NVMM Reads: “The Correspondents”

This month, the NVMM Guest Experience team is highlighting “The Correspondents,” by Judith Mackrell. The book is a compilation of stories from six female journalists who served along the front lines of World War II, paving the way for women’s equality, while significantly aiding the war effort. From braving the dangers of harsh combat zones to conversing with notable luminaries, these women served courageously and heroically, though their service was largely undocumented until recent years. Mackrell beautifully counters this silence in her intimate and heartfelt account of the brave, intuitive and romantic lives of these six journalists who shaped the world’s perception of WWII.

Mackrell writes in a complex and personal manner, relaying each woman’s story chronologically, riddling her account with historical nuance. Her work captures the harsh, consequential ways in which these women viewed the world, and how it viewed them in return, sugar-coating nothing and omitting no detail. This personal writing style shapes the captivating drama and action sequences. From Martha Gellhorn’s stowaway endeavor on a Red Cross ship, to Lee Miller’s progression from Vogue cover model to official war correspondent, Mackrell sheds an equal spotlight on their accomplishments. These women each risked their lives, dodging bullets and crossing the threshold of combat zones, all the while shouldering the burden of prejudice on the home front.

There are important details to take away from this book, each of them perspective-shifting. Female journalists were engaged in a two-pronged battle; one for the Allies, and one for their rights. They fought courageously to author reports on the war front and petitioned valiantly for equal rights and representation. This book will truly open your eyes to the strength they posessed to cope with these conditions both mentally and physically.

In “The Correspondents,” Judith Mackrell captures the empowering journeys of these journalists. She beautifully honors their contributions and gives due recognition to those whose service had been erased from historical prevalence. This month, we highly recommend adding this tale of adventure, perseverance, love, and war to your reading list.

Truman-MacArthur Controversy

General Douglas MacArthur was one of only nine Americans to hold the five-star general rank. He commanded the South West Pacific Theater during World War II, over saw Japan after its surrender, and was selected to command the United Nations efforts to repel the North Korean advance after hostilities broke out. The North’s offensive was finally held at the Pusan Perimeter, a tiny pocket of land in the south of the Korean Peninsula. To strike back, General MacArthur planned a daring amphibious landing that retook Seoul and threatened the North Korean Army’s supply lines  which caused them  to retreat home at a rapid pace. The quick offensive into North Korea by MacArthur drew China into the conflict, which halted the United Nations’ advance and forced them back to the 38th Parallel. It was here that the ensuing stalemate would cause General MacArthur to begin to butt heads with leadership in the United States.

With Chinese troops now supporting North Korea, MacArthur wanted to expand military operations in the South China Sea and China itself. He initially proposed for a naval blockade of China, as well as restrictions to be lifted on air strikes within their borders, and to open support for Chinese Nationalists to start their own operations. All of which were rejected by Washington D.C. who were attempting to keep the war contained to the Korean Peninsula. Frustrations between MacArthur and Washington began to mount when General MacArthur went public with his frustrations and the “limitations” placed on him and his command. Though President Truman did not relieve him, he later recounted that he should have at that moment.

The tipping point occurred when, as Truman and those in the United Nations concluded a negotiated settlement was the best chance for peace as the stalemate ensued, MacArthur made a public statement without contacting the Joint Chiefs of Staff or President that he, personally, was open to negotiating with the “Chinese military commander.” MacArthur had outright disregarded his superiors and in a response letter to Congressman Martin he expressed views that were “not only in disagreement with the policy of the government but was challenging this policy in open insubordination to this Commander in Chief.” General MacArthur’s misconception of what the United States goals were in Korea and refusal to bend to the civilian leadership in its execution are what ultimately led to his dismissal on April 11, 1951.

Resources

Carter, Rocky L. “The Truman-MacArthur Debate: A Case-Study of Civil Military Relations and Implications for Foreign Policy Development.” Troy University. 1996. Accessed from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.lib.ou.edu/docview/1986794852?pq-origsite=primo.

Norman, John. “MacArthur’s Blockade Proposals against Red China.” Pacific Historical Review. Vol. 26 (2). 1957. Pg 161-174.

Manchester, William. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964. Little, Brown and Company. September 30, 1978.

Truman, Harry S. Memoirs by Harry S. Truman: Years of Trial and Hope, 1946-1952. Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1956.

The Tuskegee Airmen at Selfridge Field, Michigan | Images by Gordon Parks

In our ongoing celebration of Black History Month, we pay tribute to those men and women who were early driving forces in the fight for racial equality – both in the military and throughout our nation.  One such man, an artist and social activist named Gordon Parks, used his photography, filmmaking, and writing to shed light on the injustices experienced by African Americans and minorities in our country.  Park’s career in photojournalism began in the early 1940s and led him to work as the first black correspondent for the Office of War Information (active 1942-45). The OWI documented the U.S. War efforts during WWII by using photography, film, radio programing and a variety of other formats to connect American civilians to the battles overseas.

As one of his initial agency assignments, Parks photographed the first unit of primarily black military aviators who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as part of the 332nd Fighter Group — the famed Tuskegee Airmen.  At the time, the fighter group was commanded by Colonel Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the first 20th century black officer to graduate from West Point who later became the first black Air Force general in U.S. history as well as the first African American to become a general in any branch of the U.S. Military.  While we know this legendary group of military aviators originally trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama, on March 29th, 1943, the 332nd Fighter Group was relocated to Selfridge Field, Michigan where Parks met and photographed these courageous and honorable servicemen.

P-40 in Line for Takeoff, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943

Conditions at Selfridge Field were difficult and varied greatly from Tuskegee, Alabama; not only in terms of climate and geography, but also training conditions and the harsh treatment these aviators faced at the training facility.  Selfridge Airfield was not built for the aircraft the Tuskegee Airmen used for training, adding to the arduousness of an already challenging job. Additionally, during this time Selfridge Field was particularly known for its discriminatory practices and for having a tense and deeply segregated atmosphere.  On May 5, 1943, tensions reached a breaking point when Colonel William Colman, who possessed a corrupt and prejudiced reputation amongst his fellow soldiers, was charged with shooting a black chauffeur assigned to drive him, Private William MacRae, after an argument wherein it emerged that Colonel Colman had ordered that he only be driven by white soldiers.  When Colman was court-martialed for the incident, Selfridge Field’s poor reputation among black soldiers was made public and the case prompted the U.S. Army to act swiftly, transferring the Tuskegee Airmen to Godman Field, Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Two Pilots, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943

While on assignment with the 332nd Fighter Group, Gordon Parks produced photographic essays which encapsulated the struggles, resiliency, and the immense pride of these servicemen during a period in American history when black servicemen fought not only for their country, but also for the equal rights and freedoms our country represented to the world.  Parks’ imagery expressed the humanity of the Tuskegee Airmen; that they were black soldiers yes, but also U.S. soldiers who were deserving of the same respect and honor given to their white counterparts.

Captain Knox, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943
Bill Walker, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943
Pilots Gambling, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943

In between producing his photographic essays, Parks would find himself in the company of the airmen – his new companions, playing cards and partaking in social activities on base.  During his time with the 332nd Fighter Group, Parks shared that the racism these servicemen faced was ultimately worse than what they would have received by our country’s enemies. He used his camera as his weapon against racism and intolerance and photographed the Tuskegee Airmen with a profound admiration of their mission and achievements.

The incredible feats and accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen were not fully recognized until years after WWII.  As a fighter group, the 332nd flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in North Africa and Europe during the war, earning them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, our nation’s second highest valor award.  Their perseverance and determinationpaved the way for the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces as signed by President Harry S. Truman on July 26, 1948. This executive order formally initiated the desegregating process of all United States military branches.  This crucial milestone in our country’s military history was achieved in large part thanks to the incredible efforts displayed by the Tuskegee Airmen.  Through Gordon Park’s images and writings, the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen live on and will always serve as powerful reminders to the generations that followed of a time when our nation at war was also facing an internal battle – one for social change, representation, and equality.

332nd Fighter Group in Flight, Selfridge Field, Michigan, 1943

All images by Gordon Parks, courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Honoring Black History Month

World War I Medal of Honor Recipient: Corporal Freddie Stowers

Saluting General Lloyd Austin III, U.S. Army (Retired)

Battle of Monte Cassino

As World War II dragged on, Allied leaders met in Casablanca, Morocco in 1943 to debate and confirm their military strategy moving forward. While President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill made it, Premier Joseph Stalin did not due to the major military action taking place within Stalingrad. While many important decisions were made at the conference, today we will be looking into the Italian Campaign, itself a decision at Casablanca to relieve pressure from the Soviets and to try and knock Italy out of the war. This will look specifically at the Battle of Monte Cassino, which occurred between January 17 and May 18 1944.

What was supposed to be a quick offensive through the “soft underbelly” of the Axis quickly bogged down into brutal and bloody combat as Allied soldiers bashed themselves against the Gustav Line. British 8th Army was composed of several Commonwealth nations such as New Zealand, India, as well as Polish troops and invaded alongside the U.S. 5th Army. Overall Allied casualties are estimated to be around 55,000 men to the 20,000 German.

Albert DeFazio

Of the two veteran’s stories we will share today, the first is Albert DeFazio. Assigned to the 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, DeFazio was a just 19 when his unit was ordered across the Rapido River on January 20th during the push towards Monte Cassino. Accurate and devastating German machine gun, artillery, and mortars stopped the 143rd in their tracks, eventually being ordered to retreat. DeFazio recalled the terrifying effectiveness of modern artillery on the men trying to cross and the scary proposition that they will be making the exact same push shortly after this failed one. Joined by the 141st, they made it across the river with no resistance this time. Instead, the Germans waited for them to reach the open plains on the other side before opening up. DeFazio was wounded by an artillery shell in the back and was ordered by an officer to return across the Rapido for medical aid. While crossing, he and another soldier assisted a wounded lieutenant back to the aid station, dragging him for a couple miles in a rubber raft. The 36th Division suffered 2,218 casualties of their 6,000 men in the two river assaults. This wound would not be enough to send him home, and DeFazio would return to combat for the Anzio invasion where another artillery strike would give him a concussion that would cause the doctors to order for his discharge. Before that though, he would have the rare chance of running into family that lived in Italy, “I kept thinking it was all a dream. I mean, who comes all this way to fight a war and runs into family they have never met?”

Joseph Hochadel

Joseph Hochadel was a medic who served during the battle with the 34th Infantry Division when they assaulted toward Monte Cassino. He remembers, and echoes DeFazio, the horrendous and accurate artillery shelling they endured because of the superior German positions and spotting due to them holding the mountains. Once his regiment, the 133rd, fought its way to the outskirts of Cassino, it was savage house to house combat. Hochadel recalled watching the massive Allied bombing formation that leveled the area and Abby of Monte Cassino on February 15th. When their unit was eventually relieved by Indian Gurkha troops, the 34th had suffered massive casualties and would not see combat for a month while it recouped its losses. Hochadel and the rest of the troops endured brutally cold temperatures in rain and snow that played havoc with both physical and mental states of the troops. Hochadel made it through the Anzio invasion with the 34th, eventually being wounded in Northern Italy when a tank struck a mine and the resulting explosion badly wounded him and two other medics who were following it. He was evacuated to Naples and after recovering volunteered to rejoin his unit, but once he made it to them, Germany had surrendered.

Both men suffered, and still do, PTSD from their experiences in Italy with nightmares being common for both. Hochadel had massive alcohol problems after the war, but thanks to his father he was able to focus on learning to be an electrician while working at a hospital and break the habit. The harrowing experiences and sacrifices made by all the troops who served in Italy is necessary to remember, for it took the combined efforts, bravery, and blood of multiple nations to break through this German wall and push into Rome.

References

Author Unknown. Joseph Hochadel, date unknown, photograph. National WWII Museum. Accessed from https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/joseph-hochadel-34th-infantry-division.

Unknown Author. Litter bearers bring back wounded during attempt to span the Rapido River near Cassino, Italy, 23 January 1944, photograph. World War Two Today: Follow the War as it Happened… Accessed from https://ww2today.com/21-january-1944-us-troops-suicidal-assault-across-the-rapido.

Chen, C. Peter. “Battle of Monte Cassino.” World War II Database. Accessed 12 February 2021 from https://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=312.

“Following the Military Service in WWII of the PVT Ricardo De Lama.” Gotica Toscana. Accessed 12 February 2021 from https://www.goticatoscana.eu/en/the-trail-of-the-34th-infantry-division-in-wwii-34th-inf-div/#note01.

“History of the 34th Infantry Division.” Minnesota National Guard. Accessed 12 February 2021 from https://minnesotanationalguard.ng.mil/documents/2018/11/34th-infantry-division-history.pdf/.

Hochadel, Joseph. Oral History Interview by the National World War II Museum. National World War II Museum. 10 February 2010. Accessed from https://www.ww2online.org/view/joseph-hochadel#early-life-being-drafted-medic-training-and-overseas-deployment.

Ove, Torsten. Albert DeFazio, 17 August 2017, photograph. We the Italians. Accessed from https://wetheitalians.com/default/soldier-who-was-there-wants-people-remember-wwii-battle-monte-cassino.

Ove, Torsten. “Soldier who was there wants people to remember WWII battle of Monte Cassino.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 27 August 2017. Accessed from https://www.post-gazette.com/local/region/2017/08/27/Soldier-penn-hills-pittsburgh-italy-albert-defazio-remember-WWII-battle-of-Monte-Cassino/stories/201708270063.

Timeline – World History Documentaries. “The War For The Abbey On The Mountain / Battle of Monte Cassino / Timeline. YouTube video, 48:40. May 17, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJdvbyB2nvg&ab_channel=Timeline-WorldHistoryDocumentaries.

“The Casablanca Conference, 1943.” Office of the Historian. Accessed 12 February 2021 from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/casablanca.

Unknown Author. Litter bearers bring back wounded during attempt to span the Rapido River near Cassino, Italy, 23 January 1944, photograph. World War Two Today: Follow the War as it Happened… Accessed from https://ww2today.com/21-january-1944-us-troops-suicidal-assault-across-the-rapido.

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