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Monday, July 29, 2013

Spies of World War II: Virginia Hall

It is hard to believe that August is right around the corner!  Soon school will be back in session and we will be busy teaching students about D-Day and life on the homefront through our “Valor, Fidelity, & Sacrifice” educational program.  Before that time comes, I would like to take a look back at our very hectic (but extremely fun, entertaining, and, most importantly, educational) Growing Up in WWII Summer Day Camp.  Some of you might remember that “Spies of WWII” was the theme for camp this year and I want to start new little segment where I will bring some of those spies and their accomplishments to light. 

Virginia Hall, 1941, passport photograph
First up is Virginia Hall.  Born in Baltimore, MD in 1906, Hall studied French, German and Italian at Radcliffe College and Barnard College (Columbia University).  With the help of her family, she continued her studies across the pond in France, Germany, and Austria, eventually gaining an appointment as a Consular Service Clerk at the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland in 1931. 

In 1932, while hunting in Turkey, Hall shot herself in the leg, and latter had to have this leg amputated from the knee down.  She resigned from the Department of State in 1939 and went to graduate school at American University in DC.  In Paris at the beginning of the war, Hall made her way to London at the end of 1940/beginning of 1941.  She volunteered for the Special Operations Executive which sent her back to Vichy controlled France in August 1941.  For 15 months she coordinated the activities of the French Underground in Vichy and the occupied zone of France.  Stationed in Lyons, every British agent arriving in France visited her to receive instructions, counterfeit money, and contacts.  Her cover was a correspondent for the New York Post.

Betrayed in November 1942, she had to use her own escape routes that she had established for getting endangered agents out of the country.  Because of her artificial leg (codenamed “Cuthbert”) the Germans called her the “limping lady.” Before the escape, Hall signaled to the SOE that she hoped Cuthbert would not give her trouble.  Not understanding the reference, the SOE replied “If Cuthbert troublesome, eliminate him.”  Her escape to Spain landed her on the Germans most wanted list.  In July 1943 she was made an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire.

Hall (standing) and fellow OSS agent (and future husband) Paul Goillot (far right) with two Americans who parachuted into her area of Occupied France in 1944.
In March 1944, Hall joined the Office of Strategic Services and asked to return to France.  She needed little training and they agreed to send her back.  Hall arrived in France via a British motor torpedo boat (her artificial leg prohibited her from parachuting in) and contacted the French Resistance in central France. 

She mapped drop zones for supplies and commandoes from England, found safe houses, and linked up with a three person “Jedburgh” team after Allied Forces landed in Normandy.  Hall trained three battalions of Resistance forces to wage guerrilla warfare against the Germans and keep information moving to the Allied commanders.

September 1945: Presentation of the Distinguished Service Cross
In September 1945, Hall became the only civilian woman in WWII to be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.  To President Truman’s dislike, the presentation of the award by OSS Chief General Donovan was secret because Hall was, in her words, “still operational and most anxious to get busy.”  In 1951, Hall joined the CIA working as an intelligence analyst.  She retired in 1966 from the CIA.  Virginia Hall died on July 8, 1982.

Aliases: “Marie Monin,” “Germaine,” “Diane,” “Marie of Lyon,” “Camille,” and “Nicolas” – Germans referred to her as “Artemis” 

To learn more about Virginia Hall visit 


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Preserving D-Day: A Soldier's War Memorabilia

July has certainly proven to be a busy month.  Yesterday, we had our annual Family Day 40s Festival.  In spite the heat of the day, our visitors were able to talk to WWII Veterans about their experiences, talk to living historians, examine artifacts, play games, and make crafts.  Overall it was a very successful event and we would like to say thank you to everyone who came out for this event!

Let's get back to the task at hand - preserving D-Day.  Once again we return to our collection to examine a few more artifacts.  I would like to give special thanks to Hugh for once again providing the information and images for this post.  

German Souvenirs
Aaron S. Kirks, a native of Bassett, Virginia, was a member of the National Guard before the war.  A member of Battery A, 111th Field Artillery of the 29th Infantry Division, Sgt. Kirks landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and served throughout the war with the 29th.  Kirks served as a radio operator and Forward Observer for his battery.  Wounded in Combat, he received the Purple Heart and four Battle Stars on his European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.

When he returned home from the war, Kirks brought the above memorabilia home with him.  The first photograph shows a collection of German souvenirs which includes (moving counter-clockwise from the top) a breast eagle insignia, Coast Artillery badge, antique pocket knife, and civilian War Merit Cross.  In the photograph on the left, Kirks brought home a cigarette lighter with scratched on initials and Old Gold cigarettes from a K-Ration box.  To the right, is a TEC 4 sleeve insignia. 

Aaron S. Kirks
Aaron's son, Barry, shared several stories family stories about his father.  Barry's grandmother said once Aaron came home, he did nothing but eat and sleep for about a month (healing mind and body).  Aaron's wife told their son that his father was bothered from time to time by dreams of June 6, as he remembered the sights of all the bodies in the waters of the English Channel.  Aaron spoke of the "Bedford Boys" always with reverence saying they had a tough road to hoe.  Barry would remember his father removing small pieces of shrapnel that came to the surface of his skin for the remainder of his life.  He remembers his father as a happy man with a great sense of humor who would often dance with his wife in the kitchen.  Aaron Kirks died in 1973 when Barry was 21 years old. 

Certificate given to Kirks for continuous service with the 29th Infantry Division on D-Day to the capture of St. Lo.

Memorabilia were a gift to the National D-Day Memorial by Barry Kirks and Denise Hinkle


Monday, July 8, 2013

Preserving D-Day: Invasion Gear

June has certainly been a busy month around the Memorial, and July promises to be equally active!  After our Memorial day weekend events, we hosted a commemorative ceremony for the 69th anniversary of D-Day, a Father’s Day event, and a high energy, 3-day day camp for nearly 30 students!  But we survived and are now gearing up for our annual Family Day Event scheduled for Saturday, July 20th.  Whew!  So, if you need my excuse, then that helps explain why the blog sometimes gets neglected this time of year…

So, back to the task at hand – this week we’re returning to our collection to examine a set of artifacts both directly related to the invasion.  The first is an assault vest given to the Memorial by John E. Hornberger.  The second artifact is an M1926 Lifebelt given by the 29th Infantry Division Historical Association which was recovered from the sands of Omaha Beach.  

The Assault Vest


The Assault Vest was developed quickly for the D-Day invasion.  It was modeled after an assault Jerkin used by British commando units.  The American vest had a number of pockets to allow a soldier to carry all of his equipment without having to carry a separate pack and multiple equipment bags.  On D-Day it was issued to some of the initial assault units and to some men of the 2nd and 5th Rangers.  Only about 14,000 vests were ever manufactured.  The Army did not adopt them as standard equipment for ongoing use after D-Day.

The vest met with mixed reviews on the part of users.  Many found the vest fit poorly and was too hot and heavy with poor weight distribution. The lower pockets of the vest below the waist hampered movement.  Most soldiers preferred the M-1928 pack and individual special equipment bags worn independently or attached to their web belts.  Most vests were discarded as quickly as possible or cut off at the waistband.  In general the assault vest was unsuccessful and not issued again.  It is, however, a unique part of the D-Day story.

The M1926 Lifebelt
The M1926 Lifebelt was issued by the Navy to all assault troops participating in D-Day.  The belt had two inflatable tubes which could be inflated by two co2 cartridges or by mouth blowing into the two black tubes.

Though called a lifebelt it was not intended to be worn around the waist, but rather as high as possible under the armpits.  Because of the weight of the equipment carried by the troops, if the belt was worn at waist level top heavy troops would be turned upside down and drown.  This tragically happened too often.