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Flying Tigers: China and World War II

Joan writes about the Japanese invasion into China during the 1930s.

Monday, December 20, 1937                

I am fifteen years old. Fifteen years ago I was not, now I am—fifteen years from now—who knows? It gives you a queer feeling—your birthday . . .

P.S. Italy and Germany and Japan have a triple alliance now—whatever that means. And the Japanese had a peace assembly at Tokyo this week and are still killing people in China—nice world, isn’t it?

Sarcasm masks her horror at the destruction wrought on civilians.

Sunday, February 20, 1938

I had a horrible dream about war again last night. In my dream I could see the countries of China and Japan spread out before me on a map.[1] I could see people milling about in both countries and in the eyes of the Chinese, in all the eyes, there was a hurried bewilderment and there was a horror in my heart. Someone explained to me what was happening. “The Japanese are too many to fit into their own country so they are sending many of their people over to China.” And I could see it happening—the crowds of people hurrying over the narrow strip of water to China and the ever-thickening bewildered crowds in China, hurrying nowhere. “But,” I asked, “What will happen to all the Chinese—there are too many!” The answer came—slowly and surely, “They will be killed—deliberately and quickly—every one.” And I shouted at my dream, “But they can’t do it—they’re human beings—the Chinese!” And the words were repeated, “They will kill them—everyone.” And an awful horror filled my mind and I saw the people—all of them, hurrying faster—and faster—to nowhere. And faster!


[1] Joan wrote this entry shortly after the horrific Nanking massacre and mass rapes inflicted on the Chinese by the invading Japanese army.

She then sees a newsreel about the Japanese bombing of the Panay.

Sunday, January 9, 1938

. . . Last night we went to show and saw Norman Alley’s Bombing of the [USS] Panay. Pictures before and after and all. I wonder how he knew when he made them that those pictures would be so important. An historical document—the paper says.
Here is the very newsreel she saw.

Several years later, the U.S. continues to pay attention to China, even before it entered World War II.  Joan starts out this passage in a funny way, since she has a cold, but then she hears a news report.

Friday, March 21, 1941

. . . Sprig is cub. . . . I hab a slight cod id de dose as you cod see. . . . Mom’s and Dad’s wedding anniversary. . . . Father and I were sitting listening to the “China War Relief” program and I was knitting.

The China participation in World War II was in the New York Times today.  The Flying Tigers were an American pilots who fought for the Chinese before the U.S. officially entered the war.

American pilots of the Flying Tigers ran for their Curtiss P-40 fighters as an air raid warning sounded in November 1943.  From The New York Times:  http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/21/decay-of-flying-tigers-graveyard-sparks-debate-in-china/?_r=0

American pilots of the Flying Tigers ran for their Curtiss P-40 fighters as an air raid warning sounded in November 1943. From The New York Times: http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/21/decay-of-flying-tigers-graveyard-sparks-debate-in-china/?_r=0

But recently a graveyard containing the remains of Chinese personnel who supported the Flying Tigers was found on a garbage strewn hillside.  Graves had been disturbed.  Many Chinese are angry about this desecration.

You can see more about the Flying Tigers in this newsreel.

The desecration of graves is a universal taboo.  The commemoration of the dead is held as a dearly sacred rite in all cultures.  This is Joan’s reflection on visiting a statue to the Unknown Soldier from World War I (the “Great War” in a Chicago park when she is 14 years old.

Sunday, May 30, 1937

This is Memorial Day and it rained. Daddy and I went out for a walk and when it rained went under a tree near the statue of the Unknown Soldier. He looked so lonely there in the rain (the Soldier, I mean), and there wasn’t even a wreath to mark the day. It seemed so pitiful. So I picked a little flower from the tree and ran in the rain to lay it at his feet. And I’m sure he knew I did it and was glad that someone remembered him on this day. It was only a little flower, but I’m sure it meant as much as a wreath. I’m glad I did it, as I’m sure the Soldier is . . .

Here is a classic scene from the John Wayne movie, Flying Tigers, from 1942.

“Nightmares During Wartime in Asia–Imagined and Actual” [with guest blogger]

Today’s blog is written jointly with Rachael Rifkin who keeps the blog Family Resemblance (www.lifestoriestoday.com/blog).  It’s a lovely tribute to her grandfather, Sidney Goldstein, who was a medic during the Korean War.

Rachael's grandfather

Rachael’s grandfather, Sidney Goldstein.

His wife kept all his letters sent to her during that conflict. Rachael discovered them in the garage.  Her blog is dedicated to him and his life.

Our work is similar:  we both pay tribute to beloved family members who experienced war.  My mother, Joan, experienced war on the home front.  Rachael’s grandfather, Sidney, experienced it in the field.  We would like to pay tribute to both experiences by seeing how Asia appeared to Americans in wartime.

Five days before her 16th birthday, Joan hears reports of Japan’s increasing aggression in Asia.

Wednesday, December 15, 1937

. . . The other day Japan bombed three American ships[1]—one a gunboat—that were in some Chinese harbor and everyone thought there was going to be a war—there wasn’t though, so it’s all right—I hope.


[1] In the margin, Joan wrote “Panay bombing.” The Panay was the US gunboat bombed on December 12, 1937.  You can view a newsreel Joan sees of the Panay bombing and Japanese incursions into China here.

USS Panay sinking after Japanese air attack. Nanking, China. 12 December 1937.
USS Panay sinking after Japanese air attack. Nanking, China. 12 December 1937.

Monday, December 20, 1937   

I am fifteen years old. Fifteen years ago I was not, now I am—fifteen years from now—who knows? It gives you a queer feeling—your birthday . . .P.S. Italy and Germany and Japan have a triple alliance now—whatever that means. And the Japanese had a peace assembly at Tokyo this week and are still killing people in China—nice world, isn’t it? 

Tensions escalate between the West and Japan.  Boys she knows may be enlisted and even killed, should war begin.

Sunday, February 13, 1938. . . The United States (mine), England and France—the three great democracies as the paper glaringly puts it—sent a note to Japan last week demanding that she cut down on her navies—and yesterday the note came back with an answer—“Go to it—let’s have a naval race”—or to the point. And then Thursday night they had a program on the radio discussing the next war in confident tones. Somehow everything seems to point to 1940 as the turning point—as the time when the climax is reached. Everyone seems sure that there will be a war soon. I was talking to a boy in school Friday about war and death. He seemed sure that there’d be another war (another, oh!) and he said he’d probably be killed in it. All the boys I know will be old enough to die in a war in 1940. When I said, “And afterwards—?”, he said, “Well, if there’s anything to see—afterwards—I’ll see it, and if not, well, I won’t know about it.” Which is, after all, the only thing to say. But think 1940—death—war—oh, why must it be?

Joan at camp the day war begins in Europe

Joan at camp the day war begins in Europe; see how young she is (only 16)–so are the boys she knows

Finally, Joan’s fears enter her subconscious.  She dreams about war in China.

Saturday, March 5, 1938

I had another dream about war last night—I dreamt that the Chinese and Japanese were fighting and that I and about 50 other neutral people—white—were behind the Chinese lines. The fighting got worse and worse and we decided to go over to the Japanese lines—but the place between was awfully dangerous. I kept saying, “Oh, go on over—we’re sure to die if we stay—we must do something.” And I kept thinking it terribly loud, too.

While we were deciding, the Japanese captured the place and conquered the Chinese—we wanted to escape but there was a sentinel at the only free place. So we went to the Japanese commander and asked him to let us go free—when I say “we,” I mean I and a few others asked that all 50 might go free. The Japanese commander thought and said, “I will let you all go free on [the] condition that I may kill the last one to leave.”

This map shows Japanese incursions into China in 1940

This map shows Japanese incursions into China in 1940; Japanese occupation in red.

So we left in a hurry and then others formed a line for leaving. We who had left stood around outside the camp to see what would happen—as people will—especially to see who would be the last. One man in the middle of the line deliberately walked back and placed himself at the end—self-sacrifice. I recognized him as a famous doctor-scientist and I thought, “He can’t do that—think of what he means to the world. If I were to die, it wouldn’t matter so much—I want to be something but I may never be worthwhile and he is already. I will go and place myself at the end of the line.”

And I believe I actually was going to do so. But other men were at the end of the line—trying each to be last—wholesale self-sacrifice—and as I watched the dream faded—or at least I can remember no more.

I don’t know what happened then. . . .

Then, Pearl Harbor happens.  But I’ll tell about Joan’s diary entry on December 7, 1941 another time. You can read another blogpost about the Pacific theater of war and American nurses here.

Rachael’s grandfather was also in Asia, but a number of years later.  Sidney was there for the Korean War, a conflict that lasted from June 25, 1950 – July 27, 1953.

Rachael writes movingly about the legacy of her grandfather. And his letters are strangely reminiscent of Joan’s diaries.  Here follow Rachael’s words:

Sometimes I put myself in my grandmother’s position, imagining the fear and anxiety she must have felt with my grandfather away in Korea, not knowing if he’d return home. She spent a year and a half with the uncertainty, and the aftereffects are still with her today. Whenever my grandfather’s stint in Korea is brought up, she tells me and my mother how afraid she was that he wouldn’t make it back. If he hadn’t, she reminds us, neither of us would here today.

Ruth and Sidney Goldstein in South Carolina. Sidney was stationed there before he went to Korea.

Ruth and Sidney Goldstein in South Carolina. Sidney was stationed there before he went to Korea.

Despite the small fraction of worry that invades when I read my grandfather’s letters, it’s usually hard for me to take the potential of danger seriously. For one thing, I already know he made it home safe. For another, as a medic he was never stationed in the frontlines. He also spent a good portion of his 1951 letters reassuring my grandmother that he was safe.

Turns out he sometimes omitted things. Things like screams in the night, overturned jeeps, and rides through landmine territory with only the inky blackness of night to keep you company. Caught off guard by how close he came to death, for the first time I got a real sense of what my grandmother might have felt like when she read this letter for the first time.

He tells my grandmother about these incidents months later as he’s on his way to the safety of his new station in Japan. He says he didn’t want to worry my grandmother while they were still in Korea, but I can’t help feeling a little deceived. He pledged to write honestly and in detail about his experiences, but I bet if I look back at his June, July and September 1951 entries (which I eventually plan to do) he won’t even hint at the real story. To be fair, my grandmother is a big worrier, so the omission was probably wise. But as a reader and granddaughter who believed he would tell the truth, I’m a little dismayed.

Rachael writes:  "My grandfather's caption reads: The Road Back after endless months in Korea. The trip to Chuncheon has begun and the convoy eagerly starts rolling despite the freezing weather, Jan '52."

Sidney Goldstein’s caption: “The Road Back after endless months in Korea. The trip to Chuncheon has begun and the convoy eagerly starts rolling despite the freezing weather, Jan ’52.”

Nonetheless, the passage below is one of my favorites. Much like Joan’s dreams, it’s full of suspense and danger, and offers a close look at the horrors of war. Though separated by time and different conflicts, their descriptions of war—in particular, that indefatigable need to flee and survive—are strikingly similar.

1/26/52 1:45 PM

On Board USS George Clymer

USS George Clymer (APA-27) underway, date and location unknown

USS George Clymer (APA-27) underway, date and location unknown

 Dearest Ruthie:

Calm satisfaction and inner peace still pervade my being; I’m looking forward to unique and tasty meals in Japan with the same eagerness that we both experienced when we were on our honeymoon. While on board this ship, I have already finished the book Caine Mutiny.

First edition cover.  It became a famous play and movie.

First edition cover. It became a famous play and movie.

Another roll of film to be developed and I now have color film in my camera primed and ready to go. Even though I have been on the high seas for only three days, the wonderful joys of civilization has made Korea a dim recollection.

Now to tell you a few war stories “with my helmet on,” as the expression goes. Lt. Sparkman has told you not to believe my war stories and that is your right. Oh yes! Before I start, I would like to say that the rumor of the bombing of Chuncheon

Chuncheon, Korea.

Chuncheon, Korea.

and the derailment of the railroad train were absolutely false. It’s true I did not tell you everything about Korea, but I did not want to worry you needlessly and make you gray ahead of your time.

Let us turn back the calendar to June of 1951, the month of my grand debut in Korea. At that time there was still the danger of communists infiltrating our lines. They enjoyed attacking vulnerable spots that could not easily defend themselves such as medical installations. In fact, in the months of April and May, several doctors, medical aid men, and even chaplains, were killed during such sneak night raids.

During my early days in Korea, I carried a gun and I wouldn’t have hesitated to use it either. I had the strange sensation that I would be shot in the head by an enemy sniper lurking in the bushes or the overhanging, perpetual hills which always surrounded us no matter where we rode or walked.

In early July, several communist infiltrators were killed about two miles from our position, but some of them escaped. For an entire week we spent anxious, sleepless nights with our loaded guns within arm’s length.

I’ll never forget one night; I posted my medics as guards around the aid station. At least ten times I could hear their determined voice shouting: “Halt, who goes there?” At about 3 am a shot suddenly rang out. I thought that was the beginning of the fireworks but no more shots were fired. The thousand and one noises we heard that night were interpreted as belonging to the Chinese guerrillas.

My grandfather's caption reads: Posing before my overturned ambulance, Nov. '51

Sidney Goldstein’s caption: “Posing before my overturned ambulance, Nov. ’51.”

Without warning, at 5 am we heard a blood-curdling scream. It sounded as if one of the guards had suddenly been choked or stabbed to death. Now we’re going to get it for sure, I thought as I grabbed my gun. But a strange silence ensued and I prayed fervently for the dawn. At 6:15 am came the dawn, and I cannot tell you how thankful and appreciative I was of the Biblical saying: “Let there be light.”

With the coming of the light, we felt safe and secure. I later discovered that the shot that rang out in the night could be attributed to a nervous GI who shot at what he thought was a moving figure on the road. Oh, the blood-curdling scream! One of the cooks it seems was having a dream in which he was tied with ropes by the communists and they were about, to crush him with a steamroller. No wonder he awoke with a fearful scream!

There was one other time I appreciated the saying “Let there be light.” Do you remember that 150 mile march I told you about? Well, I was wrong; it was only 26 miles. Do you remember telling me of reading about a company of our men who had been trapped by the communists? It so happens that my artillery battalion made that night march in order to come to their aid.

Rachael's grandfather did not write anything about this photo.

Sidney Goldstein captured this tank in action.

The night of Sept. 18 was a nightmare I will never for­get. It was the first taste of blackout driving for my medics and me and we did ourselves proud. We all kept a sharp lookout for the road; after all we didn’t want to drive over a mountain pass. Suddenly my driver, Corporal Gehrs, and I saw white tape ahead of us and just to the side of the road. We instinctively stopped and drove around the white marker. We later learned that a white marker indicates that there is a minefield at that spot.

At about 10 pm that same night, word reached us that one of our trucks had overturned while rounding a turn. I envisioned dead, crushed bodies and bleeding galore, but all I had to treat were contusions and painful shoulders. Then at 11:30 pm the medics were called again: in going off the road, a jeep had set off a booby trap. We weren’t told where the incident occurred. We drove everywhere in the darkness and couldn’t find a soul. In the meantime, about 1,000 yards ahead of us, we saw machine guns playing a deadly game and tracers and flairs lit up the sky. Why, heck, that was the fighting front.

Eventually, we came to a fork in the road, and fearing that one of the roads might lead to communist territory, decided that a 50-50 gamble with our lives was not worth it. We retraced our steps instead. Fifteen minutes later we found the four victims of the booby trap explosion. They were all badly shaken, hurt and staring vacantly.

Medics helping wounded soldier during the Korean war.

Medics helping wounded soldier during the Korean war.  Photo and story here.

I gave one of them a plasma transfusion; he later lost his leg. Suddenly, we went over a bump, which resulted in the wounded men cowering in fear, hands covering their faces and bodies assuming the fetal position. Turning to three of my medics, I said, “Take the men to the clearing station, wherever that may be. Good luck.”

With the above two incidents occurring in rapid succession, we had to break convoy and became totally lost. For a while, we found ourselves following the vehicles of an infantry outfit that was also part of the large convoy. We had the uneasy feeling that we were going to the front lines with the infantry. Soon dense silence engulfed us; we realized that once more we were all alone but had to keep moving.

And so from 12 pm-5 am, we wandered through the deep darkness hearing machine gunfire in front of us and behind us with occasional flares lighting up the sky. We drove slowly, making sure we stuck to the hard asphalt road, wondering when the explosion from the minefields would occur. We were relieved that all we heard was the rumbling of our trucks and deafening silence.

Finally at 5 am, we stumbled upon our Headquarters Battery and one of the officers greeted me with: “Say, doc, I’m glad you finally caught up to us.” But I was still wary—I did not want to walk around the area for fear of mines, so I slept in the jeep for an hour and a half and boy was I cold! When I awoke at 6:30 am, I saw the most beautiful, welcome light of the dawn. Again I said thankfully to myself: ”Let there be light.”

From then on we were in minefield territory. One of the fellows stepped on a booby trap a hundred yards away from my aid station and was blown into grotesque bits. This booby trap was located near a Korean hut. In fact, I wanted to take a picture of this hut with its thatched roof, but I decided against it for I knew that Christmas trees, houses and valuables lying on the ground were favorite places to plant booby traps. I instructed my medics most emphatically not to wander across the fields and to stick to the straight and well-trodden path or road.

See this page for much more fascinating information about the Military Air Transportation Service.

See this page for much more fascinating information about the Military Air Transportation Service.

In our last position, a vehicle from an ordinance outfit drove across the fields to get to another road and set off not one but three mines (not booby traps this time). It completely demolished the jeep so that anyone could have lifted it with his hands. One fellow was killed outright, two died in my ambulance, and the fourth died the next day. So much about minefields, but I hope that Lt. Rack and his medics of the 40th Division take my advice about the minefields seriously.

There are more war stories to tell, but that should wait for the breakfast table. Suffice it to say, what saved most of us was our alertness and common sense.

Now don’t shudder, Beautiful. I am safe, sound, happy, very much alive, and love you terrifically with all my heart.

Sidney on board USS George Clymer, Jan '52.

Sidney on board USS George Clymer, Jan ’52.

 Rachael and I hope you enjoyed this joint blogpost today!

The Heroism of First Responders and Ordinary People: Army Nurses in World War II: “So Proudly We Hail” (1943)

The terrible events of this week– the bombing at the Boston Marathon, the explosion in West, Texas, the killing of the MIT police officer — remind us how vulnerable we are.  And how the simple bravery of ordinary people, from first-responders to passers-by on the street, reveal the honest compassion of humanity.  Such generosity of spirit was also seen in the World War II period.

The other night Turner Classic Movies hosted a number of films starring the beauteous Claudette Colbert.  So Proudly We Hail (1943) riveted my son and me.  It stars the lovely Claudette Colbert,90px-Claudette_Colbert_in_So_Proudly_We_Hail_traileralong with Oscar-nominated Paulette Goddard,90px-Paulette_Goddard_in_So_Proudly_We_Hail!_trailerand, in an unusual role, Veronica Lake.

90px-Veronica_Lake_in_So_Proudly_We_Hail_trailer

Based on a memoir that had appeared early in 1943 written by a nurse, Juanita Redmond Hipps,

Lt. Rosemary Hogan gets new bars from Maj. Juanita Redmond.

Lt. Rosemary Hogan gets new bars from Maj. Juanita Redmond.

who had been in the Philippines as it fell to the Japanese, So Proudly We Hail follows the lives of a group of nurses, sent out for the U.S. to the Pacific before Pearl Harbor.

Here is a military trailer of the film.

The nurses cannot land in Hawaii after December 7th, and carry on to the Philippines.  There they set up camp on the peninsula of Bataan.

So_Proudly_We_Heil!

Tragedy ensues as Bataan is taken over by the Japanese.  They flee in rickety boats to the island of Corregidor where they live in a huge tunnel complex with thousands of soldiers.  But this underground space of safety is likewise doomed.  Ultimately, the group of nurses the audience has come to know are evacuated to safety.  So Proudly We Hail came out in late June, 1943, not long after the evacuation from Corregidor. You can read more about the real “Angels of Bataan” here.

Army Nurses in Santo Tomas, 1943. Left to right: Bertha Dworsky; Sallie Durrett; Earlene Black; Jean Kennedy; Louise Anchieks; Millei Dalton.

Army Nurses in Santo Tomas, 1943. Left to right: Bertha Dworsky; Sallie Durrett; Earlene Black; Jean Kennedy; Louise Anchieks; Millei Dalton.

A recent highly acclaimed book, The Rape of Nanking, exposes the massacres and mass rapes committed by invading Japanese forces in Nanking, China in 1937-8.  These facts were well known at the time.

One of the more unusual aspects of the movie So Proudly We Hail is an exchange among the nurses as the Japanese are due heading to take over their hospital on Bataan.  One nurse says she was at Nanking when it was invaded and saw what the Japanese did to the women there.  They fought like animals over women and then said it was the privilege of the imperial army.  None-too-subtly, So Proudly We Hail takes on the issue of the fear of rape of American nurses by Japanese troops.

US Government Poster

US Government Poster

In Joan’s diary, she writes about the invasion of Nanking.

Wednesday, December 15, 1937

. . . The other day Japan bombed three American ships[1]—one a gunboat—that were in some Chinese harbor and everyone thought there was going to be a war—there wasn’t though, so it’s all right—I hope.

Monday, December 20, 1937                

I am fifteen years old. . . .

P.S. Italy and Germany and Japan have a triple alliance now—whatever that means. And the Japanese had a peace assembly at Tokyo this week and are still killing people in China—nice world, isn’t it?

Sunday, January 9, 1938

. . . Last night we went to show and saw Norman Alley’s Bombing of the [USS] Panay. Pictures before and after and all. I wonder how he knew when he made them that those pictures would be so important. An historical document—the paper says.

You can see the actual newsreel Joan saw here.

Sunday, February 20, 1938

I had a horrible dream about war again last night. In my dream I could see the countries of China and Japan spread out before me on a map.[2] I could see people milling about in both countries and in the eyes of the Chinese, in all the eyes, there was a hurried bewilderment and there was a horror in my heart. Someone explained to me what was happening. “The Japanese are too many to fit into their own country so they are sending many of their people over to China.” And I could see it happening—the crowds of people hurrying over the narrow strip of water to China and the ever-thickening bewildered crowds in China, hurrying nowhere. “But,” I asked, “What will happen to all the Chinese—there are too many!” The answer came—slowly and surely, “They will be killed—deliberately and quickly—every one.” And I shouted at my dream, “But they can’t do it—they’re human beings—the Chinese!” And the words were repeated, “They will kill them—everyone.” And an awful horror filled my mind and I saw the people—all of them, hurrying faster—and faster—to nowhere. And faster!


[1] Joan wrote this entry shortly after the horrific Nanking massacre and mass rapes inflicted on the Chinese by the invading Japanese army.


[2] In the margin, Joan wrote “Panay bombing.” The Panay was the US gunboat bombed on December 12, 1937.

In So Proudly We Hail, one character makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the others.  To understand it, let me tell you more about Veronica Lake‘s character. Lt. Olivia D’Arcy is played in an atypical role by  Lake.  Lt. Janet ‘Davy’ Davidson is played by Claudette Colbert.  MV5BMjA4MjQ5NjYzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjAxNzg2._V1_SY105_CR19,0,105,105_Olivia has been rude and obnoxious; none of the other nurses like her.  Finally, a confrontation occurs between her and her senior officer, Davy. The  scene can be viewed here.

It is clear that Olivia is suffering from what we would call PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder].  Courtesy of IMBD, you can read this shocking dialogue.

Later in the film, when the Japanese are shooting in the hospital grounds, Lake takes a grenade from a dead American soldier.  She tells the others to flee.

Nurse in Bataan Hospital Ward

Nurse in Bataan Hospital Ward

Better that one dies so the others will live.  Lake hides the grenade in her overalls and heads out to the Japanese with her hands up.  We think she will pull the pin and throw it at the Japanese.  Instead, she gets close to the enemy and when they are close to her, she pulls the pin killing them — and herself. You can view a section of the film with this incident here.

 Malinta Tunnel hospital ward (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

Malinta Tunnel hospital ward (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

The entire set up for the movie circles around PTSD.  The movie begins after the nurses have been evacuated and they are on their way home.  Davy, the lovely Claudette Colbert, is swathed in blankets and practically comatose.  The ship doctor says she’ll die because she wants to die.  Only if he hears her story can he help.  So the film didactically walks us through all the nurses have experienced.  Davy’s real crisis concerns her beloved, play by George Reeves, who later became famous as the Superman of the 1950s television series.

Liberated Nurses, February 12, 1945

Liberated Nurses, February 12, 1945

American films made soon after the U.S. entered the war can be extremely grim in their tone.  At that time, people didn’t really know who would win.  The ending of this film succeeds in encouraging the audience to keep supporting the war to help save nurses like these.  But the glossy light trickling through the clouds over which the words The End appear does little to rouse hope in the viewer’s heart.  Like the first-responders and normal bystanders today, they were willing to sacrifice themselves for others, either through dying or impairment or loss of  peace of mind.

Joan’s Journals and Historical Events

Joan often mentions events of the day in her journals. 

Here she writes about hearing of the famous Hindenburg disaster.

Thursday 5/6/37, Age 14

Hello!  The German zeppelin Von Hindenburg crashed not three hours ago at Lakehurst, New Jersey.  That great new sister ship to the Graf Zeppelin!! Just burnt up like that.  The radio announcer said it was ‘cause the lightening set fire to the explosive hydrogen in the ship and then it exploded.  Airships seem to have a curse or something – to everyone except the Graf Something disaster has happened.  Now the Graf is the only one left.  The Herald Examiner said 100 people were killed, but as it’s a Hearst paper, 50 is a safer guess. They always exaggerate!  Ho-hum—must read about Renaissance art now— um—um.

Good Night!

The announcer’s eyewitness report is heartbreaking and famous.  Listen to it here.

Sunday, January 9, 1938

“Last night we went to show and saw Norman Alley’s Bombing of the [USS] Panay.”

Read about the Panay bombing and its importance in the lead-up to Pearl Harbor.  To see the newsreel Joan saw, go to this site.

Winston Churchill gave many important speeches that people heard on the radio.  Joan tells about a number of them, though she didn’t really seem to admire him, calling him “pigface” more than once!

This famous photo was taken by Yousuf Karsh from December 30, 1941.

Thursday, April 24, 1941, Age 18

Churchill’s speech: Sat with the book open on my lap as he talked. Mom was listening too, and Daddy, cross-legged on his chair . . . “We shall not fail and we know we shall conquer or die.” And Athens is fallen early this morning and the African battle is losing. But “we shall not fail.”

He feels there is hope and help from America, from the West. . . . And you know I always think “pigface” when I hear him, but today he said again and again in sibilants that hissed across the Atlantic, “we shall not fail”…

Maybe England shall go down. I was thinking of Cicero today as we heard Churchill. And how those brave words would sound when some schoolboy is translating them, a thousand years hence. Maybe England shall fall. I guess so. I don’t know.

You can read and hear some of Churchill’s speeches.

First of all, you may want to investigate the Churchill Centre and Museum at the Churchill War Rooms, London.

 May 19, 1940. Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minster (section of audio speech).

June 18, 1940.  Churchill’s most famous speech:  “Their Finest Hour.” (section of audio)

Jan. 20 1941.  “Sail On Oh Ship of State.”  Here is a section of the audio version.

Broadcast from February 9, 1941.  “Give Us the Tools” section of audio.  Here is the entire written speech.

April 9, 1941.   “Everything Turns Upon the Battle of the Atlantic.”

Joan admired the President of the University of Chicago, Robert M. Hutchins.

She relates how he gave a number of speeches, some of which have since become famous.

Sunday March 30, 1941, Age 18

Hullo.  Heard Hutchins today on the radio—spoke from Chapel.  I meant to go and hear him but didn’t arise early enough.  He was good, he was wonderful.  He was right.  “The proposition is peace.”  Probably most people won’t agree with him—again…

Another important speech Hutchins’ gave is here.  It is the convocation address from June 14, 1941, shortly before the war began.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave many important speeches and fireside chats during his long   presidency (1932-1945).

Here Joan tells of one speech he is to give.

Monday, September 8, 1941, Age 18

. . . Roosevelt to speak tomorrow. “Important,” they say. It was to have been Tuesday but on account of his mother’s death they put it off. . . . They say he’ll say, “Shoot without being fired upon”—to our ships. I dunno. Well, we shall all die; somewhere over the far hills death is already written for such as us. . . . I am young, but an ancestress of mine may have died younger. . . .

Here’s the speech he actually delivered on September 11, 1941.

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