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Flag Day: The National World War II Museum and D-Day

I have the great fortune of having had my second book signing of Home Front Girl at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on June 13, 2013, the day before Flag Day.

Susie in front of the National World War II Museum, New Orleans.  Photo by Jim Kilfoyle.

Susie in front of the National World War II Museum, New Orleans. Photo by Jim Kilfoyle.

With John in front of the National World War II Museum, New Orleans.  Photo by Jim Kilfoyle.

With John in front of the National World War II Museum, New Orleans. Photo by Jim Kilfoyle.

With John in front of the National World War II Museum, New Orleans.  Photo by Jim Kilfoyle.

With John in front of the National World War II Museum, New Orleans. Photo by Jim Kilfoyle.

As before, I had wonderful conversations with visitors to the museum.  One lady bought Home Front Girl for her aunt who was about 6 months older than my mother, Joan.  And a dad bought the book for his two charming and brilliant daughters, ages 11 and 16, whom I had the pleasure the chat with!  I had fun, but I wish my wonderful Swedish cousin, Gerd, had been with me as she was the last time I was there–we always have a great time together.

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After the signing, I decided to wander through the museum.  It is so richly textured, I only got to see a small section of it.  I have to return! One of the first images I saw in the D-Day section of the museum you can see below.

Display show proportional number of troops in Japan, U.S. and Germany in the late 1930s: photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Display show proportional numbers of troops in Japan, U.S. and Germany in the late 1930s: photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Then I saw images from the home front, which is perfectly appropriate for the book with my mother’s diaries, Home Front Girl!  Here is a just a tip of the iceberg of what I saw.

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One of the most poignant entries on the page is the death of a 10 year old Portuguese girl.

I liked how the museum integrated all sorts of displays–diaromas, films, oral history segments you push a button to hear, artifacts including letters, diaries, flags, maps –just about anything you can think of!

Barracks display at National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Barracks display at National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Women were crucial to the war effort;  photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Join the U.S. Crop Corps!

Join the U.S. Crop Corps!

I  had never even heard of the U.S. Crop Corps til today!  I had heard of the British Land Girls, but had no idea that we had a similar program called the Woman’s Land Army of America.

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You can read more about service on the home front in America during World War II here.

Ration pack material;  photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Ration pack material; photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Paratrooper's silk scarf with map of escape routes if lost behind enemy lines; photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Paratrooper’s silk scarf with map of escape routes if lost behind enemy lines; photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

The museum included German soldiers’ points of view in the oral history section.

The title says it all;  photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

The title says it all; photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Cemetary in Normandy; photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Cemetery in Normandy; photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Flag that was carried on Landing Craft, Tank, Rocket 439 on D-Day;  photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Flag that was carried on Landing Craft, Tank, Rocket 439 on D-Day; photo from National World War II Museum, New Orleans.

Remember those who have defended the flag on this Flag Day!

Diaries and World War II

Diaries allow us to witness history before it is past.  We see what people think while it is taking place.  History books have their place, of course–we can see how an event that seems — in retrospect — to be inevitable given the circumstances came to happen.
But while people are experiencing what later gets to be called “history,” they often don’t know what the result of actions and events will be.  My mom, for instance, in writing about the war at Christmastime in 1940 at age 18 writes, “And all the sudden, in an emotional intensity, I thought, “This may be the last Christmas we shall have” . . . I should be wise and know the world will never end. . . .”  But she didn’t know that at the time.  It seemed, given all the grim war news after the fall of France and so many other countries in the spring of 1940, as though the world was to be utterly conquered by Hitler.  She couldn’t have yet known that the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union would prove to be a fatal strategical move (thank goodness!).

A recent obituary tells of another WWII diarist:  Chester Hansen.  He was an aide to General Omar N. Bradley who commanded ground forces on D-Day.  But Hansen had been with Bradley since the time he trained in Louisiana, to the North Africa campaign, and then the invasion of Sicily.  Hansen’s diary came to number 300,000 words!

Chester Hansen, left, in Sicily in 1943 with Gen. Omar N. Bradley. From the New York Times obituary by Leslie Kaufman, Oct. 29, 2012.

As the Times article quotes from the entry concerning D-Day, June 6, 1944:  “Like others in the Army party, Bradley was up at 3:30. He is on the bridge, a familiar figure in his ODs with Moberly infantry boots and OD shirt, combat jacket, steel helmet. He smiles lightly as though it is good to be nearer the coast of France and get the invasion under way.”

The archive of Hansen’s works is at US Army Heritage and Education Center.  For lots of neat videos about Bradley, check this page out.  Curators using the original documents in the Bradley archive have to wear protective gloves.  I know have my mom’s diaries in protective plastic sheets since the paper is so crumbly.  Original documents need to be protected so future readers can use them.

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