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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Black History Month: The Men and Women Who Served

I hope everyone enjoyed all the snow last week.  On February 25 at noon, we hope you join us for our next lunchbox lecture at the Bedford Welcome Center.  Memorial President April Cheek-Messier will present about the historic USS Sea Cloud, a WWII Coast Guard cutter that proved not only the worth of African-American sailors and officers, but that whites and blacks would serve side by side.  In December 1943, U.S. Coast Guard made history when the USS Sea Cloud embarked for weather patrol duty in the North Atlantic with the first completely integrated crew in U.S. history.  This program is free to the public, though donations are welcome and appreciated.  Bring your lunch and enjoy this wonderful look at our history.  ~Felicia
Working Together, World War II Propaganda Poster
Hello everyone!

In honor of Black History month, we here at the D-Day Memorial want draw attention to the brave men and women who not only went through a painstaking war, but had to break through racial barriers at the same time.

Technically, the United States Armed Forces did not desegregate until 1948, three years after wars end. However, World War II laid the groundwork for integrating both groups of people with a common purpose. At the time of Pearl Harbor (1941), only four thousand African-Americans served, by the end of the war, nearly 1.2 million troops had signed up, that includes thousands of women as well.

World War II Propaganda Poster
Of course, public opinion and practices influence military life, as with any other part of life. Units were segregated and often all-white units were picked over black units. It took the NAACP to get President Roosevelt to promise that the African American troops could enlist according to their percentage in the population, 10.6 percent. Even though that percentage was not obtained, the amount of influx in all branches of the military was noticeable.

Most African-Americans served in non-combatant units, such as maintenance and transportation. Their support was vital to the success of the war. The famous, “Red Ball Express”, a supply train that brought millions of tons of supplies to the front lines, was run by an African American unit. Mid-way through the war, the amount of loss on the front lines forced the military to bring African Americans to the forefront and take combatant roles, such as infantrymen, pilots, tankers, officers, and medics. Even though these men served with honor and courage as any  
American soldier had, they were still discriminated against even in war.

African American unit, World War II
Tuskegee Airmen, World War II
On the day of the Overlord invasion, 1,700 African American soldiers were part of the assault as an Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion and Quartermaster Service, as well as, tank units fighting through France with Patton’s Third Army. They were responsible for the capture of thirty major towns in France, Belgium, and Germany.

 Also, who could forget the Tuskegee Airmen? Three hundred thirty-two fighter pilots flew ground support missions in the southern portions of Europe. Nicknamed the “Redtails”, the Tuskegee Airmen suffered sixty-six deaths and flew more than 15,000 sorties from May 1943 to June 1945.

Despite the segregation of the times, the men and women who served were more than courageous, their services and efforts towards the greater good of American society planted the necessary seeds for the Civil Rights movement and the injustice of racism in society.

Take care,

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love and War, Piece of Valentine's history!

Valentine's card from 1940.
Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!

I hope those of you who went to the G.I. Jive Valentine’s Day Dance last Saturday evening enjoyed yourselves!

For the holiday, I thought I’d do a little post about the origins of the day and some fun facts!

For example, did you know that February is considered the month of romance because it is the beginning of mating season for birds? I sure didn’t!

Valentine's card from 1940.
Most of us know the legend of Valentine’s Day started with Valentinus, a theologian persecuted for his beliefs in Christianity. Legend has it, while in jail he healed the jailer's blind daughter and just before his death sentence was carried out, he wrote a letter to the daughter and signed it “From Your Valentine”. He was killed on the very next day, February 14, 269 A.D. But what most of us do not know is that in Rome, hundreds of years later, men and women honored the goddess of love, Juno, on February 14. Men would draw the name of one woman and try to court them for marriage. By 498 A.D., Pope Gelasius made February 14 Saint Valentine’s Day to honor Valentinus and end the pagan celebration of Juno. So in essence, the two very different occasions were merged together to form the time-honored tradition of romance.

1940s Valentine's card, outside.
Another fun fact, Esther Howland is responsible for the very first American valentine published in 1849! So now we can blame her for all the extra cards we give people! Over 150 million cards are exchanged each year, making it the second-largest holiday for card giving. The holiday is also celebrated in Mexico, Great Britain, France, Canada, Australia, Denmark, and of course, Italy!

In the 1940s, many lovebirds were separated because of the war, most often for multiple years in a row. However, that did not stop them from exchanging greeting cards and keeping the flame alive despite the distance! Also, the messages on their cards were a little different than what we see today… I now understand what my grandparents say to each other!
1940s Valentine's card, inside.

Take care,

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Entertainment of the 1940s: Kay Kyser

Hello everyone!  I want to take a moment to say THANK YOU to everyone who came out to the G.I. Jive on Saturday, February 8th.  We all had a wonderful time, and I look forward to seeing everyone there again next year.  In carrying with the spirit of the jive,we are going to look at music of the 1940s.  Take a second to think about musicians of the '40s.  Who do you think of first?  Frank Sinatra, the Andrews Sisters, and Glenn Miller are some of big names of the time period.  Let me take a few minutes of your time to introduce you to one of my favorites. 

For those of you who may not know, I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during my undergraduate career (on a side note, we play Duke this week and I'm feeling a little nostalgic).  Chapel Hill is filled with history and I was lucky enough to be able to delve into some of this history--including learning about some of our famous alum--alum like that of James Kern "Kay" Kyser. 

Kyser was born June 18, 1905 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.  He attended UNC from 1923-1927.  During this time, Kyser was the head cheerleader--the enthusiasm exhibited as a cheerleader led to to him being invited to take over as bandleader.  He decided to start taking clarinet lesson; however, it was clear that he was meant to be a leader, a showman. 

Beginning in 1938, Kyser's Kollege of Musical of Knowledge broadcast on the Mutual Radio before switching to NBC Radio from 1939-1949.  Kyser's show was a combination of a quiz and music (with a little comedy thrown in)--appropriately, Kyser ran the show as the "Ol' Professor."  Through the 1930s and 1940s, Kyser and his orchestra had some of the most popular songs of the time - including 11 number 1 records.  One of those hits came in 1942.  Entitled "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,"  this song was written by Jack S. McDowall in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Kyser began working with the military in February 1941 when he became the first big band leader to perform in front of the troops.  Not to just be on the radio, Kyser moved to the big screen in wartime films such as Stage Door Canteen and Thousands Cheer.  Both of these films were created for troop morale.  Check out a short clip of Stage Door Canteen below.  Kyser is, as you may guess, the man in the suit and tie cheering on the dancers.

In 1944, Kyser married actress and lead singer of his orchestra "Gorgeous Georgia"--Georgia Carroll.  Spend some time and watching his films and listening to the music of the big band era.  I hope you enjoy his work as much as I do!

Until next time,

Thursday, February 6, 2014

D-Day Through the Decades: 1964 Commemoration

Hello again!  We are another month closer to the big day.  There are lots of exciting things going on at the National D-Day Memorial as we prepare to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy landings.  If you have any questions concerning events going on during the weekend of June 6th, be sure to visit the 70th Anniversary Events section of our website at

Let’s take a look back at D-Day in 1964, the 20th anniversary.  President Lyndon B. Johnson was busy with domestic issues in the United States in 1964, most notably attempting to get the Civil Rights Bill to pass.  Because of this, he did not go to Normandy for the 20th anniversary but sent in his stead a delegation of 22 members led by General Omar Bradley.  In his remarks to the delegation, President Johnson stated:

General Omar Bradley
“You are leaving tomorrow to cross in peace an ocean hundreds of thousands of Americans have twice crossed before in war. For each of you this must be a mission of remembrance. For your country it is a mission of resolve. You remember, and will never forget, the 6th of June in 1944 when America's sons and those of our gallant allies helped carry freedom back to the continent where it was cradled.  Your country remembers and will never forget, the resolve born on that D-Day, that, so long as we are able, and other men are willing to stand together, we shall not permit the light of freedom to be extinguished on any continent again….So let all the world know that when this Nation has stood 2,000 years we shall not have forgotten the lands where our sons lie buried, nor the cause for which our sons died. Where we have commitments to the cause of freedom, we shall honor them-today, tomorrow, and always.

Col. Gaynor and Sgt. Maj. Polnoroff looking out to the Channel
In preparation for the big event, I present a story from the Stars and Stripes archives, written on 6 June 1964.  I hope you find Col. James Gaynor and Sgt. Maj. Jack Polnoroff's account of their first trip back to Omaha Beach as enlightening.  Reading accounts such as this one reminds me why we at the Memorial work day in and day out to always remember the sacrifices made by all the Allied forces on 6 June 1944.

"'There was a burned-out half-track there,' he [Sgt. Maj. Polnoroff] said. 'I crawled behind it and lay there exhausted. I was there not more than three or four minutes when a shell exploded right behind me. It tore a hole in my coat, but it didn't hit me.'  The lapping of the English Channel surf against the sand and stone of the Normandy coast released a swell of frightful memories as two veteran soldiers revisited the strand they assaulted 20 years ago against a desperate defense.  Col James K. Gaynor, now legal advisor at EUCOM Hq near Paris, was an intelligence officer, and Sgt Maj Jack Polnoroff, now topkick of the 2nd Bn, 70th Armor, 24th Inf Div, at Augsburg, Germany, was a machine gun squad leader in the D-Day landing.

Neither had returned to Omaha Beach until they went back this year with a Stars and Stripes reporter and, photographer.  They found it wrapped in silence, washed clean by the waves. They discovered changes. The edge of a cliff has tumbled into the sea. Shifting sand has taken new form during the last two decades.  It took time for them to adjust to the quietness and the cows grazing on the hills above. They used maps to orient themselves and then they remembered.  'We came into this cut and landed just about 1,200 yards east of St. Laurent,' Gaynor said. 'I was standing right by that bunker at the head of the draw, talking to the chief of staff of the 1st Division.'''

If you would like to read the rest of the Stars and Stripes article, click here.  Eisenhower and Walter Cronkite also returned to Normandy, taping a special report entitled D-Day Plus 20 Years which aired on CBS in a two part series.  In the series, Eisenhower walked through the Southampton House discussing the planning of the invasion and went to Omaha beach to discuss what happened when the troops started landing on June 6, 1944. 

I leave you with this short video clip from France as they looked back to June 6th.  We hope to see you here in four months!

Until next time,

Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Review: Omaha Beach & Beyond

Hello everyone!  Does anyone else have one of those stacks in their house of all the books they want to read?  Well, Omaha Beach & Beyond has been on that stack since I started at the Memorial in June of 2012.  Over the last week while traveling and sitting in five different airports, I finally had a little bit of time to read Bob Slaughter’s, the founder of the National D-Day Memorial, memoir of his experiences in the war.  Once I started reading, I was hooked and did not want to stop.  Given that he was born on this day in 1925, I thought it would be fitting to bring you a short review of this book. 

Slaughter takes us on his journey from growing up in Roanoke, VA to his decision to join the military, his training, and finally the battlefields of Europe. He is descriptive, allowing the reader to follow his movements through the war and showing a depth that can only come from reading the memoirs of a veteran.  Slaughter's training in D Company of the Virginia National Guard began before his sixteenth birthday.  He had to ask permission of his parents to sign the waiver allowing him to join underage.  On February 3, 1941, his sixteenth birthday, Slaughter and the other men of the Virginia National Guard were inducted into federal service for his one year of training.  Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Slaughter found himself in the service for the duration of the war, and at just nineteen years old, he would be leading the way on the first wave to hit Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.

In his accounts of the Normandy landings and movement into the hedgerows, Slaughter wrote:

“Before the invasion, the 29th Division numbered about fourteen thousand, and replacements poured in as men were killed or wounded.  By the time we took Saint-Lo six weeks later, it was said that the 29th was really three divisions: one in the field, another in the hospital, and yet a third in the cemetery.  We endured those unbelievable hardships so we could participate in D-Day, which we knew would be huge, deadly, and unforgettable.  Yet we couldn’t fathom the terrible odds of surviving just one day fighting in the hedgerows of Normandy.”

Throughout the book you get a sense of what our soldiers were facing as they fought their way across battle-torn Europe.  You can feel the emotion throughout the book: fear about what he was facing, but most importantly pride in what he and his fellow servicemen accomplished.  This book is an excellent read for anyone who is interested in a more personal history and account of what our servicemen accomplished seventy years ago. 

I will leave you with one last passage, Slaughter’s account of revisiting Omaha beach forty-five years after the invasion:

Slaughter's copy of Eisenhower's "Order of the Day" signed by men he was surrounded by prior to the invasion
"Memories of that fateful day long ago overwhelmed me.  Tears welled up and began to run down my face.  I knew most of the forty brave men of my D Company who died that day on the sand and in the water…I could only wonder, shaking my head, how in the world had we ever managed to cross that long, slightly graded expanse of beach, moving upward into the teeth of a determined enemy?...It was much different on this gray and breezy afternoon forty-five years later.  I tried to recall the low tide, 200 yards lower, and the nearly five thousand ships of all kinds and descriptions out in the English Channel, forming the largest armada in history.  I also recalled other images: a burning landing ship, tank (LST) with its ramp down, an amphibious tank on fire, men and equipment floating in the water and nobody moving on the beach.  And then there were the ugly antilanding obstacles, made of timber posts with mines tied to them, that hindered our landings during the flooding tide.  The obstacles themselves were bad enough, but the early waves were forced to land at extreme low tide to avoid the potent twenty-pound teller mines tied at their apex.  This meant the battalion was forced to run across a much deeper stretch of flat sand, advancing 400-450 yard under withering fire.  Forty-Five years had done nothing to erase the vividness of these memories.”

Sgt. Bob Slaughter
Help us honor and remember the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of all those brave servicemen who fought to gain ground on D-Day and began the push to Berlin to end the war.  Join us on June 6, 2014 for a special commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the historic landings.  To find out more about events going on surrounding the commemoration, visit our website at  We hope to see you here in June!

Until next time,