Alan Turing’s admission photo at as a graduate student to Princeton University, September 1936. Photo, Princeton University.
On May 28, 1936, Alan Turing submitted his ground breaking paper, “On Computable Numbers.” Just 24 years old at the time of publication, Turing both identified the characteristics of a “computable” number and described a simple method for carrying out those computations. He essentially conceived of the modern computer on paper using mathematics before the technology existed to actually build the computer. Called the Turing Machine, it formed the theoretical foundation for modern computer science.
During the war, Alan Turing led Hut 8, a section of the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchely Park responsible for deciphering German naval messages. His contributions allowed the Allies to break the Enigma, turning the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic and eventually providing critical intelligence in preparation for the D-Day landings.
Of the more than 3 million visitors who have crossed the threshold of The National WWII Museum since June 6, 2000, a large number of them have had the pleasure of meeting affable volunteer, Thomas Blakey. The Museum regularly receives thank you notes from students, groups and visitors who have had the opportunity to visit with Tom during their time at the Museum, usually letting us know it was the highlight of their day.
Blakey, whose volunteer service predates the opening of the Museum, is a combat veteran paratrooper with the U.S. Army Double A, “All American, 82ndAirborne.” He jumped on the morning of June 6, 1944 behind Nazi lines at Normandy, France. His combat service was from France to Holland, including action in the surprise German offensive in the Ardennes Forest, the Battle of the Bulge.
Always quick with a greeting, a story or a joke, Tom is one of about 20 WWII vets who volunteers at the Museum. This first-hand interaction is invaluable for our visitors (and our staff!)
Mr. Blakey is also an active member of the Museum’s Speakers Bureau, traveling across the region to speak with schools, senior centers, community centers and other groups on his experiences. In 2010, he was recognized as the first Museum volunteer to pass the 10,000 hours mark.
Fresh from his eighteenth birthday, Franz Gockel was one of thousands of German soldiers defending the Atlantic Wall on the watershed morning of 6 June 1944. He served as a machine gunner with the 352nd Infantry Division in Widerstandsnest, or Resistance Nest, number 62. That morning, Gockel was wearing his hobnail boots, the type that accounted for the ominous rhythm of marching German troops heading through the cities of Europe they had already taken or soon would.
Gockel received these boots–now held in our collection–during basic training in Holland in 1943. The hobnails, however, have all been worn off. Gockel was wounded in the hand while retiring from his position on Omaha Beach. He was captured by American forces in Northern France soon after recovering from his wound. As a prisoner of war he aided in offloading supplies in Cherbourg. Upon his release from custody, Gockel walked all the way to his home in Germany in those very boots, wearing down the hobnails in the process. In 2004, he gifted the boots and his soldbuch, or individual pay record, to the Museum. His is one of several oral history accounts from the German perspective in the holdings of the museum’s Research Department.
Gockel's soldbuch. Gift of Franz Gockel, 2004.235
Gockel's boots. Gift of Franz Gockel, 2004.235
Hughes breaks for a quick meal. Gift in Memory of Patrick J. Hughes, 2012. 081
Inside cover of Gockel's bible. Gift in Memory of Patrick J. Hughes, 2012.081
Patrick J. Hughes
Eight years after Gockel’s donation, the collections staff here at the museum was reminded how small the world really is. We were contacted by the family of Joint Assault Signal Company (JASCO) lineman Patrick J. Hughes, who landed at Colleville-sur-Mer on D-Day. He landed ahead of the main invasion force to lay lines for ship to shore communications. On that day, Hughes came across and picked up a German bible and kept it as a souvenir of his overseas service.
The collecting of German items as souvenirs was common practice for GI’s. The bible that Hughes picked up, however, bears special significance as relates to our collection. The inside cover of the bible reveals handwritten information about the very same Franz Gockel, his military service, and the names of family members and their birth dates and locations, and even pictures of his sweethearts. Nearly seventy years after D-Day, the bible and boots are reunited.
What may have otherwise been viewed as a wartime souvenir representing a faceless and vanquished enemy, now represents the human side of the enemy: an eighteen-year-old boy as scared of the incoming invasion as the American boys headed for the bloodied beach that morning. Hughes’ daughter generously donated the bible and other items from her father’s service to the Museum earlier this year.
New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School student Kalie Indest was one of 15 students selected to travel to Normandy, France this June. Kalie was selected by her teacher, Ms. Melanie Boulet, who will also be going on the trip. This trip is sponsored by National History Day and the Normandy Scholars Institute. Kalie will be immersed in a deep study of D-Day in the months leading up to her trip. She will be reading Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day, Alex Kershaw’s The Bedford Boys, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe, and several more books.
In Normandy, Kalie will be honoring Sergeant John P. Ray of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regt, 82nd Airborne Division. Ray was born in Gretna, Louisiana and dropped into Ste Mere Eglise on June 6, 1944. Ray’s actions that morning are recalled in Ambrose’s D-Day:
Sgt. John Ray landed in the church square, just past [Ken] Russell and [John] Steele. A German soldier came around the corner. “I’ll never forget him,” Russell related. “He was red-haired, and as he came around he shot Sergeant Ray in the stomach.” Then he turned toward Russell and Steele and brought his machine pistol up to shoot them. “And Sergeant Ray, while he was dying in agony, he got his .45 out and he shot the German soldier in the back of the head and killed him.”
Kalie came to The National WWII Museum to view artifacts donated by Sgt. Ray’s family and read letters written by Sgt. Ray’s brother Stanley. She viewed a photograph of John and Stanley reuniting in England in January 1944 and held the Western Union telegram informing the family that John had been killed in action.
The story of the Atlantic Wall’s arrival in New Orleans came full circle this week when we were contacted by WWII vet, R. Randolph “Randy” Richmond Jr. He had read about the wall segments that arrived at the Museum on July 23, a gift from the Utah Beach Museum, and generously offered to pay for all of the shipping costs. He visited the Museum this week to write an initial check and see the pieces for the first time in 67 years. Richmond had first seen the fortifications when he came ashore at Utah Beach a month after D-Day. In an interview with the New Orleans newspaper the Times-Picayune, he said they “brought back memories.” He added “I thought they were higher.”
This week the Museum received a very unusual gift from the Utah Beach Museum – three large pieces of concrete totaling nearly 22 tons. During WWII, they made up a part of the of the German defenses known as the Atlantic Wall.
Completed in 1944, the Atlantic Wall was a series of fortifications Hitler ordered built to guard Europe’s west coast from Allied assault. Made up of mines, pillboxes, tank traps and the infamous “Rommel’s asparagus,” the Atlantic Wall stretched more than 3,200 miles, presenting a formidable obstacle for the Allied troops charged with executing the D-Day invasion.
These particular pieces were donated to the Museum to make way for a significant expansion of the Utah Beach Museum. Currently, you can see two of the three wall segments on the grounds of the Museum outside the Solomon Victory Theater.
Posted by interactive content and community manager Kacey Hill
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.