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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Page Door Canteen: Review of In the Garden of Beasts

A few months ago, we began a volunteer book club at the National D-Day Memorial.  Meeting once a month, or now once every two months, the volunteers and I come together to discuss a book that concerns World War II in some way.  We have read a variety of books up to this point; however, the past two months has been one of my favorites.  Erik Larson writes history in a way that I wish I could write.  Extremely engaging, In the Garden of Beasts, explores Berlin in 1933 and 1934 through the eyes of the new American Ambassador William Dodd and his 24 year old daughter Martha. 

Dodd family arriving in Hamburg in 1933

Moving to his post in the summer of 1933, Dodd came into the post at the crossroads of history.  Dodd, a history professor at the University of Chicago, was far from President Roosevelt’s first choice for the job.  The ambassador to Berlin would have to walk a tight rope as they navigated through the diplomatic responsibilities required of them, cared for American travelers and interests, and dealt with Adolf Hitler’s accent to power.  Dodd came into the position with a strict budget, an outsider to the “club” that was foreign diplomats of the time, and having to quickly learn the ins and outs of foreign diplomacy.  Not independently wealthy, Dodd even brought his old Chevy to Berlin – however, would frequently be seen walking around the Tiergarten as he went to work or to one of his appointments.  Wanting to express the American interest of isolationism that was prevalent in the years building to World War II, Dodd was careful of who he met with and how he was represented in the press.  Dodd gets right to work faced with issues of American tourist being attacked and how to portray what is happening in Berlin back to the United States, eventually making suggestions for Roosevelt to speak out against what Dodd is experiencing around him as Germany prepares for war. 

Dodd official photograph, 1933
While Dodd worked hard to inform the State Department back home what he was witnessing in Berlin, Martha was cultivating her own group of friends.  A journalist, Martha fit in with the correspondents to Berlin and often traveled with them.  She had a rosy view of Berlin at first but through her experiences this changed.  She associated with Boris, a diplomat and spy from the Soviet Union, whom she quickly developed a relationship with and even traveled to the Soviet Union during her time in Berlin. 

Larson weaves a personal thread of intrigue against the backdrop of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933-1934 culminating with the Night of Long Knives.  Thoroughly researched, Larson grabs your attention in the beginning and takes you on an adventure of discovery as we marched toward a second world war.  I, and my volunteers, highly recommend this book to any history lover out there. 
Have a reading suggestion about any WWII related topic?  Send it to me, we always love to hear what you guys are reading!


Larson, Erik. In the Garden of Beasts. Broadway Paperbacks: New York (2011) 
ISBN: 978-0-307-40885-3

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ration-Era Recipes: Rich Cinnamon Cookies

Honest truth – I enjoy baking.  Not only do I enjoy baking, I love it.  My friends will attest to this - they have been the receivers of many of these treats (the good, the bad, and the ugly).  Now baking a ration-era recipe is very different.  With shortages on supplies such as sugar, baking became a treat in the house.

With the challenge of baking a ration-era recipe, I turned to the trusty Victory Cookbook for a great dessert recipe.  There were hundreds of dessert recipes to go through, everything from cookies to tarts, candies to pies.  Needing a recipe that would be “quick,” not typically a word you hear with desserts, I focused in on the cookies.  After conferring with another employee, we decided on rich cinnamon cookies.  Technically, these are molded cookies; however, since I do not have a cookie press I decided to make them as drop cookies. 

From gathering the ingredients to pulling the last batch out of the oven, I spent about an hour in the kitchen making these cookies.  With very little mess to clean up afterward, this recipe would be the perfect treat to make with small children. 

As the cookies baked, our apartment smelled of cinnamon.  According to my friends, they smelled like cookies when they came out of the oven.  Needless to say, these cookies have all around approval ratings.  They are good; however, I really enjoyed them warm, right out of the oven. 

I hope you enjoy these as much as I did!  


Rich Cinnamon Cookies

2 cups sifted cake flour                                          1/2 cup butter
1/4 teaspoon salt                                                   1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder                                   1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons cinnamon                                            2 eggs, beaten

Sift first 4 ingredients together (flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon).  Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together.  Add sifted ingredients alternately with beaten eggs.  Mold with cookie press on cold ungreased baking sheet.  Bake in hot oven (400 ยบF) 10 minutes.  Makes 3 dozen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Our D-Day Fallen: PFC Charles P. Blankenship

As we move into the final months of 2013, we begin to turn our attention to the holiday season.  On December 14-15, the National D-Day Memorial will host a special presentation entitled Flames of Memory and Christmas in Wartime.  As twilight deepens and obscures the Blue Ridge, thousands of luminaries will shine in recognition and remembrance of all D-Day fallen. With your help we can honor all 4,413 men killed on D-Day in this beautiful, moving display.  Click here for more information on Flames of Memory.

Charles Percival Blankenship was born on October 12, 1919 in Rock Hill, SC and grew up in Buncombe County, NC.  Eldest son of Bernard & Margaret Blankenship, Charles had four brothers and two sisters.  Charles enlisted in the US Army on September 12, 1940 in Charlotte, NC.  His enlistment record notes that he had four years high school education and “unskilled occupations in manufacture of textiles.”  He stood at 6’1” and weighed 150 pounds.  When the 82nd Airborne was formed in 1942, Charles volunteered for service with the “All-Americans.”  After rigorous training at Fort Benning, Georgia, he left for Europe as part of F-Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). 

Prior to D-Day, Charles made combat jumps in Sicily as part of Operation Husky.  In December 1943, F-Company was located to Belfast in Northern Ireland for a three month stay to prepare for the D-Day landings.  It was here that Charles met Lillian Forbes.  They had a fast relationship and were engaged prior to Charles leaving; however, they decided to hold off on the wedding until the end of the war.

Charles jumped into St. Mere-Eglise in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944.  Charles landed in the town square and was killed immediately.  Twelve men of F-Company were killed, wounded, or captured as they parachuted into the town square.  By the end of the day, St. Mere-Eglise was the first town liberated on D-Day.  F-Company, as well as all the other American paratroopers, are remembered in St. Mere-Eglise through a number of memorials--including a paratrooper (John Steele) hanging off of the church steeple.

Charles was buried in Cemetery 1 in St. Mere-Eglise.  His family was notified by Lillian that Charles had been killed in action after reading his name on a casualty list.  In 1948, his father requested to have his body returned to the United States for burial in the family cemetery in Rock Hill, SC – a ceremony that took place on June 5, 1948.  Two other Blankenship sons were involved in WWII:  Bernard Jr. was in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific and John served in the Navy toward the end of the war.    

Charles P. Blankenship on plaque W-14 at the National D-Day Memorial

Thursday, August 8, 2013

It's then you'll see the Gremlins...

Gremlins (n)…a mischievous invisible being, said by airmen in WWII to cause engine trouble and mechanical difficulties
WWII Veterans Photo of the 388th Heavy Bomb Group

Hello everyone!  This week we are going to take a little detour to look at a lighter side of history by talking about gremlins.  Not the ones that you do not want to get wet or ever feed after midnight, but the little gremlins found in British folklore and in WWII.  What could gremlins possibly have to do with WWII? 

For one, these little guys and gals were blamed for mechanical issues in airplanes.  These creatures were handy, but they liked to play pranks on people.  With all the new planes of WWII, pilots had to learn many new things – enter the gremlin to explain situations that we had a hard time explaining.  These became so popular that author Roald Dahl, a WWII RAF fighter pilot, was commissioned by Walt Disney to write a book about gremlins.  Dahl took on this task while he was recovering from a crash.  Intending to turn the book into a film, Disney began the illustrations that brought gremlins to life.  However, the films were canceled and in 1943 The Gremlins was published.  The book features many gremlins including Gremlin Gus and Fifinella.  This book was much loved by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her grandchildren. 

Throughout the war, we see instances of these gremlins with British pilots.  To the left is a piece of mail from a pilot to his girlfriend in November 1943.  The ambition of the gremlin is to come to England and join the land army!  The other image is mascot and good luck charm of the 482nd Bomb Group.  He rode along on bombing runs to bring luck to the crew. 

The most famous of gremlins is Fifinella.  When the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was initiated in 1943, they asked Walt Disney if they could use the female gremlin as their official mascot.  He agreed and Fifinella could be seen on the patches these pilots wore. 

I hope you have enjoyed our look into gremlins.  Until next time, I will leave you with this little poem published in RAF bulletins during the war as a warning about the gremlins. 

This is the tale of the Gremlins
As told by the PRU
At Benson and Wick and St Eval-
And believe me, you slobs, it's true.

When you're seven miles up in the heavens,
(That's a hell of a lonely spot)
And it's fifty degrees below zero,
Which isn't exactly hot.

When you're frozen blue like your Spitfire,
And your scared a Mosquito pink.
When you're thousands of miles from nowhere,   
And there's nothing below but the drink.

It's then that you'll see the Gremlins,
Green and gamboge and gold,
Male and female and neuter,
Gremlins both young and old.

It's no good trying to dodge them,
The lessons you learnt on the Link
Won't help you evade a Gremlin,
Though you boost and you dive and you jink.

White one's will wiggle your wing tips,
Male one's will muddle your maps,
Green one's will guzzle your glycol,
Females will flutter your flaps.

Pink one's will perch on your perspex,
And dance pirouettes on your prop,
There's a spherical middle-aged Gremlin,
Who'll spin on your stick like a top.

They'll freeze up your camera shutters,
They'll bite through your aileron wires,
They'll bend and they'll break and they'll batter,
They'll insert toasting forks into your tyres.

And that is the tale of the Gremlins,
As told by the PRU,
(P)retty (R)uddy (U)nlikely to many,
But a fact, none the less, to the few.


Friday, August 2, 2013

National Spirit of '45 Day: Frank Sinatra Tribute Concert

We hope to see you all next Saturday at the Memorial for our last concert of the year!  Special thanks for the blog this week goes out to our newest intern, Elizabeth Rizzuto.  

Come out and see the great Frank Sinatra on August 10, 2013 for D-Day Memorial’s “Keep the Spirit of ’45 Alive” Concert. James Anthony will be paying tribute to Frank Sinatra starting at 7:00 pm. Dance the night away to the smooth sounds of the 1940s jazz era.     

            Frank Sinatra, born 12 December 1915 to Italian immigrant parents, grew up in a modest household in Hoboken, New Jersey. Getting his start in talent contests with the group The Three Flashes, he sought out a career in entertainment. In 1935, the group was approached by a talent scout, Edward ‘Major’ Bowes, and was given a performance number in the series ‘Amateur Hour’. After winning the grand prize, Sinatra began touring the country, getting his name out there. Once the tour had ended, he became a singing waiter at the Rustic Cabin in New York. His performances were broadcast on the WNEW radio station for all of New York to hear. In 1939, Harry James hired Sinatra and together they made their first joint recording. Sinatra learned a great deal from James and was eventually approached by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. With the Orchestra, Sinatra made twenty-nine singles and made a name for himself as Male Vocalist of the Year by Billboard Magazine. When the fighting began in Europe and after the attack on Pearl Harbor (1941), Frank was eager to enlist in the armed forces.  However, due to a punctured eardrum he was considered unfit for duty and unable to join the fight.

The year 1943 marked the beginning of Sinatra’s solo career when he began working for Columbia Records. His smooth voice and charismatic demeanor were the perfect combination to woo women across the country and gain a steady fan base, close enough to rival Bing Crosby. Nicknamed ‘The Voice’, Sinatra recorded twenty-three singles within three years between 1940 and 1943. After the success of numerous concerts, Hollywood producers began to take notice of his many talents and charms. Sinatra entered the realm of Hollywood with wildly successful musicals and the rest is history. 

The 1940s were a phenomenal decade for the singer/actor and he continued to wow audiences for generations to come with ‘The Rat Pack’ and his continued success as a solo artist. His musical talents are remembered and cherished across the country.

The Rat Pack: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra