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 »
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.… read more »
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 »
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 a … read more »
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 … read more »
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.… read more »
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 … read more »
In late 1943, Leona Robbins was 12 years old and living in Norfolk, Virginia. Her neighbor and close family friend, Army Lieutenant Charles Field, was headed overseas, where he would be stationed in Norfolk, England. Field suggested that Leona and her friends pull together some toys to distribute to the children there. England had been at war for over four years at that point, and the deprivation and danger faced by its citizens was considerable. Leona responded sympathetically, gathering some dolls and toy cars for the children.
Lt. Field delivered the package to the junior school in the village of Carbrooke, Thetford, Norfolk, in March 1944. Headmistress Mary Norton and each of the children in her class wrote Leona letters of thanks and introduction. Miss Norton spoke highly of the American soldiers, who had thrown two separate Christmas parties for the children the previous December: “They spoilt our children, and consequently are very popular! I honestly think this last was the best Christmas our children have had since 1939.” The students also drew pictures, including some of a christening ceremony they had for the dolls (naming one of them Leona Mary).
The correspondence continued for a little over a year, with each side sending letters and small gifts. The letters show typically curious children, wanting to compare ages, schools, recreational activities, and vacation schedules with … read more »
For this week’s Veterans’ Day-themed post, I am going to depart from our usual practice of focusing on images, documents, and stories that Library of Virginia archivists uncover as we process collections. Instead, I would like to share the story of Cecelia Graham and how a chance conversation with my wife led to the emotional discovery of the World War II Separation Notice of Cecelia’s father.
The Virginia World War II Separation Notices was one of the first collections I processed at the Library of Virginia; it contains approximately 250,000 notices for World War II veterans discharged between 1942 and 1950 (with the bulk between 1944 and 1946) who sought employment in Virginia. A disastrous 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed a large percentage of Army and Army Air Force records in federal custody for veterans discharged between 1912 and 1960. The LVA’s collection of separation notices became invaluable to Virginia’s servicemen and their families after the fire.
These records have been part of the Library’s archival collection since 1950 but they were in no order and the Library did not have the resources to process them. I recognized the importance of the collection and, being young and impatient, I was determined to do “something” about it. That “something” turned into the largest filing project in the LVA’s history. … read more »