“Tuskegee’s Heroes”tells the story of the Tuskegee Airmen in a creative way that includes rare photographs, firsthand accounts and paintings by artist and Tuskegee Airman, Roy LaGrone. LaGrone was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1942 as a Sergeant and served in North Africa and Italy during World War II. After his service, he studied art at the University of Florence in Italy before returning to the United States where he studied at the Pratt Institute in New York. Much of his career was dedicated to the United States Air Force Art Program.
In addition to LaGrone’s artwork, the book details the pre-war experience of young African American men who, despite their unequal treatment at home, fought for the opportunity to serve their country. Numerous stories of the individual Tuskegee Airmen, and women, are told along with details of their accomplishments during and after the war. Diving deep into the emotional toll the Tuskegee Experiment had on its participants, readers will learn not only the history of the program, but the stories of the people who made up the Tuskegee Airmen.
Extend Your Learning:
Ask questions about this story.
Leading up to World War II, African Americans were still treated unequally in American society. Despite that, why did these men fight for the opportunity to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps?
Why did the leaders of the U.S. Army Air Corps believe that African American men could not learn to fly?
Why was it so important for members of the Tuskegee Airmen to support youth education and scholarships?
Roy LaGrone used his paintings to tell the story of the nation’s black Army Air Force and the United States Air Force. Select one of the men or women mentioned in this book, learn more about their story, and tell that story through your own artwork. Share your artwork with us by sending an image to Education@nationalvmm.org to be featured on our website!
Author Louise Borden, an avid skier, shares the story of Pete Seibert, a solider in the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division. Pete enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 18 and was part of the first division of soldiers trained to ski and patrol the mountain ranges in Italy. For his service and injuries incurred during World War II, Pete was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
This engaging biography includes photographs, maps and drawings from the ski soldiers’ diaries, providing insight into their experience during the war. The author reveals the mental and physical horrors that the men faced in the mountains of northern Italy and details the severe injuries Pete endured, his valiant return to skiing and racing and his creation of the Vail ski resort in Colorado.
Extend Your Learning:
Ask questions about this story.
Why was the 10th Mountain Division important to the Allied forces during World War II?
Why did the soldiers call the mountains “Riva?”
How was the training for the 10th Mountain soldiers different than other soldiers in the Army?
Why did snowshoes have an advantage over skis in certain parts of the mountain range?
Pete was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1984. Read more about his induction.
Learn more about the history of the 10th Mountain Division.
Part of the “Voices of History Series” created by Sherry Garland to bring a personal side to America’s past, “Voices of Pearl Harbor” utilizes a mix of historical and representational characters to tell the story of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Discover the unique perspectives of sixteen people involved in and affected by the attack, each accompanied by a beautiful painting by Layne Johnson.
Beginning with a story of a native Hawaiian in 1940, this book includes accounts from the mother of a Japanese fighter pilot, military officials from both the United States and Japan and the granddaughter of a World War II Veteran. To encourage further learning of what happened at Pearl Harbor, Garland includes a helpful glossary, selected bibliography and a suggested list of reading.
Extend Your Learning:
Ask questions about this story.
What is the sentiment behind individuals adding their own stitches to the Japanese Senninbari (good luck) belt?
Why did American officials seemingly ignore the warning of approaching planes from the Army Signal Corps?
What significance does the USS Arizona Memorial play for both American and Japanese visitors?
Why was Pearl Harbor attacked?
Hear from the experiences of three Pearl Harbor survivors during what President Roosevelt described as, “A date which will live in infamy,” and one of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history.
Check out the website for the Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
“Theirs was a loss compounded by uncertainty and unresolved by time. When he scoured the archipelago with sonar, when he hung in the open doorway of a Cessna, when he slogged through the jungle and traversed the channel on yet another rainy day, he wasn’t searching to the dead. He was searching for the living.”
Part thrilling search and recovery mission, part World War II history, “Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II” seamlessly transitions between the stories of the men who vanished in the Pacific Theater of war on September 1, 1944, and those whose lives remain affected by the mystery of their disappearance more than 50 years later. As we recognize National POW/MIA Recognition Day, add this book to your reading list as it poignantly reveals the struggles of families who grapple with the uncertainty of what happened to a loved one.
Extend Your Knowledge:
In an interview with Harper’s Magazine, Hylton answers six questions about the book.
Check out this author talk hosted by the New York Public Library in 2014 in which Hylton talks about the book.
Each year on August 14, we honor the Navajo Code Talkers who were called into service in the Pacific Theater of World War II. Joseph Bruchac’s true story of these brave men begins with Chester Nez as a boy attending boarding school where he was repeatedly told “Navajo is bad! Speak only English!” Chester’s refusal to give up his native language and commitment to his culture gave him courage to serve his country, strength to face the horrors of war, and support when transitioning back home, not to mention the tools to create an unbreakable military code that helped the United States achieve victory. Throughout the story, the author reveals how Chester is both proud that he never gave up his language and proud to serve the country that told him that very language was worthless.
Extend Your Learning:
Ask questions about Chester’s story.
Who were the other Navajo Code Talkers?
Why did these men volunteer to serve in the Marines?
Would you have done the same thing in their situation?
What makes a good secret code?
Why has the U.S. Military used secret code throughout its history?
Can you think of any other secret codes?
Conduct research to learn more about Chester Nez and the other Navajo Code Talkers who helped the United States achieve victory in World War II.
Try making your own secret code and see if anyone can crack it.
Don’t know where to start? Create your own version of the alphabet! For example, make “A” a square, “B” a triangle, and so on until you have all 26 letters. From there, you can put together your images/shapes into different combinations to spell out words.
You can make codes out of more than just images. Try sounds or mixing up letters.
For inspiration making you own code, take a look in the back of the book to see more about the Navajo Code.
If you’re one of our central Ohio neighbors, check out the book at your local branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library where the book is widely available! Then come in to the NVMM and learn more about the Navajo Code Talkers or any of the other unique Veteran stories that can be found throughout American history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All images by Gordon Parks, courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
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.
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 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.