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The Homefront, Then and Now

From Behind the Plate to Behind the Lines

In 1942, when Gen. Jimmy Doolittle prepared to bomb the Japanese mainland, (See my Blog Post Jan. 2, 2014) he consulted films shot from the roof of a Tokyo hospital that rose among the city’s tallest buildings. The photographer was just an amateur with his 16-mm movie camera; although some fans questioned whether he earned it, his salary came from being a Major League baseball catcher.

Catcher Morris (Moe) Berg played for 5 teams between 1923 and 1939, and they all found him mediocre on the field. But after hours he showed a genius his fellow players were hard-put to understand. He read 10 newspapers every day. A magna-cum-laude graduate of Princeton, he knew Hebrew, Yiddish, Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Sanskrit, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese, Hungarian, Korean, and – more importantly – Japanese. In 1934, when stars such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had toured baseball-enthused Japan, Berg was asked to go along. Using his language skills, he responded to the Mayor's welcoming speech and spoke to the legislature. Using the cover of taking flowers to the hospitalized daughter of an American diplomat, Berg sneaked up to the roof and filmed sights such as the harbor and railway yards that could become military targets.

After war was declared, Berg screened his Tokyo footage for U.S. intelligence officers, and it was an available resource when Doolittle planned his raid. By that time Berg was working for the Office of Strategic Services (today's CIA) and ended up on the Balkans desk. Berg, now age 41, agreed to parachute into occupied Yugoslavia to gauge the strength of two partisan groups and recommend support go to Marshall Tito. Then he penetrated Italy where he sought to learn what progress the Germans were making toward building a nuclear bomb.He befriended Italian physicists and tried to recruit them to go work in America. Learning the German physicist Werner Heisenberg was to lecture in Switzerland, Berg masqueraded as a Swiss graduate student to gain admittance. Armed with a pistol, Berg had orders to kill the scientist if he was close to creating a bomb. But Berg judged the Germans were nowhere near success, so he complemented Heisenberg on his speech and told the Allies they could concentrate on their own essential effort to be the first to develop the fearful new weapon.

When peace had been won, Morris Berg was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor for civilian service during wartime. Always reluctant to release personal information, he refused to accept the honor, possibly because he was not free to explain what he had done to deserve it. After his 1972 death his sister accepted the medal. Today it hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. And CIA Headquarters in Washington, DC, displays one, and only one, baseball card, that of mediocre catcher Moe Berg

For more information consult The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicolas Dawidoff.
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Lest We Forget

Fear of people with Japanese-American blood built quickly on the west coast of the U.S. Mainland after the Japanese bombed Pear Harbor, but it was instantaneous on the islands of Hawaii. In fact, influential leaders of the Japanese-American community were arrested and detained within 48 hours. Priests, teachers, newspaper editors, and officers of civic organizations were kept in local jails until temporary camps could be built on Kaua’i, Maui, the Big Island, and on isolated, bridge-less, Sand Island in Pearl Harbor. A handful of women and some 100 Germans and Italians were included in the dragnet. In many cases, their families had no idea where they’d been taken – or if they were alive.

None of them was accused or convicted of any crime. Yet most of them were detained for the duration of the war. One camp was in Honouliuli Gulch on O’ahu. Twenty-seven-foot wooden guard towers, topped with machine guns, interrupted the long, double barbed-wire fences. Army tents provided cover and cots served as beds until barracks could be erected. Among the prominent internees were Thomas T. Sakakihara, a Territorial Representative in the U. S. Congress, and Sanji Abe, elected to serve as Territorial Senator in 1940. He attended one session before being interned in 1942.

In February of 1942, internees began to be transferred to camps on the Mainland and, given the choice, over 1,000 wives and children joined them there. New detentions continued throughout the war, keeping the Japanese-American community in fear; Japanese language, clothing and customs disappeared as pride in their heritage evaporated. Eventually 1,200 to 1,400 men and 1,000 of their family members were detained. Another 1,000 local Japanese were not interned but were denied access to their land during the war, a fact little-known until r the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 provided internees with an apology from the U. S . Government and reparations of $20,000 each.

At that time, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii responded to requests for information about the camps with research of the camp sites, and the U. S. Congress and Hawaiian governments have appropriated funds for further research, preservation, and memorializing the internees’ story. A folder of resource material was distributed to every public high school in the state in 2007. An extensive web site debuted in 2009 with the goal of making the Honouliuli site a public historical park where the internees' story can be shared with future generations. See www.hawaiiinternment.org/history-of-internment  Read More 
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No Training, No Credentials, Just Determination

Nicholas Winton celebrates his 98th birthday by taking a spin in a micro-lite aircraft a with one of his Czech "granddaughters."
In 1938, a 29-year-old stockbroker left London to spend his two-week vacation in Prague, Czechoslovakia. But he had no plans to take it easy. Hitler’s persecution of Jewish people was common knowledge. Nicholas Winton knew there were thousands of Jewish families in displaced-persons camps near Prague who were desperate to flee the country before the Germans would march in unopposed due to the Munich Agreement. He had no training, no government credentials, nothing but determination. “I always thought if something is not impossible there must be a way of doing it,” he said on an April 27, 2014, “60 Minute” broadcast on CBS. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/saving-the-children-on-eve-of-world-war-11-60-minutes/

He visited the camps, asked questions and set up shop in his Prague hotel room, asking around for people who wanted to send their children to safety in England. He was quickly inundated with requests for help. At the end of his two-weeks, he took a list containing hundreds of names back to London and appealed to the British government to take in the children. The government agreed, if he found people to adopt them. He circulated photos and found volunteers. Twenty children left Prague by train in March, the day before Hitler’s forces marched in. But it was all taking too much time. He got a printing press and began forging documents. He bribed some bureaucrats. The Germans let seven trainloads of children carrying over 600 children, leave Prague. (They let them go; they wanted to cleanse Europe of Jews). An eighth train of 250 loaded. But on September 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany. The eighth train was disallowed. At least 77,300 Czechoslovakians, evidently including Winton's 8th trainload,were eventually killed in Auschwitz.

Nicholas Winton had rescued 669 children. He volunteered with an Red Cross ambulance unit; he trained pilots for the Royal Air Force. He had a family and went on with his life. It was 1988 before word of his amazing accomplishment got out and the BBC aired a program that honored Winton. The audience was composed of some the children he had rescued, now grown. They learned for the first time who had saved them. A documentary, The Power of Good, was made. In 2003, Queen Elizabeth knighted him. Why did he keep his humanitarian accomplishment secret? “I didn’t really keep it secret, I just didn’t talk about it,” he said. He celebrated his 98th birthday with a flight in a micro-lite aircraft. He shakes his head when told his 669 children and their descendants now number 15,000. “That’s a terrible responsibility, isn't it?” he says with a wry smile. "But I'm not much interested in the past...Nobody is concentrated on the present and future." Perhaps with the exception of Nicholas Winton. He works for the mentally handicapped. He builds homes for the elderly. But he doesn't plan to go to one himself. He's only 104.

Footnote: Sad to say, in 1939, Winton also wrote to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and asked if the United States would take in some of the Jewish children. The answer, from a mid-level bureaucrat in the U.S. Embassy in London, was. “The United States is unable to help.” Read More 
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And History Repeats......

Sadly, there are those who continue to follow this symbol of hatred which has brought only death and destruction to the world.
On April 13, 2014, a 69-year-old physician and his 14-year-old grandson were shot down as they got out of their car in the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City’s parking lot. Moments later, a 53-year-old mother of two was gunned down outside a Jewish retirement complex.

William Lewis Corporon and teen-ager Reat Griffin Underwood were Methodists by faith. Terri LaManno was an occupational therapist and a Catholic. But to shooter Frazier Glenn Cross they were condemned by association with Jews. Eighty-plus years after Adolph Hitler began spreading his poison against the Jewish people, Cross is bent on carrying out the Führer’s evil intent.

In my book, Not to be Forgiven, 11-year-old Sis realizes there are differences between the German prisoners of war in the Hiram’s Spring camp, but she cannot conceive the depth of evil the Lager-Gestapo represents. It took U.S. POW camp commanders quite some time to understand that German soldiers and Nazi officers were very different beings. While the average German soldier was grateful to be out of the fighting, warm and well fed, the Nazi SS officers who arrived in the spring of 1943 were determined Hitler would still win the war.

As was common military practice, most American POW camp commanders left camp discipline to the German officers. But in 1943, most of those officers were inveterate Nazis. They held Kangaroo Courts at night, and terrorized and brutalized prisoners who were too helpful to Americans. One POW named Kraus was caught singing American songs; he was beaten with spiked clubs and died the next cay. Others were made to appear they had committed suicide.

Eventually word of the atrocities got out and the violent Lager Gestapo were segregated to special camps. For more complete information, visit www.theincident.com/index.htm and click on “German POWs in America” or consult Arnold Kramer’s, Nazi Prisoners of War in America, Stein and Day, 1979.”

Kansas shooter Cross, who has been active in White Supremacy for decades, and who has already served three years in a federal prison, is jailed and awaiting charges. He is not alone. Wikipedia lists twenty white supremacist, racist organizations in the United States at the current time. As philosopher George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We need not only remember, we need to bear witness to the surpassing evil of Hitler's legacy. Read More 
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Sub Sees Train. Sub Sinks Same.

The USS Barb sank the most enemy tonnage of any US submarine during World War II.
July 18, 1945: In Patience Bay, off the coast of Karafuto, Japan, Commander Eugene ‘Lucky’ Fluckey’s submarine crew is hatching a plan. A railroad runs down the Japanese coast, and they watch trains shuttling military supplies. The men decide a shore patrol, under cover of darkness, could blow up the track with one of the sub’s 55-pound scuttling charges. But they want more: they also want to take out a train.

How can they do that and still return safely to the sub? Billy Hatfield, who had cracked nuts on railroad tracks as a kid, knows how. Train tracks always sag under the weight of the engine. If they hook a micro switch connected to the charge under one rail, he explains, the train will blow itself up.

All they need is a little cloud cover to darken the moon when they go ashore. The commander picks eight men from the many volunteers and they prepare and practice as they wait.

On July 22, 1945, clouds cover the moon. At midnight the Barb creeps within 950 yards of the shoreline, lowers small boats, and the saboteurs paddle for the enemy beach. Pulling ashore 25 minutes later, they cross a highway and reach the track. In another 20 minutes, with charges set and buried, they head back to the boats, and at 1:32 a.m. signal Fluckey they are on the water.

Fluckey has daringly, skillfully guided the Barb within 600 yards of the enemy beach. By 1:45 a.m. the boats are halfway back when a gunner warns, “Train!” “Paddle like the devil,” Fluckey yells, knowing they can never make it in time. Two minutes later the darkness is shattered by brilliant light. The boilers of the locomotive explode, shattered pieces of the engine blow 200 feet into the air. The freight cars telescope into each other and burst into flames. The jubilant crew pulls the saboteurs aboard and celebrates their victory as the Barb slips back to the safety of the deep.

September 2, 1945: Documents signed in Tokyo Harbor end the war in the Pacific. The Barb’s eight saboteurs had conducted the only ground combat operation on the Japanese homeland during World War II. More significantly, Fluckey's aggressive style of fighting resulted in his ship sinking the most enemy tonnage of any US World War II submarine. In 1997, Fluckey wrote of his war experiences in the book, Thunder Below. It is still in print. For more information, see Wikepedia: USS Barb or Eugene B. Fluckey.  Read More 
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Making a Difference

She gave 2,500 children a chance to live.
Warsaw citizen Irena Sendler was 29 years old when the Nazis took over her country. Long sympathetic with the Jewish people, she was soon creating false documents to help Jewish families. As the war progressed, she watched Jews being crowded into the Warsaw Ghetto, from which they were systematically taken o be gassed. In 1943, the Polish underground named her to head Zegota, its Jewish children’s section. She knew she faced death if caught, yet she developed a way to help.

The Germans feared typhus, so Irena obtained a special permit to enter the Ghetto to check the sewers for signs of the disease. Carrying a deep tool box, she risked placing an infant in the bottom before she returned it to her truck and drove it out of the Ghetto. She had trained her dog to bark at German guards who checked vehicles in and out, so they kept their distance, and their barking covered any outcry the babies might make. With success, she also began carrying a burlap sack for larger children. Desperate parents, knowing it was their children’s only hope, entrusted them to Irena’s care.

She dedicated herself to the effort, placing rescued children with willing Polish families and Catholic orphanages, keeping detailed lists of their original and new identities in glass jars buried in her yard to help reunite the families after the war. She organized about 30 co-workers willing to do the risky work, and before she was caught later that year, Irena's system had rescued 2,500 Jewish children. Irena was directly responsible for 400 lives saved. Tortured by the Nazis, legs and arms broken, and on her way to execution, she escaped when the underground was able to bribe German guards. She continued her work in hiding.

When peace came, she helped reunite a few parents who survived the death camps with their children, but most had died. Poland gave her several humanitarian honors and, with Israel, nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. It went to Al Gore. She died at 98 in 2008, one of the last living heroes who had sacrificed herself to save others from the incalculable evil of Hitler’s Holocaust.  Read More 
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The Gift of Laughter

No caption needed: one of Mauldin's best
Bill Mauldin was only twenty when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but he quickly found his place in the chaos of war, a place that made him probably the bet-known and best-loved enlisted man in the US Army.

Sergeant Mauldin’s job was to draw cartoons for the soldiers’ newspaper, Stars and Stripes. He served beside them and knew how things were. Soon sad-faced Willie and Joe, muddy, bedraggled, often with a cigarette hanging from a lip, were personifying the woes of combat infantrymen. The cartoonist never hesitated to tweak officers’ tails, but when some officers objected, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, put a stop to complaints. “Mauldin draws what Mauldin wants,” he declared.

Uncomfortable with praise, Mauldin was always an ordinary Joe, his impish grin still in place as he returned to civilian life and cartooned for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In 1945, he won his first of two Pulitzer Prizes, this one for "Distinguished service as a cartoonist." His Willie made the cover of Time magazine. His book, Up Front, was No. 1 best-seller in the country.

When word got out in 2002 that Mauldin was lying, alone, in a California nursing home, enlisted men from all over the country sent 10,000 cards and letters to tell him they hadn’t forgotten. So many wanted to visit it necessitated a waiting list. They came all summer and fall, bringing mementos of their days in the service, needing to say “Thank you.”

”You had to be reading a soaking wet Stars and Stripes in a water-filled fox hole and then see one of his cartoons,” one veteran explained. Mauldin’s cartoons had given them what they needed most when things got tough: the priceless gift of laughter.

Mauldin died on Jan. 23, 2003, and is buried in Arlington Cemetery. In 2010, he – and Willie and Joe – were honored on a US postage stamp, all three pictured as they were when they were buddies in 1943. Read More 
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Doolitle's Tokyo Raiders

The first-ever land-based planes to take off from a carrier deck.
The war news was all bad. Japanese forces were taking Pacific islands at will. The American public, frightened and discouraged,was hearing nothing but retreat and loss. Then came word 16 U.S. bombers had reached Tokyo. The Japanese capital was burning, just like Pearl Harbor had. Finally, something to cheer about!

Sixteen B-25's, stripped down to bare necessities and each crewed by only five men, finally learned what their dangerous, secret mission involved. They launched their planes from the USS Hornet and headed for Japan, 600 miles across the waters. Unexpected, undetected by the Japanese, they met only token resistance and all successfully bombed their targets.

Then, without sufficient fuel to reach any friendly base, they continued west, hoping to land in part of China free of Japanese occupation. One plane crash-landed in waters off the China coast; two men drowned; one man was killed bailing out. The rest were captured and held in Japan. One plane landed in Russia. Fourteen Liberators crash-landed in China; many airmen were helped by villagers who paid a terrible price. It is estimated the Japanese killed 250,00 civilians during their search for the Doolittle Raiders.

Eight Raiders were held in Japan; all were sentenced to death, but several sentences were commuted. Three were executed; one died in prison. Survivors in China were returned to the U.S., later flying missions in Burma, North Africa and Europe. Twelve eventually died in battle.

The Doolittle raid did little material damage to Japan, but raised American morale and forced the Japanese to shift resources to defend their homeland, weakening the navy that would face Americans two months later in the decisive Battle of Midway.  Read More 
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Center for America War Letters

They may be mud-splattered or gritty with sand; some are creased, crumpled, faded and dim. But they are treasures beyond imagining. Letters written by U.S. Armed Forces personnel will have a new, permanent home beginning Veterans Day, November 11, 2013, when the Center for American War Letters opens at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Beginning with the American Revolution, and including electronic mail from Iraq and Afghanistan, battlefield correspondents share what they are going through. They speak of love and longing, deep fatigue, ever-present fear and unspeakable horrors they witness. Written in numbing cold, prostrating heat, pelting rain and everlasting mud, many messages display remarkable determination and courage. Some, flecked with blood, contain the writer’s last words. The PBS program American Experience devoted a notable episode to war correspondence: See www.pbs.org/americanexperience/features.../warletters.

Private collector and author Andrew Carroll, 43, began gathering war correspondence soon after his family home burned when he was in college. Horrified at this loss of family history, he began collecting such historic correspondence, working on his own until 1998, when his letter to “Dear Abby” resulted in donation of some 15,000 letters. That number has gradually grown to a rich trove of 90,000 letters which will now be housed at Chapman in archival security, yet be available to researchers.

But Carroll wants even more. Terribly aware that more veterans die every day, Carroll pleads for people to search their attics and basements, old trunks and closets for keepsakes they might not realize they have. Author James Bradley, son of a Marine who fought in WW II, did not understand until well after his father’s death the significance of his being part of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. Letters he discovered in the attic led to his writing Flags of Our Fathers, the moving account of the men involved. Carroll urges anyone with something to share to contact The Center for American War Letters at www.chapmanuniversity.org. The web site also gives helpful information about the best ways to preserve historic letters that you wish to keep. Read More 
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Rosie the Riveter, then and now

Thousands of women found she was right!
As American men filled lines at recruiting offices in 1942, American women also answered the call to serve their country. Remarkably, one of them still "man's" her post.

With ruined ships still smoking in Pearl Harbor, suddenly desperate for equipment to fight a war, U. S. government and industry began to urge women to do their "patriotic duty" and take places emptied by men now in the armed forces. They reached out to singles, housewives and women with families, trying to convince them - and their husbands - they could do important jobs on assembly lines.

As the year advanced, Bandleader Kay Kyser recorded a new song titled "Rosie the Riveter." The lyrics described a woman who All day long, Whether rain or shine, She's a part of the assembly line.... BRRR- Rosie the Rivet-er." It quickly dominated the airwaves.

TheSaturday Evening Post promoted the idea of a female riveter on May 29, 1943, when Norman Rockwell's cover pictured a robust woman sitting before an American flag, her rivet gun on her lap, her penny loafers resting on a battered copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf. Her lunchbox, clearly marked "Rosie," completed the image. But with Rockwell's version under copyright, the image that became iconic was a poster by Westinghouse Co. artist J. Howard Miller. A determined woman, hair tied up in a bandanna, and right bicep flexed, declares, "We Can Do It!"

Convinced of the need, women, single, young and middle-aged, married with families, responded in such numbers that by the end of the year, 310,000 women were serving in defense industries, 65% of them in aircraft factories.

They weren't always welcomed there by their male co-workers - until the males saw they could do many jobs just as well as, if not better than, men. One notable woman who continues to prove her worth is Elinor Otto, still driving rivet's at age 93 at the Boeing C-7 aircraft factory in Long Beach, CA. Her bright red hair remains a fixture on an assembly line staffed with men and women half her age. Never interested in retirement, she laughs and says, "When I get to heaven, I hope God keeps me busy!"

Read more of Elinor Otto's story in the Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-c1-rosie-riveter-20130918-dto,0,850841.htmlstory Read More 
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