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.
Last week, 23 high school and college students from across the country traveled to New Orleans to take part in The National WWII Museum’s Student Leadership Academy, a rigorous educational travel program exploring lessons of leadership and the theme of what WWII history and events mean today.
For one week, these 23 students enjoyed special behind-the-scenes access to Museum exhibits, artifacts, vehicles, and archives. Student Leadership Academy participants also engaged with veterans, both from World War II and the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, who spoke humbly about the enduring qualities of what makes a strong leader and how some of those qualities never change. While in New Orleans, the Student Leadership Academy visited Chalmette Battlefield — the site of the pivotal 1815 Battle of New Orleans — as well as Bollinger Shipyards, connecting modern-day ship construction to the entrepreneurial leadership and legacy of the Higgins Industries boats so central to the Museum’s identity. In addition to completing pre-tour reading assignments to better prepare themselves for their experience, each student also viewed selections from the Museum’s Digital Collection of images and veterans’ oral histories
All throughout the Student Leadership Academy program, however, students continually engaged in structured Leadership Lesson Debates, revisiting the lessons of World War II and relating them to their own lives and the world around them. These debates ranged from what should be the future US role as it relates to global security in a now all-volunteer military to the dangers of succumbing to fear and prejudice as seen in the wake of Executive Order 9066 and the ensuing internment of hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans. More than anything, the Student Leadership Academy program hopes to arm its 2016 class as well as all of tomorrow’s leaders with the lessons and examples of American leadership in the war that changed the world.
For the past eleven days, 32 high school and college students from across the United States have traveled with The National WWII Museum, first to New Orleans and then to Normandy, France, as participants within the Museum’s 2016 Normandy Academy Student Travel program.
Beginning their journey first at The National WWII Museum, Normandy Academy students toured the Museum’s exhibits, spoke with WWII veterans and enjoyed behind-the-scene access within the Museum’s artifact vault and inside some of the Museum’s vehicles. Departing New Orleans, the Normandy Academy students traveled first to Paris then onward to the ancient town of Bayeux in the heart of Normandy and within striking distance of dozens of D-Day battle-sites. For the next seven days, the students, along with Museum educators and professors, toured such famous sites as Pegasus Bridge, the mulberry harbors at Arromanches, Ste-Mere-Eglise, Pointe-Du-Hoc, Brecourt Manor, both Utah and Omaha Beaches before concluding with a solemn visit to the American Cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer where each student was given a white rose to leave behind at the grave of an American soldier or serviceman who did not make it back home. To better prepare them for what they would encounter along the way, each Normandy Academy student completed pre-tour reading assignments and, at each site, engaged in discussions and debates relating to the actions that occurred there with Museum educators and professors. While it is hoped that all 32 students went away with a better understanding of WWII history, it is clear that all participants within the 2016 Normandy Academy program left France with a deeper appreciation for the courage, teamwork and sacrifice shown by the members of the Greatest Generation.
Normandy Academy students with Mr. Dan Ombredanne at Chateau Periers.
The Normandy Academy students arrived in France after three full days of touring at the Museum. Once in France, they stopped at the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame. Now they were ready for their trip to Normandy.
Arriving in the town of Bayeux, the students were immediately impressed by the Bayeux Cathedral, first completed in the 11th century with some portions completed later The cathedral now has an impressive blend of architectural styles. It was commissioned by William the Conqueror, and it is the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry. The students were in for a surprise when they found that their hotel was just two blocks from the cathedral. After their first French meal and a good night’s rest, they awoke reading and willing to visit the Normandy battle sites.
The first day of touring brought the students to the areas around Sword Beach. The first stop was at Chateau Periers, a private home just three miles from the coast. In this chateau, Marie-Louise Osmont kept a diary of her life from the German occupation of her home in August, 1940 until the last British soldier left her home in August, 1944. Her diary gives many insights into the life of both German soldiers and French civilians under occupation. The current proprietor of the chateau, Mr. Dan Ombredanne welcomed the students to the chateau along with the town mayor to give a tour of the grounds and the interior.
Later in the day, the students visited Pegasus Bridge, the Riva Bella Tower, and the German Battery at Longues sur Mer. At each stop the students debated decisions made in the course of the battle. At Pegasus, the students debated whether the bridges along the Orne, Dives, and Merderet Rivers should be destroyed or preserved prior to the landings. At Longues sur Mer, the students discussed the length of the naval barrage—How long? When should it cease?
Still awaiting the students are visits to Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Caen, and a conversation with a veteran of the French Resistance. The students will return to the United States on June 30, 2015.
This morning 25 high school and college students from all across the country will be traveling to France with The National WWII Museum as part of the Museum’s week-long Normandy Academystudent travel program. These students, guided by academic mentors and Museum professionals, will visit and explore the iconic D-Day battle sites such as Omaha Beach, Ste-Mere-Eglise and Pointe-Du-Hoc as they follow in the footsteps of the Greatest Generation. In preparation for their journey, students have completed readings, participated in strategic as well as moral and ethical debate scenarios and examined artifacts and primary sources documents on-site at The National WWII Museum.
The National WWII Museum’s Normandy Academy is an overseas educational journey that challenges today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders to consider the same impactful choices made by WWII officers and soldiers during the historic D-Day invasions. Along the way, students will gain hands-on leadership and decision-making skills to prepare them for their futures.
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. This blog is part of a series devoted to an April 2015 trip which brought Museum staff and volunteers, to the scenes of the Battle of the Bulge. One of the largest and costliest battles the US Army would fight, the Bulge was Hitler’s last desperate attempt to stop the Allied drive in western Europe in the cold winter months of December 1944 and January 1945. Nearly one million soldiers were engaged during the six-week battle, resulting in 67,000 American and more than 100,000 German casualties.
Eleven of the 67,000 casualties were African American soldiers, members of the segregated 333rd Field Artillery Battalion (FAB) who were murdered by the 1st SS Division against the rules of the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners of war. Seven of the Wereth 11 are buried at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery which our group visited on Day 1 and which is the subject of the first blog post in this series.
Wereth, Belgium. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael. Photos Courtesy of Alan Raphael
Museum volunteers & staff in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
Memorial in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
Memorial in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
Memorial in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
Memorial in Wereth. Photo Courtesy of Alan Raphael.
On December 17, 1944– the second day of fighting during the Battle of the Bulge– most of the 333rd FAB was overrun by the Germans (along with the 106th Infantry Division who they were supporting) and were taken prisoner. Eleven managed to escape capture and after walking through heavy snow for miles with the hope of making it back to American lines sought shelter at a farmhouse in Wereth, Belgium. The family brought them inside and offered hot food, but this shelter lasted only a brief moment, as it is thought that they had been exposed to the SS. They were marched into a field where they were brutally beaten and finally, killed. Their corpses would remain in the field, covered in ice and snow, until early February. This war crime would be part of a series of war crimes perpetuated on prisoners of war and on civilians known as the Malmedy Massacre, which counted nearly 500 victims.
The Museum will highlight African American service and sacrifice in our upcoming Special Exhibit, Fighting for the Right to Fight: African American Experiences in WWII. Stay tuned for more in the series 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.
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.
This past the September, The National WWII Museum hosted a travel tour rediscovering the continent where the Allies saved the world. Hear from Museum’s Assistant Director of Collections & Exhibits Toni Kiser about her experience on the trip below.
I have recently returned from a great tour of London, Southern England, and Normandy as the museum representative on our recent Victory in Europe Normandy Tour! Part of what made this trip so special was that best-selling author Alex Kershaw (The Bedford Boys, The Longest Winter, The Liberator) came along as the tour historian.
Our trip started with us gathering in London and setting off for a full day of touring on September 9th. Our first stop was Grosvenor Square to visit the Roosevelt and Eisenhower statues. Ike’s headquarters during World War II on this square and it was then nicknamed “Eisenhower Platz.”
A WWII Flight Jacket on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.
The best part of the day though had to be our stop at the newly renovated and recently reopened Imperial War Museum. They were closed for several months to renovate their galleries in anticipation of the centenary of the World War I. The museum was an amazing experience; the new World War I gallery was packed with artifacts, digital interactives, and the personal stories of World War I soldiers. The World War II section featured some great items as well. I particularly like this flight jacket they had on exhibit.
We ended the day with a trip to the Churchill War Rooms where we were given a special behind the scenes look and presentation by Phil Reed who was instrumental in the opening of the War Rooms to the public. We continued our look into Sir Winston Churchill on September 10th with a trip to his home, Chartwell. Although, its three ponds made it too easy of a target for the Luftwaffe during the war Churchill still considered this his home. He said of his home, “A day away from Chartwell, is a day wasted.” I was struck with be the beauty of the English countryside and imagine that he must have felt very peaceful there. I loved this chair situated next to a pond of goldfish where Churchill was said to often sit.
Our last day in England then, became all about Dwight D. Eisenhower. We started our day with a drive to Southwick House where the original map coordinating the D-Day landings is still located today. This is where Ike gave his iconic, “Okay, let’s go” command. Then we popped over the Portsmouth D-Day Museum to view the Normandy Tapestry and learn about how the town of Portsmouth helped to prepare for the D-Day invasion.
View of the Solent Straight from Portsmouth, England.
Then our group boarded the Brittany Ferry to take us from Portsmouth, England to Caen, France. So just like those soldiers and sailors of D-Day, we too made a Channel crossing. However, in much calmer seas and more creature comforts along the way!
September 13th began our tour of Normandy with a stop at Pegasus Bridge. As luck would have it on this Saturday morning the bridge was raised while we were there to allow a few pleasure craft to pass through. It was so exciting to see it in action!
We continued that day with stops at the Ouistreham Bunker (of which the museum has a replica in our galleries) and Hillman Battlefield. Then we went to the seaside town of Arromanches to see the remnants of a Mulberry Harbor “B” and tour the Musee du Debarquement.
Tourgoer Ms. Valluzo in a German Bunker in Normandy.
Our day ended with a visit to the Ryes British War Cemetery. Here, tour historian, Alex Kershaw gave us the story of the Casson brothers buried next to one another. The museum laid flowers at their grave and took time for our group to pay respects to the soldiers and sailors buried there.
After a tour of the British exploits at Normandy it was time to turn to the Americans. Our first stop on September 14th was Chateau de Bernaville where we learned the story of the first German General killed in the Normandy invasion. General Wilhelm Falley was killed in the wee hours of the D-Day invasion by paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division. He had set up his headquarters at the Chateau in early 1944 and was in his staff car returning to the Chateau when the paratroopers encountered the car and were able to barrage the car with gunfire and ultimately kill Falley.
The battle for the bridge at La Fiere is just minutes away from the Chateau and we stopped there on our way to Ste-Mere-Eglise to visit Iron Mike and understand the importance of the bridge.
We then toured the Airborne Museum in Ste-Mere-Eglise as well as the church, learning the story of paratrooper John Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Then we drove on the Brecourt Manor to hear the story of Dick Winters and the destruction of a German artillery battery located on the property. Then we were off to visit Utah Beach and the Utah Beach Museum. We ended the day with a quick stop at the church in the little village of Angoville-au-Plain, learning of the efforts of the story of the medics of the 101st Airborne and the soldiers they treated.
Tourgoers exploring the German fortifications at Point-du-Hoc.
September 15th brought clouds, but lucky for us, no rain. We trekked the cratered landscape of Point-du-Hoc, and explored one of the German fortifications still there.
We continued with a visit to Omaha Beach, where Alex walked us through the last steps of many of the young men from Bedford, Virginia who made up the 116th Infantry Division landing on bloody Omaha.
We then went to the Normandy American Cemetery where many of those 116th Infantry Division soldiers are buried. At this cemetery over 9,000 American service men and women are laid to rest for the sacrifices they made not just on D-Day, but as part of the many operations to liberate Europe from the Third Reich.
Our final day together started at the Memorial de Caen, and then took us on a drive through the French countryside to Montormel to see the valley where, with the help of Polish troops we were able to close the Falaise Gap. Although, not a completely successful venture (it’s estimated that 50,000 German were able to escape the pocket, leaving us to fight them again later) the closing of the gap meant the end of the battle for Normandy. And then, like many American soldiers we finished our Normandy journey with a night in Paris.
Tourgoers at Chateau de Bernaville
Author Alex Kershaw with tourgoers at Omaha Beach.
Flowers laid on the graves of the Casson brothers in the Ryes British War Cemetery.
A glimpse into Chartwell, Winston Churchill's beautiful English countryside home. Churchill often sat in this chair next to this pond of goldfish.
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.