-fascinating conversation with Major General John Singlaub.
Dr. Citino was sparked to a lifelong interest in World War II when his father, a veteran of the Pacific war, handed him a copy of Guadalcanal Diary.
“So I sat down and read the book,” said Citino of Richard Tregaskis’s classic account of embedding with US Marines for the early stages of the battle. “From there, I couldn’t read enough books on World War II.”
He went on to write nine books of his own, with a 10th due soon. Citino comes to the Museum after academic postings at the University of North Texas, Eastern Michigan University, Lake Erie College, the US Military Academy at West Point, and the Army War College. He currently chairs the Historical Advisory Subcommittee of the Department of the Army.
Among his areas of specialization as a historian is the German military, a pursuit enhanced by his fluency in the German language, which he began to study as an undergraduate at Ohio State University. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, he went on to get advanced degrees at Indiana University. Among his many academic honors, Dr. Citino was voted the No. 1 professor in the nation on the student-populated website RateMyProfessors.com
Dr. Citino is a regular contributor to World War II magazine and other publications, and speaks about the war widely, including as a regular presenter at the International Conference. Among the roles he’ll fill at the Museum, Dr. Citino will play a key part in the formation of the planned Institute for the Study of War and Democracy.
“I think the sky is the limit for what this place can achieve in the future,” he said.
Here’s an edited Q&A with Dr. Citino:
Q: Is there a moment you recall when you started on this path? Was there something you read, or a teacher, or one of your parents, who inspired you? I know your father was in World War II. Was there a eureka moment when you saw your path?
A: I get asked that a lot, because I’m an American who writes books on the German army, which is a kind of unusual career path perhaps. In a broader sense, in terms of World War II, you mentioned my father. My father was Army, and he fought on Guadalcanal. The word sounded so exotic to me as a little kid. What is Guadalcanal? I remember my father purchasing Richard Tregaskis’s great book, Guadalcanal Diary. Tregaskis was, at the time, what we would call an embedded reporter, for lack of a better term, with the Marine Corps on Guadalcanal. And my dad handed me this book called Guadalcanal Diary.
I was a precocious little boy. I don’t know how old I was, 4th or 5th grade maybe, but my dad told me to read this book. So I knuckled down, sat down and read the book. From there, I couldn’t read enough books on World War II. For me, oddly enough, that was my dad’s war—the Pacific war, carriers, aircraft soaring through the Pacific sky. Even today that stuff gets me going. Not in a scholarly way; I just love reading about it. You might say I’m a buff on the Pacific war. I loved reading books on World War II and that lasted all the way through high school. I went off to university—I was born in Cleveland, so I went down to Columbus—and in those days you had to take a foreign language to graduate. As you may know, that’s not necessarily true at a lot of American universities anymore. I don’t think it’s quite this flippant, I may be inventing it in my mind, but I think German was offered at a time that seemed to fit in the rest of my schedule. It wasn’t at 8 in the morning and it wasn’t 7 at night. I took German and I had an aptitude for it. I learned to read it really quickly and to read it a pretty high level. I feel thankful I was given that particular gift.
I have this WWII love and I have this language, so it was two eureka moments—my dad giving me Guadalcanal Diary and that I could access fairly sophisticated literature in another language. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I read German-language literature—archival sources, memoirs—in order to get some sense of what was going on in what Wellington famously called “the other side of the hill.”
This Museum, of course, is dedicated to the memory of the US Army and US soldier. And I’ve delved pretty deeply into those waters, as well—I’ve taught at West Point, I’ve taught at the US Army War College—I am a US military historian. But my real scholarly bona fides have been putting together that interest—that love, if you will—for studying World War II with some ability to access what the Germans thought they were doing.
When you get right down to it, it’s the most interesting question of all: a medium-sized power stuck in central Europe suddenly thought it was capable of conquering the world, and gave a pretty good impression of it in the first couple of years of the war. We look back and it all seems inevitable today that the three great powers—Britain, the Soviet Union, and the United States—would crush Germany. It didn’t look inevitable at the time. And so what the Germans thought they were doing on the battlefield, how they thought they were going to construct victory in World War II: that’s what I study. Not just Hitler, but the entire military establishment; I’m much more interested in general officers down to field-grade officers than I am in Hitler.
So saying that my dad fought in World War II is not a good answer. I was born in 1958. Everybody’s dad on my street on the west side of Cleveland fought in World War II, and most of the kids my age outgrew their love of World War II and went on to other professions and other endeavors, but I never did.
Was your dad one of those guys who didn’t talk about his service?
He certainly never gave me any combat stories. My father on Guadalcanal was a medic, so I can only imagine some of the things my father saw. A medic in a jungle environment is the worst possible combination. You’re undersourced, the climate’s horrible, the insect life, the dirt level. My dad didn’t give me a lot of stories. He met Eleanor Roosevelt. She was apparently on some kind of morale-building tour of the South Pacific, maybe on New Caledonia. I’ve never really looked it up. He had a passing encounter with Bob Hope and Jerry Colonna.
In terms of combat stories, it wasn’t really a rah-rah thing. I think my dad’s experience of World War II was that it was something he had to do. Everybody had to do it, and I think he was pretty happy that World War II was over. I think that is a fairly standard view of lot of WWII veterans. Probably the ones that come to the Museum are a little more interested, or maybe at this late stage in their life are more interested in talking about it now.
When I was growing up, I heard it as a series of vignettes. They were almost never shooting or explosions or combat or dying. I just didn’t hear those stories. He didn’t seem to carry weight. I was the youngest child of five, so it’s tough to psychoanalyze your parents. My dad was a pugnacious guy. I don’t know if he was pugnacious because of his wartime experience or if he was just born that way. We’re southern Italian. Citino. That’s the toe. I always have to ask my students, because many are spatially challenged, does it look like a boot to you? Most people say, yes it does, but there’s always a few people in class who say it doesn’t. But the toe of the boot is Calabria, and one of the first phrases of Calabrian dialog I ever learned means “Calabrians have hard heads.” They’re kind of pugnacious naturally. Whether my dad was carrying the weight of his WWII experience or the weight of 5,000 years of poor peasant ancestors, which is what Calabria still is today, is an open question. He’s passed now. I tell you, when I walked into Road to Tokyo, if my dad were here, I don’t know how he’d relate to the Guadalcanal gallery. I was stunned by it and I have never set foot on Guadalcanal.
About your specialty, was it something that was unstudied in Germany after the war? Were German scholars able to study their own army?
To their credit, Germans have faced the WWII experience in a really direct and full-on way. Perhaps not immediately, but certainly in the years since 1945. It would be difficult to say that the Germans have been living in denial, compared for example to the Japanese, for whom the subject of World War II and the story of exactly what happened is still not a topic for public conversation. The Germans have faced the WWII experience.
By and large, German scholars—not popular authors, but university professors by and large—are not too interested in operations, how and why this campaign took place, what its turning points were, what its pressure points were, how it could’ve gone differently. By and large, German scholars who study war today study atrocity. They study the Holocaust. The Holocaust and World War II become one in the German public and scholarly mind. So if you’re a young scholar and you want to write another book on the Battle of Kursk, that would be a difficult sell in the German scholarly community.
I got my PhD in 1984, and that process I’m describing was already well underway. And so you can fill your bookshelf with books on the German army written by American scholars. The vast majority are written by people who don’t read German, who have no ability to access original sources in the original tongue, so there’s a lot of stuff translated. It’s not like you can’t read any German documents. The US Army interrogated virtually all of the junior top-ranking German generals all the way down sometimes to lieutenant colonels about their wartime experience, and they’re all on file at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Those interrogations, those reports, have been translated. But reading something in its original language and reading something in translation are just two different things.
I think I developed a kind of feel for military German—specific words used in specific ways; military discourse, if you want to put it that way—describing the German experience. I can say I think I was doing something different. My books are scholarly. I’ve written nine and I’m putting the finishing touches on No. 10. I’ve had pretty good luck in the scholarly community. The books I’ve written have been well-received. I’ve also managed, I think, to reach a more popular audience in perhaps a way that not every scholar does. I’m certainly not talking about a Rick Atkinson level of popularity, but within a scholarly community that has some outreach to ordinary-interest Americans, the general reading public. That’s a phrase that excites all publishers. For World War II magazine, I have a regular column that comes out every two months.
With scholarly books, you sell in the hundreds. It gets you promotion to associate professor. It gets you tenure. I’ve been fortunate in doing that. My work on the German army reads a bit different than what people are used to reading. I have a pretty cold eye. Perhaps when I was younger I was enthused about the German operational achievement. I’ve developed a colder eye as I’ve gotten older. It’s always written from the inside, which gives it a slightly different cast.
Maybe one of the most impressive things about your career is your ranking on RateMyProfessors.com. It’s an incredible achievement. One of your students wrote, “I went into this class with zero understanding of the specifics of operational warfare, and I didn’t care about it either. By midterms I was driving everyone nuts explaining the nuts-and-bolts of Israel’s Sinai campaign.”
That was my Arab-Israeli War class.
That’s as good as it gets. What’s the secret?
RateMyProfessors.com in an online service. It’s owned by MTV. That was 2007 when I was given that. It wasn’t an award, it was a rating. And then it was a publicity flurry, so it got into USA Today, something we all dream about.
It’s a self-selected group that goes online. Amongst professors, we often kind of pooh-pooh it. I take that honor for what it was. A lot of my students over the course of many, many years bothered to take time out of their busy schedules and say something nice about me online. So, I was really pleased by it. The ancillary benefit was that an MTV camera truck pulled into my driveway one day at Ypsilanti, Michigan—at the time I won it, I was at Eastern Michigan University—and I don’t think my youngest daughter cared very much about what I did for a living until I was on MTV. They filmed me. They would read me those comments and they would film what I had to say. It was very funny. Those videos, if you Google “Citino” and “MTVU”, should still be online. I even got to play Fender Telecaster. I whipped off “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin, or whatever it was they asked me to play.
You asked me what the secret is. Any answer you give to that question is probably going to sound self-serving. I really love the subject. I live and breathe the subject. It’s not something I do when I walk into a classroom and then forget when I walk out of the classroom. And it’s not just World War II. It’s history in general. I’m a historian. I’ve taught 500 students in History of Western Civilization 101 all the way to very detailed classes and graduate seminars. I really do love history. If you can’t get geeked up walking into a class to talk about World War II for 45 minutes, and you’re making pretty good bread doing so …
Maybe it’s the Italian heritage. I talk with my hands. I love talking to people. I think it’s a combination of loving that experience, loving your ability to express yourself, and then being given a topic that just became an obsession of mine from a very, very early age. I think if you read a lot of comments on RateMyProfessors.com, you hear it again and again: “The enthusiasm level of this class.” “The professor really digs this material. He really seems to be into it.” And I am. So maybe that is my secret. I was given a gift in that my talents matched up perfectly with my obsession. You know, I’d also like to be a power forward in the NBA, but that’s not happening. I had to drop that one early for a whole host of reasons.
My question was kind of a bridge to your role here at the Museum.
This is a new position, so it’s a work in progress, as I see it. I think everybody has a lot of good ideas about what the senior historian should be doing here. At the first level, I think one of the things I’m going to be doing is showing the flag, the academic and scholarly flag, for this institution, and reach perhaps some venues that it hasn’t really cracked in its 16 years of existence. I’m thinking of scholarly conferences. I give, I don’t know, maybe 10 or 12 public lectures, maybe more than that, a year, and a larger number of smaller talks, sometimes to local groups. I get invited by all sorts of diverse audiences. I’m flying next week to Washington, DC. General Milley, the chief of staff of the Army, read one of my books and told one of his officers, who got in touch with me. I’m addressing a seminar of very senior leaders in the Pentagon next week. So I have that scholarly side. I’m going to continue to publish books and articles, and every time I do that, there’s going to be The National WWII Museum speaking to various public groups. I have my toe in the intellectual military side, and now the Museum is going to be part of that conversation in the future.
As you know, Dr. Mueller has some pretty big ideas about this Institute for the Study of War and Democracy that we’re going to be getting underway. I don’t think the Museum will ever be a research library in the way that Harvard has a research library. You have to have hundreds of years and millions of books and another building—another 15-story building, in fact. I don’t think it’s going to do that. But it can have a role as a center of scholarship, as a clearinghouse of information, as a call of first resort for a student.
Say a graduate student wants to do something on the Home Front’s industrial mobilization. I or someone in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy could have information to answer that student or that scholar. If you need a recommendation for a good speaker on whatever topic, the first place you would call would be The National WWII Museum. That’s what I see the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy doing. I think it’s going to require people who love the Museum and love the subject matter but who also have a foot in the scholarly and public community, so you get that synergy. It’s going to part of the Museum, but the displays here are always going to be what attracts people here. Right now, I guess I’m the first investment or the first installation of what the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy is going to be.
Here’s why I think the work is important, if you don’t mind me riffing off of your question. I love the operational side. That’s what I write. That’s what I’m really excited about. But the war is a big story, and in essence the war is about human freedom and human liberation. If World War II had been lost and the other side had won World War II, the globe would be a very different place. I know the Museum is going to have a Liberation Pavilion. If you look at how a place like America, or Western Europe, has changed since 1945 and the end of the war, it’s essentially been a story of individual liberation. It’s kind of messy. We don’t often like it. I know that for as many people who loved the 1960s in America, there was an equal number who hated them. Polling numbers for the Vietnam War, if they ever fell below 50 percent, I’d be surprised. I don’t have those numbers, but support for the war was always very high.
At any rate, people began to do their own thing, and you couldn’t be doing your own thing in a world run by the fascists. The Museum will always be about the operational side. I think that’s the heart and soul of what goes on here. Road to Tokyo, Road to Berlin—man, those are going to be bringing audiences in forever. But the Museum has to represent the broadcast possible meaning of World War II. We should be open to all approaches, and all themes, and I think the sky’s the limit for what this place can achieve in the future.
What kind of a Museum dedicated to World War II, with Higgins boats and aircraft everywhere, also puts up a Canopy of Peace? To me, when I heard that, that was the greatest thing I ever heard. I came here for my interview and saw them laying the pile caps. Unbelievable.
The Peace Canopy is nonfunctional. It doesn’t do anything, but it says something. While we celebrate the memory of the heroes who fought World War II, I don’t think anybody should really celebrate the war. The fact that a war had to be fought to maintain our basic freedoms is a human tragedy. It just shows how little we’ve progressed, not how far we’ve come. And that’s why I think putting up the Canopy of Peace is such a great thing for this Museum. I was really, really impressed when I saw they were doing it.
Story by Dave Walker, communications manager at The National WWII Museum.
A 12-day journey through Germany and Poland tracking the ascension then destruction of the Third Reich, the tour visits Berlin, Dresden, Kraków, and Auschwitz, among other destinations.
At the International Conference, titled 1946: Year Zero—Triumph & Tragedy and focused on the postwar events that continue to shape our world today, Richie will speak during a session titled The Iron Curtain: The Descent and the Western Response with Conrad Crane, PhD, then again on a panel presentation titled World War II in Memory: Germany, Japan, and the United States Today joined by Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD, Gerhard Weinberg, PhD, and Hans van de Ven, PhD.
Richie’s first presentation, scheduled for 9:25 a.m. Saturday, November 19, is titled The Soviet Subjugation of Eastern Europe. The second panel discussion is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. later the same day.
The entire International Conference, scheduled for November 17–19 in New Orleans, will stream live and then be archived at ww2conference.com.
Dr. Richie’s most recent work, Warsaw 1944, became the No. 1 best-selling book in Poland and won the Newsweek Teresa Torańska Prize for Best Nonfiction 2014, while her first book, Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin, was named one of the 10 top books of the year by Publishers Weekly.
She lives in Warsaw with her husband and their two daughters. She divides her time between the UK, Canada, and Poland, where she is Visiting Professor of History at the Collegium Civitas, an English-speaking university in Warsaw.
Here’s an edited email Q&A with Dr. Richie:
Q: Can you tell us about your panel?
A: I will be on a panel with Dr. Conrad Crane, and we will be discussing the creation of the Iron Curtain which descended on Europe after World War II. Dr. Crane and I have divided the panel to show these events from different perspectives. He will be looking at this history from the American point of view; I will be discussing how the people of Eastern Europe, who had suffered for years under Nazi rule, came out of the war only to find themselves occupied by the Soviets. I will also be putting forward the Soviet perspective in an attempt to explain why Stalin behaved the way he did.
You are a Professor of History at the Collegium Civitas in Warsaw. Can you tell us specifically about Warsaw’s experience as it shifted from World War II to the Cold War?
Poland’s tragedy is that it lies between Russia and Germany, two nations which have invaded and carved up Poland between themselves for centuries. Many forget that in 1939 Poland was invaded not only by Nazi Germany in the west, but also by the Soviets in the east, a situation that was only ended by Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. As the war progressed, it became clear that the Soviets would liberate Poland. Poles were understandably nervous about coming under the Soviet yoke once again. They did not want to be ruled from Berlin, but they didn’t want to be ruled from Moscow, either. This was the reason for the ill-fated Warsaw Uprising, in which the Poles attempted to liberate the capital city from the Germans just before the arrival of the Soviets so as to act rather as “hosts” to the liberators. Of course, it backfired when the Germans proved much more resilient than the Poles had anticipated, and when Stalin refused to come to the aid of the beleaguered Polish Home Army.
In a little-known tragedy of the war, the city was decimated, with the loss of 200,000 civilian lives and the destruction of 80 percent of Warsaw. Worse still, it quickly became clear that Stalin had no intention of allowing the Poles their freedom. Between August 1944 and August 1945, over 100,000 Poles, even those who had fought alongside the Red Army, were arrested by Stalin’s secret police; many were executed or sent to the gulag.
At the same time, Stalin lied outright to the western Allies about his intentions in Poland. On October 13, 1944, Stalin, Churchill, and the Polish prime minister in exile Stanisław Mikołajczyk met in Moscow. Stalin played along with the idea that Poland would have free elections and become an independent country when the war was over. The official minutes read, “Marshal Stalin was just as resolute as the British and American Allies in the wish to see Poland as a sovereign and independent State, with the power to lead its own life.” But Stalin also added rather ominously that he expected Poland “to be friendly to the Soviet Union.” It would take some time before the West fully understood that being “friendly” meant that the Poles and others behind the Iron Curtain would be utterly subjugated to the Soviet system.
One of the key tenants of the Museum’s mission is defining “what the war means today.” Can you tell us what World War II means in Poland today?
For Poles and indeed for others in the former Eastern Bloc, the Second World War was simply devastating and has left deep wounds which have yet to heal. World War II was the deadliest war in history and Central and Eastern Europe were particularly badly affected. Three million Soviet prisoners of war were killed through brutality and starvation. Around 25 percent of the entire population of Byelorussia perished.
The Holocaust—the deliberate destruction and murder of the Jewish population of Europe—saw the deaths of six million human beings. The statistics are simply overwhelming, and yet one has to remember that each number represents an individual, a person with parents and family and friends whose life was cut short because of a barbaric conflict over which they had no control.
For many in Central Europe, World War II did not really come to an end until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Soviet troops finally withdrew from Central Europe. At last, people were able to live in free and independent countries and enjoy rights including membership in NATO and the European Union. Throughout the long struggle for freedom, the United States was always a role model; it is no surprise that Poland remains one of the most pro-American countries in the world.
In May 2016, I led a tour from Berlin to Dresden, from Kraków and Auschwitz to Gdańsk, to Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia and to Warsaw, tracing The Rise and Fall of Hitler’s Germany. It was a very moving experience to travel in this part of the world with the wonderful group brought together by the Museum. When we went to places like Auschwitz-Birkenau, we really understood what we were fighting for all those years ago. I look forward to welcoming a new group on the tour next year.
Story by Dave Walker, communications 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.