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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Prelude to Invasion: Meet the USA

Hello, Friends!
Homage on March 23, 2016
Spring is probably my favorite time of the year—except for the seasonal allergies part. For us at the National D-Day Memorial, it means that water is back in the invasion tableau, the cherry trees are blooming, and that the first of our major educational events, Prelude to Invasion, is just around the corner.

I’m very excited for Prelude to Invasion this year. We’re focusing on how the Allies prepared for the D-Day invasion. Living historians portraying General Omar Bradley, the Polish Air Force, and the British Airborne will be on site to share about the preparations for the invasion and will be holding mission de-briefs and drills throughout the day that let you experience what it was like to be an Allied soldier, sailor, and airmen preparing for D-Day. For a local perspective on the training for the invasion, we’ll have the Bedford Museum on site portraying Bedford Boys, Roy and Ray Stevens, based on their letters from the war to the Thaxton sisters. We will also have WDBJ radio show performances throughout the day for a taste of what this area of Virginia would have listened to during the war. Last, but certainly not least, we will have WWII veterans on site to share their stories from the war.

Prelude to Invasion also serves as our annual Scout Day
where Boy and Girl Scouts can earn a Memorial patch
Prelude to Invasion will be on Saturday, April 23, 2016 from 10:00AM to 3:00PM. Regular admission fees apply, but include a free activity guide for students. We’ll also have Blue Ridge BBQ Shack on site that day. For more information about this event, email or call 800-351-DDAY.

With Prelude to Invasion on my mind, for the next few weeks we will be featuring blog posts on the twelve nations of the Allied Expeditionary Force that landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. First up is the United States’ involvement in the invasion.

Although the United States did not officially enter World War II until December 8th, 1941, the U.S. under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s leadership provided material and financial support in the early years of the war to the Allied nations through initiatives, such as the Lend-Lease Act. In 1940, the U.S. also initiated its first peace-time draft to build-up its military. However, it was not until after the attack on Pearl Harbor that the United States started fighting in WWII beginning in the Pacific and North Africa in 1942.  

Stalin, FDR, and Churchill at the Tehran Conference
At the Tehran Conference in 1943, the major Allied leaders—Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill—met to discuss strategy regarding the rest of the war. It was there that Stalin introduced the idea of opening a new front in Europe. Within a month of the Tehran Conference, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed to command the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force, which included Operation Overlord, the codename for the D-Day invasion. With his team of American and British generals, Eisenhower orchestrated the largest amphibious invasion in history. American forces landed on two of the five beaches, Omaha and Utah, in Normandy, France on D-Day with 2,499 Americans killed on the first day of the invasion.

While America played a large role in the D-Day invasion, it would not have been successful without the support of eleven other nations who contributed to the Allied Expeditionary Force with a shared goal of a Europe free of Nazi tyranny.

Until Next Time,


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Sex and the Single GI

Hello Again, Friends!

I hope that the title has caught your attention! This blog by our Director of Education, John Long, needs very little introduction, so I hope you all enjoy learning more about some items in our collection and the history behind them. 



Matchbox cover from the National D-Day Memorial's
They were, after all, teenage boys for the most part, or just a bit older. The testosterone would have been pumping even in peacetime. Now put them into a war zone. The red-blooded American GI was far from home, deprived of female company during most days (except alluring posters of shapely pin-up girls), understood that tomorrow could be his last day on earth, and universally considered himself no longer a boy but man.

What you got was a pretty sexualized undercurrent to the GI experience in Europe in World War II. It’s not often mentioned as part of our historical narrative, but it should come as no surprise that more than a few American boys overseas ignored the pleas of their mothers and the advice of their pastors when it came to sex. Need some evidence? After the war, nearly 15,000 infants were transported by the US military back to America, often to meet their father for the first time.

Whether they wore combat boots or a sailor caps or pilot’s wings, sex was seldom far from the minds of the servicemen overseas. For their commanders, meanwhile, a duality existed as to how to handle the raging hormones of a 20-year-old soldier taking a 48-hour leave. On the one hand, there was a pragmatic acknowledgement that it was going to happen. On the other, there was the sensible effort to minimize the trouble that sexual escapades might cause.

And so the US Military embarked on what was surely the biggest sex education effort ever attempted to that time.

Flyer on venereal disease in the National D-Day
Memorial's collection
The primary concern was the spread of venereal diseases. It had been a major problem in WWI, with tens of thousands of fighting men in France incapacitated in treatment centers at any given time. Wider use of antibiotics kept this number lower in WWII, but even so it’s been estimated that over 600 men a day in the European Theater of Operations sought treatment in health centers.

While abstinence was stressed by some of the outreach efforts (“Just because you have the desire is no reason why you must give in to it. Sex relations in the military should be kept for marriage…”), the primary emphasis was on use of preventative measures. Condoms were widely distributed in the military, whether or not the men chose to use them or found the opportunity. Occasionally they came in handy for other purposes also—it’s known that on D-Day many men used them for waterproofing their equipment or on the barrels of their M-1 rifles.

Preserved in the collection of the National D-Day Memorial is some evidence of this all-out Allied sex ed offensive. One flyer features an attractive young lady and two, well, less than comely females, with the admonition “You can’t tell who might have V. D.”

Letter on the back of the pictured flyer from
the National D-Day Memorial's collection
Interestingly, that particular document survived because a soldier used it as stationery to write home to his wife! Hesh, as he called himself, tells his bride (who must have had a terrific sense of humor) “Since you’ve been sending me all kinds of samples of stationery, I feel obliged to return the compliment. V. D. isn’t my monogram, and the texture of the paper isn’t of the finest quality. But you must admit that the sheets are quite colorful besides being rare. I hate to think of the consequences if I sent these things home regularly…”

In the end, the military’s sex ed campaign was considered successful, with rates of sexually transmitted disease in the ranks plummeting from the peaks in WWI. Few of the men came home and talked openly about that aspect of their wartime experiences, certainly not to moms and girlfriends. But it was undeniably part of their history as well. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Real Life Rosie the Riveters: Women on the Homefront in WWII

Hello Again, Friends!

Today, I want to continue celebrating Women’s History Month by sharing about Rosie the Riveters. And yes, Riveters being plural is intentional. Not only were there numerous renditions of Rosie the Riveter as seen in this fantastic video, but there were millions of real-life “Rosies” throughout the nation who answered the call to service on the Homefront.
Three “Rosies” posing for a picture before
work. The ladies are identified as Virdie
Gordon Reyes, Retha Maxine Warner, and
Ruth Gordon Davis. The Gordon sisters
were from Elkton, VA, but moved to
Baltimore during the war.
As the men went off to fight in World War II, there was a tremendous need for women to step up in their absence. Women, like those pictured in this photograph to the left from our archives, went to work in the factories that shifted from domestic to wartime production to supply the troops and ensure victory for the Allied nations against Nazi Germany and Japan.

In order to encourage women to fight, the U.S. government began a propaganda campaign starring “Rosie the Riveter” aimed at recruiting female workers for the munitions industry. Rosie the Riveter quickly became arguably the most iconic image of working women during the war.

Between 1940 and 1945, the female percentage of the U.S. workforce increased from 27 percent to nearly 37 percent, and by 1945 nearly one out of every four married women worked outside the home. Bedford, VA was no exception. Many of the female family members of the Bedford Boys worked in local factories that produced supplies for their boys. The Belding Hemingway textile mill where Verona Draper, sister of Frank Draper, Jr., and Bettie Wilkes, wife of John Wilkes, worked to make rayon thread that was used for the manufacturing of parachutes. Frank Draper’s mother worked at the Rubatex factory where they produced insulation for aircrafts and submarines and hoses for gas masks. There was also Hampton Looms that produced material for military uniforms and coats. Women in Bedford also contributed to the war effort in their free time by going to the Bedford County Library to roll bandages. On June 6th, they rolled 9,000 bandages in addition to the 68,300 they rolled in May.
Hampton Looms today in Bedford, VA

Over the past few years as the WWII generation passes on, the importance of honoring our nation's "Rosies" has garnered national attention-- even that of the White House. These women's service and support of the war were critical in winning the war, as well as integrating women into the workforce in the years following World War II.

Until Next Time,


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Women in World War II: Their Role in Code Breaking

Hello, Friends!

With Women’s History Month upon us, it would be a shame if we didn’t talk about the role of women in World War II. While a lot of people know about Rosie the Riveter and the push for women to work in the factories during the war, not as many recognize the role of women in other vital areas on the warfront, especially through intelligence gathering. Here’s a blog on the women who helped shorten the war through codebreaking by Ches.


Many believe that the role of women during World War Two was limited to work at home in the factories and abroad in clerical tasks. However, this doesn’t fully encompass what women did during the war. They weren’t just holding down the homefront ensuring that the economy would still function while their men were at war. They also weren’t just secretaries or nurses acting as support staff for the soldiers. Some women actually served critical roles in the code-breaking offices of the Allied nations.

It was through the work at Bletchley Park that the Allies cracked
the German's enigma code and helped hasten the end of the war.
Pictured is a plug board of an enigma machine.
From the breaking of the Enigma code to helping start the age of modern computing, women were vital in the code-breaking process. In the British code-breaking headquarters at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire, England, many women not only served as clerical support staff, but also assisted their male counterparts in actively fighting the Germans and Japanese by seeking to crack their cyphers. The women in this organization joined a military auxiliary branch, similar to the WAVES of the United States, called the Women’s Royal Naval Service, or the WRNs (called the Wrens by the British). These Wrens worked tirelessly to shorten the war for their Allies and countrymen. Certain historians estimate that of the more than 10,000 people working at Bletchley Park, two-thirds of them were women. Despite their often tedious tasks and monotonous work, these women were the keys to breaking the German and Japanese codes.

During the 1940s, British culture still dictated that men and women could not work in exceptionally close proximity—like they would need to be in order to crack the codes. As such, women were housed in separate bunkhouses and worked in separate rooms and buildings, although they had male supervisors. For many women at Bletchley Park, the work was tedious with 12 hour shifts listening to a radio operator transmit Morse code messages back and forth. They were each assigned certain operators and came to “know” their enemy counterpart very well.

Poster from the hit movie, "The Imitation
Game," based on Alan Turing and the
enigma machine
These women were chosen through often unconventional methods to crack the codes. One method was to send out a crossword puzzle to the local newspapers. People who solved it within a certain time were asked to report to an office where they swore an oath of secrecy before being told what they were about to do. After being trained in cyphers and codes and sent to Bletchley Park, women who were able to pass a test were given encrypted transmissions from the Japanese and German radio operators and asked to decrypt them.

There are a few exceptionally successful women from this group. These women worked with Alan Turing on the Enigma machine that some scholars estimate shortened the war by over two years. One of these women, Joan Clark, was featured in the recent Hollywood hit, “The Imitation Game,” as she was briefly Turing’s fiancĂ©e. Margaret Rock, Mavis Levey, and Ruth Briggs also worked with Clark in the cyphers office. These women were in a sense the predecessors to the modern computer assisting the men who designed the Enigma machine and the Colossus machine, one of the world’s first electronic computers.

The Wrens and civilian codebreakers are often overlooked because of their vow of silence, which was enforced for decades. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that the British government declassified all of its code-breaking files from the Second World War and their achievements could be known—including the involvement of women.

Recently discovered picture of Wrens at Bletchley Park
More women continue to step forward as the veil of secrecy has been lifted from their past. Recently, a secret, forgotten photograph hidden away in a dresser drawer was discovered of Wrens at Bletchley Park. These Wrens worked on the Colossus C watch at Bletchley Park, as well as working the Bombe machines, both of which took up entire rooms.Even though their names are not commonly known and their stories even less so, it is vital that we as students of the past remember them and their service- both to their own country and to the Allies as a whole.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Remembering the Life of D-Day Veteran Carter Fisher

Hello, Friends!

Carter Fisher
It’s with a heavy heart today that I post this blog. While it is a sobering reality that we are losing our WWII veterans, it hits even closer to home when it is someone that you know very well. Today, we found out that Carter Fisher, a D-Day veteran, passed away yesterday. Not only was Carter one of the valiant men who participated in the invasion, but he kept the legacy of the 4,413 men who died on June 6th alive through his commitment to volunteering and sharing their stories, as well as his own, at the National D-Day Memorial as a volunteer. Here’s a little bit of his story:

Carter, at age 19, was on board the USS Arkansas as it took position some 4,000 yards off Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.  His job for the invasion was to load shells for the 12-inch guns onboard the USS Arkansas. He was stationed inside the turret on Battery One. Shortly after 5:30 a.m., the Arkansas started bombarding German positions on the coast in preparations for the Allied beach assault.

USS Arkansas in 1945
Because he was in the turret, Carter did not see much, but he did hear the blasts of the guns and firing of anti-aircraft artillery. He recalled two German fighter planes attacking the ship that evening, but both were shot of the sky. All in all, the USS Arkansas ended June 6, 1944 with no casualties. If you would like to hear more of Carter’s experience on D-Day, here is a link to an interview he did a few years ago as a part of our Lunchbox Lecture series:

The USS Arkansas went on to participate in the bombardment of Cherbourg and fire in support of the invasion of Southern France.  The USS Arkansas also provided support for the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Carter left the Navy in 1946 and never talked about the war, even though he had taken part in three major Allied invasions in southern France and the Pacific.

The Necrology Wall at the National D-Day
Memorial in Bedford, VA
After the National D-Day Memorial opened in 2001, Carter began volunteering as a tour guide and through that he started sharing his memories from the war. He once said about his service on D-Day that “I don’t brag about it, but I’m proud to tell people I served there.” When he gave his tour of the Memorial, he always made sure that they took special note of the 4,413 names of the Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen killed on June 6, 1944 on our necrology wall because it’s important to remember every single one of those men who didn’t come back. Carter wasn’t just a beloved tour guide at the Memorial, but he was a friend to many staff members and volunteers who remember him for his sense of humor. Even though he was not at the Memorial as much in the past few years due to his declining health, it was always great to see him on June 6th at our anniversary ceremonies. He will be missed tremendously!

We’ve been fortunate to have our D-Day and WWII veterans with us for the past 72 years; however, our time with them is quickly coming to an end. It is important now more than ever to preserve the legacy of these veterans to share with future generations. Today as I was preparing our Education Tent for the first field trip of the season while taking in the news of Carter’s death, I realized that it is our duty to keep his memory, as well as the thousands of other D-Day veterans’ memories, alive. While I do this through educational initiatives at the National D-Day Memorial, you can share the legacy of Carter and all WWII veterans through listening to the stories of those who are still with us, thanking them for their service, and sharing those stories for others to hear. It is only through all of us working together that their legacy is preserved for the next generation!

Until Next Time,