Tag Archives: World War II

Book: Catch-22

Joseph Heller's Catch 22 is listed as the seventh greatest English-language novel of the twentieth century by The Modern Library, and one of the 100 greatest of all time by The Observer. Uploaded by wells.edu.

“Catch-22” has come to be a popular phrase that today means “a frustrating situation in which one feels trapped by contradictory regulations or conditions.” It comes from Joseph Heller’s breakthrough novel of the same name.

Yossarian, the main character of Catch-22, would be right at home dealing with the American bureaucracy in the second decade of the twenty-first century. His particular frustration came in dealing with the bureaucracy of the U.S. Army during World War II. But people who have to make their way through today’s heavily regulated society often invoke the phrase, or the spirit, of Catch-22.

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Yossarian wanted to stop flying missions in the war. But he saw what happened to his buddy Orr. As Joseph Heller describes it in his groundbreaking novel:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.

Published in 1961, Catch-22 is ranked as the seventh-greatest English language novel of the twentieth century by The Modern Library, while The Observer lists it as one of the 100 greatest novels of all time.

Americana: Duct Tape

Duct tape came into use during World War II, when it was used to repair everything from ammunition boxes to weapons, to Jeeps, to airplanes. Uploaded by wikimedia.org.

What holds America together? Is it our shared history? Our common sense of purpose, of what it means to be Americans? Is it the founding documents that have given us direction and hope? Much as these things help, the fact is that America is held together by duct tape.

Duct tape on Apollo 13. Uploaded by workingonthemoon.com.

This fabric tape sealed with polyethylene can fix just about anything. When the Apollo 13 mission encountered critical danger with its CO2 scrubbers, duct tape helped provide the solution and saved the lives of the astronauts on board. The ground crew member who designed the solution said, “I felt we were home free,” when he learned there was duct tape on board.

People disagree about whether the proper name is duct or duck tape, and about which usage came first. It’s generally agreed that the tape first came into use during World War II when it was used to repair Jeeps, weapons, even aircraft. There is one use, however for which duct tape isn’t allowed. And that is to tape up ducts. Apparently it doesn’t meet building codes.

Film: Patton

The movie showed Patton's military genius, but also how out of place he was during a war in which generals also had to have skills in public relations. Uploaded to Photobucket by franzandfilms.

My father wasn’t a big movie fan. I can only remember going to two films with him: True Grit and Patton. The first starred John Wayne, his hero. And while Dad was in the Army during World War II, I don’t believe he was under Patton’s (Great American Things, Jan. 3, 2010) leadership. That’s how I understand it, anyway – he didn’t talk about the war. I do know that his journey from North Africa to Sicily and ultimately to Paris paralleled Patton’s advances. Dad definitely wanted to see this part of his life on the big screen.

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It’s a great movie, and George C. Scott gives a tremendous performance. In his portrayal, the scope of the general’s military skills were only matched by the size of his ego. From the iconic opening sequence in which Patton addresses his troops in front of that enormous American flag through the slapping of the shell-shocked soldier, the movie shows the general’s incredible military acumen while not shying from his lack of awareness of how a general must behave in the age of modern media.

Patton won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (Scott). It ranked number 89 in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies list. One of the greatest quotes in movie history also comes from this film: “Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.”

History: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, also called the Tomb of the Unknowns, is guarded 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Guards are changed each hour except in summer, when the change is each half hour. Uploaded by managingbusinessrisk.com.

Several years following World War I, Congress approved the burial of an unknown soldier at Arlington Cemetery. The process for selecting the soldier to be honored has remained essentially the same since that time. Several identical caskets containing the remains of an unidentified soldier are prepared, and a highly decorated veteran of that war makes the selection at random. That coffin comes to Arlington; the others are buried with honors at foreign battlefield cemeteries.

The procedure has been followed for the World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. Surprisingly, considering the all-consuming nationwide effort that led to victory in the second world war, the unknown soldier for that war and for Korea weren’t interred at Arlington until 1958.

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The tomb itself is guarded 24 hours a day, and the guard is changed each half hour in summer, each hour the rest of the year. Those soldiers performing this prestigious guard duty don’t wear rank insignia on their uniforms, so they don’t outrank the Unknowns.

One factor unknown to the world when the monument was revealed in 1921 is DNA. According to the Arlington National Cemetery website:

The remains of the Vietnam Unknown were exhumed May 14, 1998. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing, DoD scientists identified the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. It has been decided that the crypt that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain vacant.

Americana: Life Magazine

During its peak in the 1940s, Life had reporters and photographers in all theaters of World War II, and brought the war home to America. By the 1950s, more people got their news from TV, and Life became more of a celebrity magazine. Uploaded by arts-wallpaper.com.

While there was an earlier (and a later) incarnation of Life magazine, this honor goes to the Henry Luce version (as in Time-Life) published weekly starting in 1936 and ceasing in 1972. Noted for its photojournalistic style, the articles were typically long on pictures, short on text. Not that literature was ignored, though; Life serialized Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, along with his novella that came to be called The Dangerous Summer.

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Perhaps at no time was Life more important to America than during World War II. The magazine had reporters and photographers in all theaters of the war, and their stories and pictures brought the war home to ordinary Americans. At its peak, it sold 13.5 million copies per week.

As more people got their news from television, circulation figures for newsmagazines tumbled in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and despite numerous gimmicks (such as reducing the cover price from .25 to .19), Life eventually ceased weekly publication. It was resurrected as a monthly, then as a Sunday newspaper insert, but the magic was gone. Still, it provided Americans of an entire generation their graphic look at world events, and its photo library is still available for advertising and editorial uses.

Americana: Navy SEALs

They've fought in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan - and in lots of places we'll never know about. Photo by Michael W. Pendergrass.

There’s an old saying, “Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job.” Since their creation in 1961, the Navy SEALs have undertaken special operations jobs that required extreme skill, flawless timing, and the ultimate courage. They’ve been deployed in such trouble spots as Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. At least, those are the places we know about. Given the nature of their missions, no doubt they have completed other secret assignments as well.

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The name SEAL derives from their operations on SEa, Air, and Land. They trace their roots back to World War II, and the Naval Combat Demolition Unit. Today, they are the special forces arm of the Navy, and among their missions are reconnaissance, unconventional warfare, hostage rescue, and counter-terrorism.

And, we’ve just found out, killing World Enemy No. 1, Osama bin Laden. As of this writing, it appears that a team of about 40 SEALs, 24 on the ground, invaded bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. They took out al Qaeda’s leader, recovered his body, brought out other documentation which may prove invaluable in helping break up cells, all without taking a single casualty. Today, all of America is more aware of – and extremely grateful for – the talented men who are proud to be Navy SEALs.

History: The Berlin Airlift

The Soviets hoped to bring West Berlin under its sphere of influence by keeping western Allies out - and starving the city's 2.8 million residents was the price it was willing to pay. Uploaded by culturaldiplomacy.org.

At the conclusion of World War II, both the western Allies and the Soviet Union wanted Germany under their sphere of influence. The defeated country was divided into four sections (French, British, American, Soviet), as was the city of Berlin. That city, however, was 100 miles inside the Soviet sector. And Stalin wanted all of Berlin under his control. As a result, he stopped trains bringing in crucial food and other supplies to the vanquished city, hoping to gain total control.

Uploaded to Flickr by x-ray delta one.

The devastate German capital could only produce two percent of its food needs. Outside supplies were a humanitarian necessity. While the western Allies had never negotiated land links to Berlin, they had secured three air routes into the city. To prevent a catastrophe, and to keep the entire city from falling under Soviet power, this was the daily supply total needed to support Berlin’s 2.8 million people, according to Wikipedia: “646 tons of flour and wheat, 125 tons of cereal, 64 tons of fat, 109 tons of meat and fish, 180 tons of dehydrated potatoes, 180 tons of sugar, 11 tons of coffee, 19 tons of powdered milk, 5 tons of whole milk for children, 3 tons of fresh yeast for baking, 144 tons of dehydrated vegetables, 38 tons of salt and 10 tons of cheese. In total, 1,534 tons were needed daily to keep the over two million people alive.Additionally, the city needed to be kept heated and powered, which would require another 3,475 tons of coal and gasoline.”

The U.S. and Britain agreed that the only course of action was an airlift. Yet they could only use a medium-size cargo plane (the C-54), due to runway limitations. At first, the Allies managed to bring in 1,000 tons of supplies each day – 5,000 tons were needed. It took a month of improved procedures and logistics, but eventually the full 5,000 tons were delivered daily. The airlift continued for most of a year, eventually humiliating the Soviets into capitulating. West Berlin continued as a free island as a result of President Truman’s commitment to turning back the Soviet threats – and as a result of thousands of American pilots, crewmen, and ground personnel who made the operation a success.

Sports: Ted Williams


Ted Williams was possibly the greatest hitter in baseball history. Yet he sacrificed five seasons to serve his country as a Naval aviator in World War II and the Korean War. Uploaded by ps.uci.edu.

Many baseball people consider Ted Williams the best pure hitter in baseball history. I’m certainly willing to go along with that suggestion. The 2011 campaign will mark the 70th anniversary of his .406 season, the last time any major leaguer’s batting average has topped .400. He won the triple crown twice, in 1941 and 1947. And he was American League MVP twice – in 1946 and 1949. Can anyone explain how a player who wins the triple crown can not be named MVP?


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Williams seemed to understand before most hitters the importance of bat speed. He used a lighter bat than most of his contemporaries, the better to generate power. That helped him lead the league in homers and RBIs four times. And yet his batting eye was so keen that he also led the league in walks in eight seasons.

As dominant as Williams was, there’s no telling what his career statistics might have been had World War II and the Korean War interfered. Williams served as a fighter pilot in both wars, causing him to miss three prime seasons in the 1940s, and two more in the 1950s. Still he finished in the 500-homer club and had a career batting average of .344.

Beyond his baseball career, Williams was also a noted sport fisherman, and was inducted into the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame. Still, it’s his proficiency hitting a baseball that we’ll always remember. Red Sox great Carl Yastrzemski said of “The Splendid Splinter”: “He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market, and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn’t see in a week.”

Americana: The U.S. Army

From the Continental Army through World War II to Afghanistan, the U.S. Army has defended our freedom with courage and honor. Uploaded by teachingamericanhistorymd.net.

Clinton L. Chalkley joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and, following a miserable Atlantic crossing on a troop carrier, attained the rank of Master Sergeant during World War II. He served in the Army Antiaircraft Artillery in North Africa before moving with his regiment to Sicily, Corsica, and eventually, Paris. Likewise, my father-in-law, William West, was a radio operator in the Army, and also served in the European theater.

Uploaded by library.marshallfoundation.org.

Fortunately for them, for us, and our families, our fathers came home. Many of The Greatest Generation (Great American Things, May 24, 2009) made the ultimate sacrifice, dying on foreign soil so that we could remain free. Since the Continental Army was created in 1775, an untold number of soldiers in the U.S. Army have died preserving our security and protecting the peace.

As of 2009, the combined strength of the regular Army, the Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve is just over 1.1 million men and women. They’re serving in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and in dozens of other locations at home and abroad. They stand with pride, and dignity, and resolve. They serve unselfishly and with genuine honor. We are humbled by, and often unworthy of, their dedication.

History: The Tuskegee Airmen


Members of the Tuskegee Airman earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, 8 Purple Hearts, and 14 Bronze Stars. Uploaded by blackarchives.org.

During World War II, the U.S. military forces were completely segregated. African-Americans who desired to serve their country had to do so in racially separate units. One group that served with particular distinction was the men of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force). They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

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Their name came from their place of training, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The school had led the way in training young black men in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, so when the War Department needed a home for the new fighters, TI became the logical choice. In addition to pilots, they trained to fill all necessary crew positions, including navigators and bombardiers.

Their combat record was outstanding. They flew more than 15,000 sorties, destroyed 112 enemy planes in the air (and another 150 on the ground), and the group’s members earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

In 2007, President George W. Bush honored 350 members of the unit with the Congressional Gold Medal. At a time when the intelligence, patriotism, and work ethic of African-Americans was in question, the Tuskegee Airmen did their part to dispel prejudice and bigotry.

Food: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese

It's so easy almost anyone can fix it. That's a significant secret to its success. Uploaded by americansweets.co.uk.

How many of us survived a part of our lives on Kraft Macaroni & Cheese! It’s so simple to prepare that kids can make it for themselves, and for many of us it was childhood we survived. For others, it was dorm life. Or the first years of marriage. Or the dilemma about what to fix that the kids will enjoy.

Uploaded by admonkey.wordpress.com.

Kraft first offered the product to the public in 1937, and it was an immediate success. Not only was it inexpensive, but rationing of dairy products during World War II provided a ready market for a powdered cheese product that used little milk.

Nutritionally, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese isn’t…oh, who am I kidding. No one who eats this product cares about nutrition. It’s not bad for you, not particularly good for you, but that’s not the point. It tastes good. Last time I looked, that wasn’t against the law. Of course, I haven’t looked yet today…

Person: Edward R. Murrow

Murrow's program See It Now took on the Red Scare and led to the humbling of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Uploaded by bobedwardsradio.com.

Had Adolph Hitler not chosen to subjugate England during the blitz of 1939, Edward R. Murrow might be just another forgotten wartime journalist. But Hitler foolishly kept bombing during what became known as the Battle of Britain, and Murrow’s nightly reports from London’s rooftops riveted even isolationist Americans. When he concluded with “Good night, and good luck,” Murrow inadvertently coined one of the first catchphrases in broadcasting history.

Following his celebrated term as a war correspondent, Murrow came home to the post of Vice President of Public Affairs for CBS, but couldn’t shake the desire to get back behind a microphone. He anchored the nightly newscast on CBS Radio for several years, then began his own program, Hear It Now. But the advent of television already began to eclipse the influence of radio, and the show became See It Now when Murrow moved it to CBS Television.

Clearly the most memorable episode of See It Now was Murrow’s attack on the Red Scare, led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Depicted in the recent film Good Night, and Good Luck, the program used mostly McCarthy’s own words to show his contradictions and paranoia. It was the beginning of the end for the senator, and Murrow is rightly held in high regard for helping to bring that shameful chapter in American history to a close.

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Murrow also pioneered what might be called celebrity journalism in his Person to Person series. He’d visit people in their homes (sound familiar, Barbara Walters?), encouraging them to let down their guard and speak freely. He interviewed a wide spectrum of people, including Frank Sinatra, Bogart and Bacall, Margaret Mead, and John Steinbeck.

Edward R. Murrow is still the standard by which television news is measured. But the man himself was aware of his medium’s limits. He once said, “If we were to do the Second Coming of Christ in color for a full hour, there would be a considerable number of stations which would decline to carry it on the grounds that a Western or a quiz show would be more profitable.”

Actor: Bob Hope

Bob Hope and the reigning Miss World entertain aboard the USS Bennington in 1966. Uploaded by uss-bennington.org.

Bob Hope and the reigning Miss World entertain aboard the USS Bennington in 1966. Uploaded by uss-bennington.org.

No one has ever done as much to entertain our troops overseas as Bob did. It began normally enough, when Bob was one of many Hollywood stars who visited our troops fighting in World War II. But he continued his service whenever Americans were in harm’s way – in the Berlin airlift, in Korea, in Vietnam, in Beirut, and in Operation Desert Storm.

His dedication didn’t go unappreciated. He had a ship named in his honor (the USNS Bob Hope) as well as an Air Force C-17 (the “Spirit of Bob Hope”). But perhaps his biggest honor was being honored by Congress as an Honorary Veteran, the first individual so honored in American history.

Uploaded by freewebs.com.

Uploaded by freewebs.com.

I remember as a kid dreading when a Bob Hope special came on TV. We had only one set, of course, and only three channels. And my parents loved Bob Hope, so we were stuck. I didn’t appreciate what Bob Hope meant to The Greatest Generation.

As an adult, though, I’ve learned to love those Road pictures Bob made with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. Those films featured excellent writing and great comic timing among the principals. He always joked about never winning an Oscar: “Oscar night at my house is called Passover,” he said. And yet he starred in 50 films, and appeared on the NBC radio and television networks for an astonishing 60 years. Bob lived to the age of 100, and was active almost to the end.

Bob, I’d like to apologize for the mean thoughts I had about you when I was young. I join the rest of America in honoring you for all you did for your profession and your country. Thanks for the memories…

Film: The Best Years of Our Lives

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Uncinefilo

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Uncinefilo

It’s amazing that this movie was made in 1946. It’s remarkable that the country could face such subject matter so soon following the end of World War II.

Three veterans return home to a small town from the war, and each encounters a different challenge in reentering civilian society. Al (Frederick March) can’t adjust to being a hardnosed banker. Fred (Dana Andrews) comes home to realize the wife he took before going overseas hasn’t waited for him. And Homer (Harold Russell) lost both hands in a fire, and now believes his fiance only stays with him out of pity, not love.

It’s a profound screenplay (Robert Sherwood – Oscar) brought to life by a talented director (William Wyler – Oscar) and a talented cast (March – Best Actor, Russell – Best Supporting Actor). To achieve as much realism as possible, Wyler used veterans behind the scenes as well, in props, grips, and mixing.

World War II had a definite conclusion and a signed surrender treaty. Now we fight enemies that don’t wear uniforms and don’t abide by civilized rules of war. So our wars are only over when we feel safe enough to say they are. Our soldiers come home one at a time, rather than all at once. But that doesn’t mean their adjustment problems are any less difficult than those veterans whose stories are told in this film.

That’s what the best movies do – give us timeless reminders of the human condition. And on any day – but especially on this day – this Best Picture gives us another chance to appreciate anew all those who served their country

Americana: Jeep

Photo courtesy of Flickr, posted by joujoubee

Photo courtesy of Flickr, posted by joujoubee

It’s an ugly thing. Even now, with all the innovations brought to the world of SUVs, Jeep is still the ugly stepsister. But they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And since World War II, Jeeps have delivered our troops, delivered the mail, and delivered families to ballgames and work.

That’s a beautiful thing, if you ask me.

Some say “Jeep” comes from a slurring of the letters GP. Others believe soldiers named it after Eugene the Jeep, a character in Popeye cartoons. What’s not in dispute is that the US Army needed a vehicle sturdy enough for off-road terrain that didn’t require a lot of maintenance. The Government paid about $750 for the first production.

You’ll pay a lot more now for a Liberty or Cherokee. When you do, you’ll also be driving a comfortable vehicle that may never stray from asphalt. But you’ll be driving one other thing.

A little piece of American history.