World War II

Edwin C. Rae – Monument Man: Saving Art One Piece at a Time

What defines us as human beings has always been the arts. The arts are filled with our deepest wishes, dreams, desires, and our heartbreaks. They reflect the world around us and within us. All the things that make up who were are as people can be seen in the arts.

In World War II, the Nazi Party leadership tried to monopolize art through the abduction and destruction of some of the great artworks of Western Civilization in territories they conquered. At the end of the war, it was up to men like Edwin C. Rae to go find the art, where possible, and restore it to its original condition and owner. These “Monuments Men” helped to recapture the great works of Western Civilization for future generations to understand who the peoples of Western Europe are and were.

Before the war began, Edwin C. Rae was a professor of Art History at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana from 1939 to 1942. He specialized in Irish sculpture and architecture.

Dr. Rae received his dissertation at Harvard University on the architecture of Medieval Ireland. For his dissertation, Dr. Rae traveled extensively throughout Ireland taking photographs of Irish buildings. Later, after World War II, Rae’s work on his dissertation would prove invaluable in helping to restore the great Gothic works of Bavaria.

23536_53180c556825e-imagefThe War Begins
World War II broke out on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Within a year, Germany had conquered most of Europe except for Great Britain, Spain, and Switzerland. In doing so, Germany pillaged the countries it conquered of gold and art. Near the end of the war, General Eisenhower, head of the Allied Forces, made finding this art one of the great objectives of the war.

Edwin C. Rae joined the US Army in 1942. He did not see any action, but rather he initially took out the trash. Later, he worked in the background as he helped target areas to bomb in Italy, France, and Germany to avoid civilian casualties and destroying priceless buildings of antiquity. In 1945, he was assigned to the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Branch. In his diary, Dr. Rae states his objective when he was assigned to the branch.

“August 11 – 22, 1945,
ECR instated as Chief, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Branch, Detachment E1F3 APO 658, which became on 15 Aug 45 Detachment E-201, Co. F. 3d Military Government Regiment APO 403. […] Chief concern is to regularize field reports, provide better protection and surveillance of monuments, and to reestablish the German agencies on a decent, efficient basis.”

Eisenhower and the Arts
ikes-ordersAs early as 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower stated the importance of securing the artwork of Italy when Allied forces invaded. To help find these works of art, Eisenhower established what would be called the Monument’s Men Division which consisted of 350 men and women working almost individually to save the art of Europe.

In early 1944, the United States felt that German spotters and snipers were using the famed Abbey at Monte Cassino to target Allied position below. The Abbey, just outside of Rome, held a special place in Italy’s heart. In order to save American lives on lower ground, the US bombed the Abbey, nearly leveling it to the ground.

Eisenhower received a lot of flak in the Italian press for its destruction but Eisenhower felt it saved lives. Still, no excuse would do for the Italian people.

For Eisenhower, it was a lesson that even though he felt he was protecting his men, his job in liberating the nations of Europe was to free the people and what the people of those nations felt what was important to their heritage. In this case, the Abbey at Monte Cassino.

Those thoughts and high ideals did not last long.

Edwin C. Rae was brought in as a spotter at this point in the war. His job was to help the military avoid targets of cultural importance. His daughter Sarah said this of that period:

At the beginning of the war, they tried to pin-point the bombs. But at the end, they just didn’t care. They did saturation bombing, which was really horrible. It destroyed a lot of originals — buildings with artistic significance just decimated.”

Eisenhower’s chief objectives had to be freeing Europe and saving soldier’s lives. The pinpoint bombing was not effective.

If Rae was to help save art, he would have to do so as an attachment that went in on the ground after Allied forces had secured an area. It would be a tough task. Once an area was secure, Rae and other Monument Men in other divisions would try to find and preserve the art and buildings as well as find hidden or stolen art.

Here are two pictures of the Abbey before the bombing and after the bombing.

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Between Monte Cassino and D-Day, Eisenhower had to rethink the plan. The war came first, art came second. However, in a letter sent 13 days to commanders before D-Day, you could tell that saving the art of Europe was of extreme importance to the war effort.

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Later in the War
As the war was coming to a close, Eisenhower and the US forces raced to find the art in hidden spaces, mines, trains, homes of Nazi officials and other odd places. In many instances, the Nazis tried to hide the art or were in the midst of planning to destroy it.

In the picture below, Eisenhower inspects one such place, a mine.

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As the war raced to an end, the Nazis weren’t the only ones with whom the Monument Men were worried about. US forces also began to steal and damage the artwork. So enraged were several Monuments Men, that they sent off a letter to Eisenhower complaining how US forces were hampering their work to find and preserve these works of art.

This letter became known as the Wiesbaden Manifest and Edwin C. Rae is one of the many Monuments Men who attached their signatures.

Rae and the Arts
Iphoto6n addition to a diary, Rae also took photographs of the Art he found in Bavaria near the end of the war. Part historian, part artist, part photographer, Rae’s images capture just exactly what the Nazis stole throughout Europe, but also stole from their own people in Bavaria.

Wherever the Monuments Men found art, they had to place posters and guards to protect the site from looters and destruction. The poster shows the importance of protecting the art for Allied forces and the local communities.

When the war ended in Europe in May of 1945, Edwin C. Rae’s job was just beginning. He had already spent three years in the US Army and the past two searching for and finding valuable works of art. Along the way, he documented what he found in his diary and through photographs. Now his hardest task lay before him.

In Bavaria, Rae’s task after the war was to restore works of art in this area of southern Germany.

The next two years of his life were spent overseeing the restoration and reconstruction of areas that had been destroyed or damaged by American and British bombing raids. Rae received several letters of commendations from the leaders of the communities he helped to restore their heritage through the restoration of art.

Why Edwin C. Rae and the Monuments Men Matter

0006840-209x300Even though Rae died in 2003, his past and his efforts were still unclear. In 2007, the Central Intelligence Agency released some information about Nazi War criminals and the hunt for them after the war. Who should be right in the middle of the hunt for them but none other than Edwin C. Rae.

Even though Edwin C. Rae left Bavaria in 1947, there was still art missing. Rae’s diary contained entries as late as 1958 that detailed his quest for art from 1947 to 1958. As late as the 1980s, stolen artwork was still being discovered. In fact, the hunt has never ended.

In some places in Europe, there are museum walls that still have artwork missing. In Krakow in Poland, an empty frame hangs missing Raphael’s “Portrait of a Young Man.”

For Rae, he made the hunt for the art and the restoration of the buildings a ten-year commitment. It would be hard to imagine the loss. and the scale of that loss, as an American. Our country was only 170 years old at the end of the war. Many of the European communities Rae helped had been around for 1400 years.

Many people in America tend to forget how young we are. As a result, our institutions, our buildings, and our art are not as ingrained in our society as they are in many parts of Europe. One lesson of his time in the service is just how much art can mean to a community. Fortunately, Edwin C. Rae helped bring some of it back to life.

39414After his time in Bavaria ended, Edwin C. Rae returned home to Illinois and continued to teach at the University of Illinois for another 30 years. He enthralled students with his knowledge of the great works of Europe that he saw firsthand during his time as a Monument Man. He established the Art History Department and was one of the founding members of a national organization called the Society of Architectural Historians.

As an art historian, Rae collected images and thoughts of his travel that were donated to the University of Illinois upon his death. His dissertation work was given to Trinity College in Ireland and is now online in a display of Irish Gothic Architecture.

His work as a Monument Man, and as an art history professor, are important because of the subject matter that he helped to save and preserve. The shame of the Nazi art thefts was that it was just one person’s view of what was important in art. The fact remains that if left alone, the Nazi view of art could have wiped out several thousand pieces of art whose importance lay to only one community or a group of people.

Edwin C. Rae’s Diary
For Rae’s children, they did not know of their father’s collections until his death.

His son Thomas spoke eloquently of the importance of the work his father, Edwin C. Rae, did during World War II as a Monument Man.

“I think it takes a few decades of distance to see the magnitude of what this meant,. No, they weren’t the ones who went into concentration camps and pulled the people out to save them. They were doing something else — they were helping to restore European culture and history.”

 

Comic Books and World War II: Buying into the War

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Total war is a concept foreign to most Americans. The idea that war so consumes our every thought, our every action is beyond comprehension. Yet, in World War II, Americans did expend every last bit of energy to do what they could to help win the war.

To ensure the American public never forgot the concept of total war, propaganda was unleashed in many forms. Most adults saw this in the forms of posters in shops or in short films before a movie. But for children, the rise of a new form of literature that became popular in the 1930s became the gateway for propaganda to be conveyed to a younger generation. The comic book embodied the virtues of what it was to fight evil during World War II. In fact, the comic book still embodies those same virtues today.

In 1977, Author Michael Uslan stated the following about the nature of comic books:

From the 1930’s through today comic books have expressed the trends, conventions, and concerns of American life…Comics have been a showcase for national views, slang, morals, customs, traditions, racial attitudes, fads, heroes of the day, and everything else that makes up our lifestyles.

And in World War II, this is what comic books would do but about war.

At the Time
In one form or another, comic books have been around since the 1500s. However, in the United States, the comic book as we know it today arrived in the late 1930s. In June of 1938, ACTION COMICS #1 was released and children would never be the same. Superman, the character who encapsulated all that was good about America and humanity, became a star as a result of the issue. Other characters soon followed including the Human Torch, Batman, the Sub-Mariner, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, The Shield, and Captain America. 19500-004-0F2CD3D7

Superman became popular for many reasons. Like many Americans, Superman was an immigrant – albeit an alien world. You could argue Superman was the ultimate immigrant being away from his parents. Secondly, Superman espoused the virtues of hard work, justice, and truth.

Comic books also became popular for other virtues in the Great Depression. Scott A. Cord claims:

Even as a form of escape, the comic book allowed readers to fantasize about punishing real life wrongdoers. Since the Depression was the overriding concern of Americans during the 1930s, readers enjoyed seeing superheroes fight against those who exploited the bad times for their own financial benefit. For example, early characters such as the Green Lantern, Superman, and Batman often took on corrupt businessmen who mistreated poor and desperate workers in the late 1930s.

But the depression would not be the overriding issue of the day for very much longer.

Comic Go to War before the War
In 1940 and 1941, many comic books had storylines about the events of the wars in Europe and Asia. These stances before the US entered the war quite controversial. At a time when most Americans wanted nothing to do with another war in Europe, the characters in the comic books did. Many of the writers of the comic book heroes were actually Jewish and felt it their duty to influence the American public of the dangers of what was taking place overseas.

In fact, a full nine months before the war, Captain America is seen punching Hitler in the face. Writers Joe Simon and Jack Kirby received hate mail about the goals and actions of Captain America. Many were opposed to such storylines. Captain America stood out in his patriotic red, white, and blue uniform while espousing the ideals of American nationalism. Within a year after Pearl Harbor, Captain America’s views and actions about evil and what to do became the norm.

detailWhen the war began, 15 million comic books were being published a month. Two and a half years later, 25 million copies were sold a month. Superman and Captain each sold over 1 million editions a month. And the largest single customer in the period was the United States Army. Originally, the Army was buying comic books as diversions, but soon many of the soldiers became hooked on the story lines, character development, and the virtuous fight against evil and oppression.

Throughout the war, the comic book super heroes were involved in doing things to help the war effort compared to fighting the war. They did things like deliver supplies, stop spies at home, and do whatever they could do to help the soldier while in the US. The depictions of the character’s action were simplistic and good always triumphed over evil. The characters always illustrated war aims and how children could help win the war.

Superman never fought the war. You would think that he could have ended the war by himself, but the authors of the comic did not want that to happen. Instead, Clark Kent’s anxiousness to pass his physical that he accidentally uses his X-Ray Vision to read the chart in the next room. He is declared 4-F and has to do what he can (along with Superman) in Metropolis.

The Shield was a comic book hero during World War II

The Shield was a comic book hero during World War II. Notice the red, white, and blue themed uniform.

Captain America was the exception. With his sidekick 12 year old Bucky Barnes, Captain America took a first–hand role in fighting the forces of evil. What made Captain America comics different was that they were violent, in fact, shockingly violent for the time period. Characters were shot between the eyes, left beaten and bloodied, and tortured.

Another aspect that endeared Captain America to many Americans was that he always fought by the “rules” of war and won. His antagonists always “cheated” and lost.

Soon other comics followed. Individual stories of bravery and courage ended with the American soldier overcoming fear and saving the day. Meant at first to inspire those at home, the characters wound up inspiring those abroad actually doing the fighting.

Many writers of the books actually were part of the Office of War Information and the War Writer’s Board. These organizations supposedly were interested in given accurate information about what was happening overseas. The comic book became a vessel to do so.

Even the advertisements in the comic books were war related.

“Junior air raid warden kits, aircraft recognition flash cards, paper drives, money for war bonds and scrap metal drives were all supposed to help children feel like they were doing their part for the war effort.”

In addition to the superheroes, ordinary people, women, and children characters had their own comics. Boy Commandos was a group of 12 year olds out to save the world. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, served as a nurse doing her part. In addition, comics portraying real people like Eleanor Roosevelt were made showing her contributions to the war.

ww2 comic warning

As the war wound down, so did many of the characters. Superman and Lois got hitched and had super babies, Batman went back to fighting the master villains of Gotham and in 1956, Captain America was cancelled.

Many soldiers who had read comics overseas found them to be a comfort item on their return. Maybe it was escapism, maybe it was a habit, but either way they were a solace to many of the soldiers who would later introduce the comics to their children. By 1947, comic books sold 60 million issues a month.

By the early 1950s, the so called “Golden Age of Comics” characters had transitioned to mundane activities. With no evil left to fight, comics like Archie, Veronica, Jughead, and Richie Rich became the mainstream from the middle 1950s through the middle 1960s.

Importance
Comic books in World War II played a significant role in education a young populace before, during and after the war. From Captain America punching Hitler in the face 9 months before Pearl Harbor to encouraging the war effort on the home front through actions and advertisements, these pieces of art helped educate a country in a total war.

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The most surprising influence the comics had was on those who actually participated in combat. The books were seen as something to take their mind off what was to come and what had taken place. They were cheap, easy to carry, and the comic itself didn’t require a college education to read. It was part entertainment, part instructional manual, and part psychologist for the solider.

While the comic books did display propaganda, it was also commercialism at its finest. Comic books were big money and portended the youth culture to come in the 1950s. The comic book actually became a part of the war itself. It showed what children and young men could do to help the effort through the character’s actions and through advertisements in the comic itself. Children used the comic to keep up to date on what was happening even though most comics took months to develop and illustrate.

The comic books published during the war laid the foundation for later comic books of the 1960s and film and TV today. Growing up in the late 60s and early 70s, my favorite comics and characters all had their roots in World War II. Captain America, Nick Fury, and the X-Men were the comics that I read as a boy and teenager and are based on, and influenced by, those comics and events from the era. Even looking at what movies to see this summer, or TV shows that I watch, they all come from comic books. For me, there is some morality I can agree with in their actions. There’s a goodness there, a sacrifice, first envisioned some 75 years ago that still resonates today.

Sources Used – Mostly PDF Files: Click Here

The Art of Getting Bogged Down – Every History Teacher’s Nightmare and Pleasure

Here is the cartoon that starting it all this morning. It is from the magazine Puck and is about John D. Rockefeller's control of the economy in the late 1800s.

Here is the cartoon that starting it all this morning. It is from the magazine Puck and is about John D. Rockefeller’s control of the economy in the late 1800s.

I am a tactile teacher. I like my students to do things with their hands, mostly by recreating and analyzing history. I like them to create products which analyze the past, compare it to the present, and signify its importance to the development of our political, economic, and social constructs. As with every teacher, I always run into problems. And it is the same problem I run into all the time. I can easily get “bogged down” in a unit. By bogged down I mean I extend the unit and the tactile learning too much. What is supposed to be a three to four week unit ends up six, or even seven. Projects and products filled with pictures, cartoons, graphs, artifacts, and charts fill up my table in the back of my classroom. Added lessons are made up at the drop of a hat – it is a vicious cycle of lesson planning. But it is always a pleasurable one.

I know teachers who spend an entire quarter on the Progressive Era. I, myself, taught an Early America Unit for six weeks because I got stuck in the 1830s and 1840s teaching about Illinois’ role in westward expansion and the problems it faced. “I have to teach about the Black Hawk War for a week” or “These kids have to know about Mormon persecution in Missouri at Hahn’s Mill and at Nauvoo, Illinois” are the kinds of thoughts that run through my mind.

Other teachers I know spend an entire week on Tammany Hall or the cartoons of Puck vs. Nast. Last year, my student teacher took six weeks to do the Civil War. She did an excellent job actually making the kids hard tack, learning the roles of several women, teaching how culture spread across country because of the war, making exhibit boards, and digging into the Emancipation Proclamation in addition to normal things teachers go into detail about the time period. She expressed a concern at one point that she was never going to get out of the Civil War. She did. And, she did a great job teaching the unit!!! But when it came time to plan the next unit, the next unit got shortchanged. And thus is the dilemma of being a history teacher.

Currently I am at the crossroad as I type. At some point in the next week, I have to get into the twentieth century in class. As I sat down this morning, my main goal was immediately sidetracked by Puck cartoons. That’s right, cartoons. I love cartoons because of their tactile and visual nature. Almost immediately, I began scheming lessons about using them as web searches, products, and tools for analysis. I was supposed to teach about Immigration in the late 1800s to start the week and then get into 3 day Teddy Roosevelt extravaganza of the Progressive Era. I still will, but it is unreal how close I came to veering out of control.

I think for every history teacher, it is a guilty pleasure to get bogged down. It is how you become a better teacher. It is how you learn how to teach history. This year, I took five days to do the Battle of Gettysburg. And you know what, I enjoyed it, the kids enjoyed it, and we both learned a lot. However, here’s the thing…I planned to get bogged down!!! At times, getting bogged down is a necessity. That is how you teach detail. “More on less” is the best motto. The issue is that I teach a survey course and I have to cover all of US History in the time frame imposed. It is just not possible in one year to cover EVERYTHING.

I spent an entire lesson about Gettysburg by examining the decisions by Lee and Meade on whether to fight on that third day.

I spent an entire lesson about Gettysburg by examining the decisions by Lee and Meade on whether to fight on that third day. It was all about strategy and high ground. Students had a great time examining documents, the terrain, morale, and the state of their armies.

So, I pick and choose what I get bogged down in. This year, it will be Civil Rights in the 1950s and the Clinton era 1990s. I have no shame in admitting that. But some things do get shortchanged. I know this year it has been Reconstruction, the Wild West (an all-time favorite era of mine to get bogged down in), the Spanish-American War, and the early 1800s (1812-1837) that take the hit for detail’s sake.

I think it is important that if you are going to teach something and have students produce products of their learning, the teacher best enjoy the topic and transmit that joy to the students about the topic. Last year, I never had so much fun teaching about World War II than spending an entire week doing D-Day. Another teacher who read this blog emailed me for the materials and we both had a blast doing the lesson 300 miles apart with me in 8th grade and she in high school. It’s OK to get bogged down, if you do it for the right reasons!!!

So, when I get back to lesson planning here in a few minutes, I will try to avoid the pitfalls of the Progressive Era planning and yearn for the time when I do get to spend extra time teaching the 1930s, D-Day, the 1950s Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1990s changes in society. It will be worth getting bogged down. I just have to stick to my plan.

Teaching D-Day: Surviving the Invasion

Having a student teacher in the fall has its advantages. I spent a lot of time watching her try new things and doing different type of lessons. During the Civil War unit, she made the students hard tack. She was very good and will make a good teacher wherever she goes. During many of her lessons I would be surfing on a tablet for new things to use in the classroom to reinvigorate me, the lessons and, ultimately, the students. In early November, I took my little history club over to Cantigny in Wheaton, Illinois, where they have the museum for the US Army First Division. While on the website booking the trip I came across some great resources. I immediately downloaded the pdf files and began cherry picking what I could use. Once I came across these resources, I knew I was onto to redoing how I teach DDay.

I am one of those teachers who doesn’t teach the same way every year, or should I say as I did when I started teaching. Technology, mainly the Internet, has changed a lot of that. Just using Google allows me to access historical sites, pictures, journals, and maps from repositories all over the world. What once was the sole bastion of scholars who visited libraries and museums is now available at the click of a finger.

Before this great adventure, I had done all kinds of different approaches to teaching about the world’s greatest invasion. I has shown parts of “Band of Brothers,” used maps, scenarios, photograph analysis, Eisenhower’s DDay Letter, and/or simulations. That lesson was usually one day long. But I wanted to make it unique and something they wouldn’t forget after the test. So, I began to restructure the lesson. Some elements remain from past lessons, and some new elements were created. This lesson should take three days to do this week. Key word is should – it might take four…..or five.

Day One…
It all begins by connecting what they learned with what they are going to learn. So, to connect their learning, I use a cartoon.
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This is by Dr. Seuss. The students have already seen several cartoons by Dr. Seuss about World War II, but this cartoon is about the ramifications from the Battle of Stalingrad which they just learned about the day before. When teaching cartoons, some kids struggle with the symbolism, but they can at least identify objects, actions, and words in the cartoon. Once the basics are established, I go for three higher order/critical thinking questions:

  1. Which words are of most importance?
  2. Predict what you think will happen when Winter sits up
  3. Why does that matter?

The students must think about the implications of winter ending and what Hitler will do and what the US (you and me) will do, too.

After that discussion, I go into a few notes and pictures on Fortress Europa, the Atlantic Wall, Italy, the Battle of Kursk in 1943. That should take about 7-10 minutes. The emphasis is on opening up a second front in Europe. Once 1944, comes, I shift gears and segue into a scenario about where to invade in France to open up a second front and create a German sandwich. The students will get a map, some descriptions of the four places. They are to then get in small groups make a chart that analyzes the positives and negatives about each place.
The choices will be Dieppe, Calais, Cherbourg, and Havre.
DDay sim map
As a class we will then go over the columns and select one landing spot and then I will spill the beans about what the choice was.

Every time I teach a new lesson, you would think that after 20+ years, I would know how long things are going to take. I do, but when it comes to the interest the students show by asking questions, I never know. Some classes don’t ask many questions, others ask a lot. I hope that by this time, the lesson should be 30 minutes in. The lesson turns again when I will ask one simple question, “How do you hide the largest invasion force in history?” The students had previously learned that the Germans did have spies in Britain during the Battle of Britain and the British were masters of deception during the Battle of El Alamein. Students then will be asked to come up with some strategies about how to deceive the German spies in Britain and those listening on BBC radio across the English Channel in northeastern France. Once the students put forth their deceptive answers, I will show them some pictures and some information on Operation Fortitude – the plan for deceiving German Intelligence.
British Deception
Day one ends (I hope) with me putting a nice ribbon and bow on everything by tying all three parts of the lesson together – the cartoon, the chart, and the deception. The students then get a worksheet about DDay that examines some cartoons that were published just before the invasion.
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Day Two
This day begins by quickly reviewing the previous days events and then examine 2 letters. The first comes a surprise. It is the letter that Eisenhower wrote in case DDay failed.

Ike's failure of DDay letter should come as a surprise.

Ike’s failure of DDay letter should come as a surprise.

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault is attached to the attempt it is mine alone.”

We will discuss why this letter was written. We will also discuss their reactions to reading it, and finally, we will discuss why it never saw the light of day.

Moving on, the students then read Ike’s letter to the troops. They then answer four questions about it.

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have
striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The
hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well
equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of
1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower

1. Underline the ten keys words in the letter.
2. What events had taken place before the letter?
3. Why did he the write letter?
4. What might have happened after?

We discuss word choice and other possible words. The highlight of the four day lesson comes next to me. I hand out a packet of pictures that has artifacts that the soldiers used to survive the invasion. Students guess for what each artifact was used.
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I do not tell them what they are or how they were used. We discuss their possible uses and it is a great activity as students should get pretty creative with their answers (I do something similar in the Civil War but about life in camp). They now have to figure out what the artifacts were used for by watching an educational film from the Discovery Channel called “Surviving DDay.” For the last 15 minutes of Day Two, we begin watching the film. Students are to identify artifacts in the movie and write down how they helped the soldiers survive. The students get a map worksheet for their assignment.


Day Three
The third day begins by using resources from Cantigny (mentioned above) that include some journals/diaries by soldiers. We read one today and another one on Day Four. This will give a glimpse into the struggles the soldiers faced and how they had to problem solve on the beaches. After the discussion, we resume the video.

At several points during the film, we will stop and discuss certain artifacts and their implications on survival. Students will also have time to pair and share information every fifteen minutes during the film (I don’t like to make them sit there – who wants to do that?). This makes me think that four days may not be enough.

At the end of class, the students get a second map worksheet about the dangers on the beach.
DDAY 0

Day Four
The second diary entry is read, discussed, and then students finish watching the video. The remaining time in class is spent making a pamphlet called “Surviving DDay” using the artifacts from the film. When the film concludes, I have a few notes on the implications of the invasion and how it fits in the context of the war, problem solving, and critical thinking. I hope that four days is enough. It is a lot of time to spend on one event but “more on less” is a philosophy I believe in. I hope this turns out to be an experience that they remember. It could be five days. If it is, I will adjust. I would be OK with that.

Becoming an Historian: A Weird and Wacky Path

The other day in class, a student asked me why I became an historian. It was hard to answer. In fact, all I could come up with was, “I don’t think it was any one thing, but a series of events pushing me to becoming an historian.” And I think that it is different for every historian. Looking back at my life, five things influenced me into loving history: the context of my life, television, some wonderful professors, my family, and some great books and authors.

shellshock

Shell Shocked Soldier by Don McCullin

The Context of My Life
Being born in 1963, some of first memories are of the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Beatles. Every day, my family would gather round the television at 5:30 p.m. to watch Walter Conkrite do the CBS Evening News. The images I saw still impact me today. I am a very visual teacher in that students examine a lot of images like political cartoons and images. For me, the images of Vietnam have been seared into my brain. They do not haunt me, but I will always remember the images I saw like “Napalm Girl,” “Shell Shocked-Soldier,” and Eddie Adams’ “The Assassination.” I introduce them to my students along with other images from that era including the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham, Bull Connor, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers. The era is ripe with stark images of the events.

Add in my own personal fascination with the Beatles, and everything about them. When older, I began researching them and finding out information about them. They were my favorite band up until I was a junior in high school. That fascination would continue when I began listening to Led Zeppelin, The Police, Rush, and Pearl Jam – my other favorite bands. I always researched every artist. I still do today. I dig into their past and find out who influenced them, why they picked up an instrument, and how they got in the record business. It is always interesting to me.

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The favorite band of my youth

Television
You wouldn’t think that TV as a medium would influence an historian in the pre-cable days, but the show I would always watch when I came home from school was “Hogan’s Heroes.” I know it sounds corny, but the truth of the matter is that I wanted to learn more about what was happening on each episode of “Hogan’s Heroes.” I would always use an encyclopedia to find out about something mentioned on Hogan’s Heroes whether it was the Gestapo or the city of Hamburg or some member of the Nazi hierarchy. It really piqued my interest in World War II. I remember there was a kid in my class named Larry Weaver whose dad served in World War II. His dad had brought back/mailed stuff from his service and I always thought those artifacts, including a Luger and a Nazi flag, were the coolest things!

Hogan's Heroes got me interested in World War II

Hogan’s Heroes got me interested in World War II

College Professors
When I went to college in 1982 to Western Illinois University, I had the great honor of learning under Larry Balsamo and the late Darrel Dykstra. Both were quite different in their teaching styles and I think I liked that about them. Larry Balsamo was very energetic, always had a story to tell, and he loved the little details he found interesting that no one else did. His Civil War and Reconstruction class is my all-time favorite class. It was hard if you had Larry not to love history because he did so much.

Darrel Dykstra was the opposite of Larry Balsamo. He was quiet, reserved, and meticulous when I learned about Middle East History. His attention to detail and material were some of my favorite of college including a book we had to read called “Guests of the Sheik.”

Fifteen years later, I had the pleasure of taking a class in grad school at NIU with the late Jordan Schwarz. Dr. Schwarz was a huge Cubs fan, but he taught me a lot about writing history. After the class ended, I played golf with him several times and all we talked about was the Cubs…nothing else. I have enough Andy Pafko stories to last me a lifetime.

Another professor who had a huge impact on my career was Bruce Field, now at South Carolina. Bruce engaged me to write the proper lesson plan (he would later speak at my wedding as he was friends with my wife before I met my wife). Later, Carla Shaw of NIU tapped into my creative side to get me to create my own teaching models/style for history. She had a huge influence on how I teach. Later, she would be my initial doctoral adviser before her retirement. She Skyped into my oral defense. I was really touched.

The Family
My older brother Mark had some influence on me when it comes to being an historian. He is five and half years older but he always used to have models he constructed of the space program. There used to be models of a Saturn V rocket, the lunar lander and the capsules on his shelf. I found them so interesting. I tended to build model battleships/aircraft carriers. But when he left for college in 1976, I had the bedroom to myself and one of the first things I did was to research the space program including each astronaut and Apollo mission.

My parents probably had the biggest role in me becoming an historian. In the early 1970s, they bought a set of encyclopedias and a set of World Book Year Books. They would keep adding the Year Books until I graduated. I found them fascinating and even read them throughout college. Having moved several times in my youth and young adulthood, the yearbooks were like my best friends as I read them constantly to find out what happened before I had memories, and to gather more data about what events I did remember from my youth. As I sit here and watch some football, I also remember using the yearbooks to look back at who won sports championships in those years.

The 1968 World Book Year Book - a classic and huge influence!

The 1968 World Book Year Book – a classic and huge influence!

Books on History
Beginning when I was in 5th grade and through my late 40s, I read a lot. It was not until 8th grade that I read my first historically tinged book. It was in 8th grade history class with Kent Crear at Polo Junior High School that I read “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren and it was stunning! Today, it is still one of my favorite books of all time ( I never did see the Sean Penn movie as I thought there was no way it could match the book). I think the book that got me hooked on history was “Ordeal By Fire (1st Edition)” by James McPherson. I read it when I was junior in college (1984) and I found it totally fascinating. Up to that point in my life, I loved short stories, science fiction, and 19th century literature. From that point on, it was all history for the next few years (along with Science Fiction). Today, I like Doris Kearns Goodwin and her writing style, Michael Beschloss is good, too, along with John Eisenhower, and I can read about the New Deal by Jordan Schwarz anytime.

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A great tale and a great warning about political power

Thinking about it, I could add baseball cards, being a Cubs and Bears fan, but whatever I get interested in, I learn the history about it. I know these things are what made made me an historian, but what keeps me an historian are the students that I teach. I still enjoy learning about history and sharing it with them. I don’t really consider it teaching, just sharing what I enjoy about the past and how I found it and experience it. In the present, my wife and I rarely plan a vacation unless it involves a historical site or two. In fact, that is my plan for this summer. I plan on going down to Nauvoo to see some Mormon history, over to Hannibal for Mark Twain, and then on to Kansas City for some Negro League Museum stuff. It is who I am. It is what I do. It is what I enjoy.

World War II and Christmas: Transforming Traditions

Many of the Christmas traditions we do today were established DURING World War II.The event truly reshaped how Christmas is celebrated in this country. A lot of the changes happened because of shortages, but even more happened because time and distance separated loved ones.

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Early Christmas shopping, for example, began because of the time it took to ship things overseas. Packages sent to soldiers during the war had to shipped by the middle to late of October in order to make it to remote parts of the Pacific by Christmas.

The traditional Christmas tree also saw a transformation. Due to several shortages, the tree was affected by the war in several ways. First, glass ornaments originally made in Japan and Germany were no longer available. Instead, the Corning Glass Company of New York transformed their light bulb machines to make glass Christmas ornaments instead. In addition, ribbons and bows now used also changed because shortages of materials. Most surprising was the change of the tree. Trees and lumber were needed more for the war effort. So, artificial trees soon were produced to fill the gap and many families adjusted to the new tradition. Companies also began making cut out prints of ornaments for families to make from any material they could find in order to save things needed for the war effort.

Most of the songs we sing including “White Christmas,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Let It Snow,” Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and many more were written in this time period and worked into films during and after the war. Probably the most famous song from Christmas in the war was “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The sentiments and longings in the lyrics made it an instant holiday classic.

Jim Kushlan, publisher of America in World War II Magazine stated this about the effect the war had on the holiday:

“Many of Baby Boomers [the generation born after the war] are parents or grandparents now. Our nostalgia for the Christmases our parents gave us have shaped our own celebration. In the process, we have given our youngsters memories of Bing on the stereo, piles of gifts under the tree, and the feel of ’40s yuletide. Odds are, that’s what they’ll be nostalgic for.”

The look of Santa during the War has remained constant since the early 1940s.Prior to the war, Santa took the form of the European version of Santa Claus. During the war, Jolly Old Saint Nick got a more American look.

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However, some things have changed slightly since then, most notably the food. Here is the menu for what FDR and Churchill had one Christmas. You will notice some familiar items and some not so familiar items.

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And this is what the One Hundred First Infantry Battalion had. Notice the oysters, but the turkey and all its trimmings are still there including my favorite, pumpkin pie!

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So, as those soldiers came home, loved ones kept the traditions they started during the war and passed them on to their children and their children’s children. World War II truly transformed Christmas in America.

For further reading

http://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/modern-american-christmas-owes-much-to-world-war-ii-publisher-says.html

http://www.nationalww2museum.org/learn/education/for-students/ww2-history/at-a-glance/christmas-on-the-home-front.html

http://www.battlegrounds-blog.com/2012/12/christmas-songs-from-world-war-ii.html

http://www.ww2gyrene.org/xmas_page.htm