Tag Archives: world war 2

Soldiers’ Christmas

Technically, this still counts since it falls before Epiphany, right? (In the Catholic tradition, Epiphany – the feast of the Three Kings on January 6 – is the official end of the twelve days of Christmas.)

Anyway, technicalities aside, I recently attended a Living History event at Fort Mott State Park in New Jersey called Soldiers’ Christmas. Maybe it was Soldier’s Christmas. Soldiers Christmas? Whatever.

It was my first time attending this event, although I’ve heard about it for a number of years. There were groups from a number of different eras, although the majority were from World War 2. It was great to see a lot of familiar faces from the Living History scene, and I even learned a thing or two along the way!



Christmas the American GI way

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“Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up.”

January 30th was Fred Korematsu Day, a day recognized in ten states honoring the memory of Fred Korematsu, a leader that the Japanese American community esteems just as much as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr is esteemed in the mainstream.

Who was he and what did he do? The short story is that he opposed President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, the one establishing internment camps for enemies of America, which the executors interpreted as all Japanese Americans.

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An exhibit on the Executive order at the Small Documents Gallery at the National Museum of American History.

Let’s back up a little bit. On February 19, 1942, which was ten weeks after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, President FDR signed Executive Order 9066. EO 9066 authorized the removal of people from military areas “as deemed necessary or desirable.” The military defined the West Coast as a military area and deemed it necessary to remove all people of Japanese ancestry or nationality from that area. The result of the EO was that Japanese Americans were forced to inland to secure facilities – the Internment/Incarceration camps. Please note: Nowhere did the Executive Order single out the Japanese, and several thousand Germans, Jews (the religious practice, not the ethnicity), and Italians were also interned, but they were about 13,000 in number, compared to the 120,000 Japanese.

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East Wind, Rain. East Wind, Rain.


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An original artifact

“A Day that Will Live in Infamy”

Americans today recognize that line, especially in conjunction with December 7. Hopefully they also know where that line came from: the speech FDR gave to Congress on December 8, after which Congress pretty much unanimously declared war on Japan and brought America into World War 2. Japan’s ultimate goal of destroying the Pacific Fleet backfired in a major way and had the opposite effect of keeping America out of their hair. America, for its part, realized how much it had underestimated the Japanese. [note: FDR actually said “a date that will live in infamy”]

However, there are a couple of interesting and much lesser known stories surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor. I came across them separately, but putting them together is surely a seed for a lot of interesting research. Continue reading

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Why I (almost) Cried at Work

My internship at this museum (which has been a dream job since 4th grade) has afforded me all sorts of amazing opportunities, and today was no exception.

Except sometimes amazing doesn’t always mean happy. Sometimes it can be powerful but tragic and still make you pull up short with a suddenly new perspective.

My task for this week has been transcribing letters from JPG files to .DOC files of a young man of the 442nd Infantry Regiment during World War 2. The 442nd (and the 100th) were composed of Japanese Americans, some drafted, some volunteers, and all extremely patriotic. (They’re called nisei, which means second-generation. Issei are first generation and sensei are third, I think.)

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“A Day that Will Live in Infamy”

Of late I have been interning at an historical museum in the greater Washington, D.C. area and it has been pretty much the best job I’ve ever had. It has been extremely educational, both from the exhibits perspective and from the office politics side. (In fact, one department lead said that apart from the actual job experience, he wanted us interns to observe how half of his job is just navigating the personnel.)

Every day is a new adventure and last week was no different. My fellow interns and I had an entire day scheduled in the paper lab, which is where all the paper gets restored and preserved. What were we going to be doing down there for a whole day, I wondered to myself. Well as it turns out, we were actually going to be preserving some newspapers.

Wait what?


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A Furiously Fast Five on Fury

On Saturday I went and saw the WW2 movie Fury with a friend and wanted to post a quick review about it even though I am a terrible WW2 historian and haven’t seen any of the movies. So instead of an actual review, here are 5 quick thoughts:

1.) It is a very violent movie. If you normally avert your eyes during bloody parts, this movie isn’t for you. In the book I’m reading now, the vets who wrote it said that after a bomb came in, they would have to look for the victims’ body parts in nearby trees and bushes, they would be that blown apart. This movie … basically showed that. I have been told that Saving Private Ryan* is gorier and even more realistic, but I haven’t seen that movie. I’m a bad history major.

..except when I don’t


2.) I enjoyed the attention to detail in props/costuming. Brad Pitt’s badges all looked like he had sewn the badges on himself. The other main character, Norman, wore a GI sweater through the entire movie and I noticed myself trying to figure out the stitch pattern. I really enjoyed seeing the mechanics of the tank warfare – the process of loading, priming, firing, etc. The space was so confined it was hard to get a sense of internal geography of the machine, like how the characters’ compartments fit together. In the scene where the tank runs over the body in the mud, the only thing distinctive thing about the body are the hobnails in the boots. Oh, and at one of the final really super dramatic scenes, I noted the German grenades and was so pleased with myself that the scene totally lost it’s emotional impact.**


3.) Acting. Is it just me who thinks Brad Pitt is just a little overrated? I mean, he was fine as the Sergeant and made his character believable and everything, but it’s almost the exact same role he had in Troy. If he isn’t overrated then he’s got a lot of similar roles. I thought Shia LaBouf had the best acting out of the whole ensemble. He was barely recognizable.


4.) I left the theater being very happy about the film. Then I went online and read all sorts of reviews, from official to unofficial to the reviews on IMDB. The users who rated the movie lower than 4 stars left scathing reviews that I found to be quite educational. They also raised several points that had occurred to me during the movie that I refuse to let destroy my initial impressions. (The landmine, the cast’s age, the final shot of the movie, formulaic ending, the final fight, the “hero effect”***, weak character development, etc). The random fact I learned is that there is exactly one working Tiger tank currently in existence and it was used in this film. So … not sure where I stand on the film.

5.) Interesting thought –>  many reviewers have complained about the final scene (the tank surrounded by bodies), terrible dialogue and one-dimensional characters. What if the movie was actually supposed to be from the tank’s perspective? It’s an odd thought but it makes the final scene make much more sense. I am wondering if Fury is supposed to be something like Warhorse, which is a war film but told from the horse’s perspective. What if Fury is more about the tank and less about the crew so the final shot is actually the dead hero (the tank) surrounded by all the damage she did on her way out? (Are tanks personified with the feminine?) It would be something like Boromir at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. Hm, interesting theory.

Conclusion: I think I need to see it again. I still have a lot of questions.



*Wait, Matt Damon is the titular Private Ryan?! I need to get with the program.

** American grenades are shaped like baseballs because American kids probably know how to throw baseballs. German grenades are shaped like plow handles because German kids probably know farm equipment better. All this according to the SS reenactor of several weeks ago.

*** The hero effect: where the outnumbered/gunned hero team faces incredible odds and the bad guys somehow don’t gain the upper hand despite firing giant rockets at point blank range at 6 metres and still missing the target so the good guys (the hero) gets to fight on.

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Ephemera (or random tidbits)

The problem(??) with history is that it just keeps on coming. So when you turn around there’s layers upon layers upon layers, like a really, really, really thick slice of baklava. Like Mesosoic baklava. With nuts. Because History is full of nuts.

There have been many historical anniversaries of late, almost too many to keep track of:

  • A bunch of Civil War 150th Anniversaries: Monocacy, Ft. Stevens (the only time a sitting [well, standing] President came under direct fire), The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Kennesaw Mountain, Mobile Bay, while Atlanta is coming up in about a week. And those are just some of the big names. In fact, just go check out this link because I’m linking from here anyway.
  • The 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. Interesting. WWI was began 50 years after the Civil War.
  • The 70th anniversary of DDay.
  • The City of Alexandria celebrated its 2xxth birthday with fireworks.
  • And apparently today is the 2xxth Bastille Day, celebrated by the French and, I suppose, Americans pretending to have a global outlook.

To commemorate this, have some music:
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