Tag Archives: World War II

- The Conscientious Objector: Desmond T. Doss


President Harry S. Truman presents the Congressional Medal of Honor to Cpl. Desmond T. Doss, 12 October 1945, U.S. Army Photo, Records of the Virginia World War II History Commission, Miscellaneous Material, Box 1a, Folder 5, Accession 27544, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

In keeping with Out of the Box’s recent anniversary theme, today’s post spotlights Lynchburg native Desmond T. Doss (1919-2006), the first conscientious objector to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on Okinawa in May 1945.  Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist, objected to killing and refused to carry a weapon.  He served as an Army medical corpsman, 1st Battalion, 307th Infantry Medical Detachment, 77th Infantry Division.  Doss is credited with saving the lives of at least 75 wounded soldiers.  His Medal of Honor Citation states:

[Doss] was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun [sic] fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them 1 by 1 to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On 2 May, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly

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- Artists for Victory


No. 23 of the First Series of 50 War Poster Labels sponsored by Artists for Victory, Inc..  Artist - Duane Bryers, 1943, Records of the World War II History Commission, Miscellaneous Records, Box 1b, Folder 100, Accession 27544, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day), marking the end of World War II in Europe.  To mark the anniversary, the Library would like to spotlight the Artists for Victory war stamps found in the records of Virginia’s World War II History Commission.

Formed during World War II, Artists for Victory, Inc. was a non-profit organization of more than ten thousand artists, united to serve the United States to the full extent of their various talents.  In the fall of 1942, Artists for Victory, Council for Democracy and the Museum of Modern Art sponsored the National War Poster Competition.  Over 2,000 poster entries were submitted focusing on eight war themes:  Production, War Bonds, The Nature of the Enemy, Loose Talk, Slave World or Free World?, The People are on the March, and Deliver Us From Evil.  Artists for Victory selected 50 of the most stimulating and had them reproduced as “war poster labels to carry their vital messages to every person throughout” the country.  Below are some examples of these stamps.

The Virginia World War II History Commission Records, 1941-1950, Accession 27544, are open to researchers.

-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivists

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- A ‘Salty’ take on survival


CERTIFICATE OF SURVIVAL, 2 May 1945, issued to Grayson Boyer upon the conclusion of the Battle of the South Atlantic. (Grayson B. Boyer Papers, 1937-1945, Accession 50238, Personal Papers Collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond)

In cataloging the papers of Grayson B. Boyer (1915-1970) of Grayson County, Virginia, one cannot help but notice the dramatically-titled and cheekily-illustrated “Certificate of Survival” issued to Boyer upon completion of the Battle of the South Atlantic during World War II.  As well as being a unique marker of the end of a major wartime naval effort, the document also helps offset the Library of Virginia’s surprising scarcity of holdings featuring cartoon images of lusty, bare-chested mermaids.

Dated 2 May 1945 and given some semblance of credibility by the facsimiled signature of Admiral J.H. Ingram, commander of the South Atlantic forces, the document humorously celebrates the various achievements of Boyer and his fellow sailors. These range from spending months (19, in Boyer’s case) “in a state of moral indecision and physical peril,” to “enduring the rigors of Gin tonicas and Caçhaca.”  The mock-solemn text concludes by commending  Boyer’s “placing in sacrifice the best years of his life on the gilded altar of Pan-American Relations.”

The document’s light tone is further indicated by its comic drawings. The aforementioned mermaid and two similarly-clad women (who are given the courtesy of names–Maria and Inez–if not opaque bikini tops) are surrounded by fish, sea horses, and shells.  Still, the accompanying aircraft carrier, blimp, and seaplane remind the viewer that this is war, not merely a pleasure cruise.

Our hero the American sailor is featured triumphantly, flanked by his mermaid gal pal and … read more »

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- We Remember: Bedford County and the 70th Anniversary of D-Day


Into the Jaws of Death, A LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One) wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach (Calvados, Basse-Normandie, France) on the morning of June 6, 1944. American soldiers encountered the newly formed German 352nd Division when landing. During the initial landing two-thirds of the Company E became casualties.  23-0455M, Chief Photographer's Mate (CPHoM) Robert F. Sargent - This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

On 6 June 1944, soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force stormed the beaches of Normandy as part of Operation Overlord, the largest seaborne invasion in history.  Thirty soldiers from Bedford, Virginia, members of Company A of the 116th Infantry assaulted Omaha Beach.  “By day’s end,” according to the National D-Day Memorial, “nineteen of the company’s Bedford soldiers were dead.  Two more Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other 116th Infantry companies. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200. Proportionally this community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses.”  The Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s War Dead, part of the records of the Virginia World War II History Commission, documents the sacrifice of 15 of the 19 Bedford soldiers.

The Virginia World War II History Commission was established by an Act of the Virginia General Assembly approved on 8 March 1944. The commission was a policy-making body comprised of twelve non-salaried citizens appointed by the Governor. Its purpose was “to collect, assemble, edit, and publish. . . information and material with respect to the contribution to World War II made by Virginia and Virginians.”  One of the most important records created by the Commission were the Personal War Service Record of Virginia’s Dead, a questionnaire completed by the next-of-kin of Virginians killed during … read more »

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- “There’s only one thing I don’t like about Combat–It Ain’t Safe!”


Recruitment poster for U. S. Army Air Corps. Image courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

When John Hager Randolph Jr. wrote to his parents in Richmond near the end of his Virginia Military Institute career in the spring of 1942, he had a few things on his mind. There were the girls he was interested in, the potential for a “bawling out” from Mom and Dad once they received his grades, and the average college student’s ever-present concern: money (“Please send me the money soon!” was his plaintive postscript to one letter).  But, while his life at this point resembled that of pretty much any other soon-to-be graduate, Randolph was on the verge of a new chapter of adventure and danger, thrown in the midst of one of history’s greatest conflicts. His service as a World War II bomber pilot is detailed in the letters he sent home, preserved in the John Hager Randolph Jr. Papers (Acc. 51038) at the Library of Virginia.

After VMI, Randolph entered the Army Air Corps, training stateside as a pilot with the war looming ever larger in his future. At the end of a prolonged period of uncertainty as to his eventual assignment, he found himself heading to the Pacific Theater in the spring of 1945. There, he would take part in an aerial battering of Japan that would test its resistance to surrender before the atomic bomb finally brought it down.

On … read more »

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- Keep Your Eyes Aloft


Looking to the skies in Richmond, Virginia, circa April 1941. Part of a series documenting the infrastructure of civil defense in Virginia during World War II, Virginia State Chamber of Commerce Photographs, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.

Seventy years ago in Greene County, Virginia, civilian volunteers began to look toward the skies and record their observations in a log book, a simple black and white composition book.   Somehow this log book ended up at the Greene County Courthouse and found its way into the Library of Virginia collections. Greene County residents, mostly women, sat for hours at a time watching the skies and recording the number of planes that passed overhead. Just how common was this practice during World War II?

Similar individuals, in observation posts up and down the East and West Coasts of the United States, used these logs while acting as airplane spotters.   As a defense against a potential German or Japanese air attack in World War II, the United States War Department established the Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) in May 1941.  The AWS combined volunteer observation posts and secret volunteer information and filter centers (largely staffed by women from the Aircraft Warning Corps) and was the civilian service of the Ground Observer Corps, a civil defense program of the United States Army Air Forces.

Along the East Coast from Maine to Florida and inland 400 miles, American Legion Posts set up observation posts six miles apart, in proximity to telephone lines and roads.  However, in most places, observers worked from any site that offered a clear and unobstructed … read more »

- Feed your family on the cheap!


A suggested means of saving ration points--using rabbit for the meat dish.  From a HELPS FOR HOMEMAKERS booklet produced by Kelvinator circa 1943-1945. (Jessee Family Papers, Library of Virginia Accession 50402).

Having trouble stretching that dime in tough economic times?  Need some inspiration figuring out how to feed hungry mouths on a budget?  For advice you need look no further than the “Greatest Generation,” which made it through the Great Depression only to be faced with the sacrifices made necessary by World War II.  Among the papers of the Jessee family (Accession 50402) of Russell County, Virginia, relief arrives in the form of Helps for Homemakers, a series of booklets produced by the Kelvinator appliance company as part of a “wartime idea exchange for home economists.”

Two of these booklets were saved by Martha Viers Jessee (1892-1968), wife of Ora Stanford Jessee (1884-1954) and mother to Ralph Stanford Jessee (1918-1999), Carroll Lee Jessee (1921-1978), and Arthur Dance Jessee (1922-2006).  While her three sons were serving overseas in various capacities, she was feeling the pinch back home.  The good folks at Kelvinator came to the country’s rescue, holding a national contest for home economists and publishing the top 40 prize-winning suggestions in their “Helping the Homemaker Make the Most Out of the Food She Can Get” issue (#3).    

Opening with a side-by-side “Peacetime Menu” and “Wartime Menu” for Thanksgiving dinner, one sees that by substituting fruit cocktail for crab cocktail, mashed sweet potatoes for mashed potatoes, and roast pork for roast turkey one could have … read more »

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- Yearbook marks one chapter in a pioneering life


Page from a 1943 yearbook for the Tuskegee Airmen. Ralph H. Davis is seen on the left-hand page, second row, third from right. Ralph Hickman Davis Papers, Accession 50284, Private Papers Collection, Library of Virginia.

With 2011 marking the 70th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War II, the Library of Virginia undertook a concerted effort to collect the papers of the war’s veterans.  Members of the “Greatest Generation” or their families donated a wealth of extraordinary materials consisting of letters, diaries, photographs, reminiscences, military records, and other items.  These collections document the contribution of Virginians to the war effort both at the front and at home.  One of the most interesting items was lent to the library for copying by Clinton Davis of Staunton—a yearbook of one of World War II’s most legendary outfits, the Tuskegee Airmen.  His father, Ralph H. Davis, served at the Tuskegee Airfield throughout World War II as a mechanic. 

The senior Davis, born 5 February 1915 in Providence, Rhode Island, often did odd jobs and ran errands for pilots and airport personnel at the original Providence airport near his uncle’s farm.  Payment or reward for his work would often come in the form of airplane rides, which Davis would turn into lessons.  He soon earned his private pilot’s license, and on a list issued by the Commerce Department in January 1939, Davis was the only African American pilot from Rhode Island.  World War II began in Europe later that year, and in 1940 the United States began preparing for involvement by establishing a draft.  … read more »

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- “…we all have tiers in our eyes and our hearts are in the pit of our stomacks”


Doug Raymond, shown in an undated photo taken during his service with the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II.

It is rare for anyone to be directly involved in an event that can be labeled, without exaggeration, a turning point in world history.  The recollections of those who have done so take on a special significance for the rest of us as we try to imagine how it must have felt to be part of an extraordinary moment in time.  As archivists, we can only hope that these recollections are recorded and preserved before memories fade and entire generations pass away.

Today, on the 68thanniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, one of those voices speaks through the June 1944 diary of Douglas J. Raymond (1921-1994), an acting petty officer in the Royal Canadian Navy.  A native of Rosemont-LaPetite-Patrie, Quebec, Canada, Raymond became a United States citizen and resident of Virginia after the war.  While keeping this diary, he was serving aboard the destroyer HMCS Saskatchewan providing anti-submarine protection for the landing forces.

Raymond’s widow, Mary, donated the diary to the Library of Virginia last July.  In a note she tucked in with the little book, she apologized for her late husband’s spelling, saying that it was more phonetic than technically correct.  No apologies are needed, as the diary is an honest, sensitive, and exciting account of what a 23-year-old man saw, thought, and felt in the midst of intensely stressful circumstances.

Recorded in … read more »

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- Reason to Believe: Quantico and the Evacuation of Stafford County


The Post Band playing the Star Spangled Banner at the formal morning ceremony of Colors in front of Post Headquarters, Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, Virginia World War II History Commission, Miscellaneous, Box 1a, Accession 27544, State Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

On 5 October 1942, the United States District Court in Norfolk, at the request of the Navy, condemned 50,000 acres of land in Fauquier, Prince William and Stafford counties in order to enlarge the Marine base at Quantico.  Two days later 650 families learned that they would have to vacate their property within 20 to 60 days!  I learned of this story when I processed the records of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Development, Division of History.

In September 1942, the Virginia Conservation Commission’s Division of History and Archaeology, under the direction of Dr. Hamilton J. Eckenrode, began a war records collection program. Unable to continue the Division of History’s historical marker program because of wartime rationing, Eckenrode sought to “record the history of the Old Dominion’s war effort while the history is still fresh in the making, rather than wait until after the war when the events and details would be more obscured.” The Conservation Commission began a correspondence program in which a non-salaried correspondent from each locality sent reports about local war activities and local effects of and reactions to the war.

In March 1943, Mrs. Mary B. Thompson of Stafford County submitted to the Commission the “Story of Stafford Evacuation” by Elizabeth Russell Powers.  Approximately 350 families lived in the 30,000 acres of condemned land in Stafford County.  Powers described the … read more »