Saturday, September 05, 2015

How Big Was World War II?

Many general histories of World War II begin by quantitatively describing the size of the war. Numbers in history are often problematic. It is, for example, generally safe to assume that all quantitative historical data is inaccurate or incomplete. Moreover, very large numbers are difficult for us to comprehend. We know the purchasing power of $100, but the current estimate of $13.3 trillion for the national debt is beyond our grasp. Nevertheless, many authors will observe that World War II is the largest event in human history. How do we understand something that is that big?

One approach is to use geographical references. World War II, for example, was fought on every continent including Antarctica. Because the war was indeed global, however, events happened in places that few had ever heard of and fewer could find on a map. Where is Tinian, Saipan, Malmédy, Kiev, or even Bastogne? Who on earth had ever visited Ft. Polk, Louisiana, or Camp Kilmer, New Jersey? Where was the Gila River War Relocation Center and what was was going on there? When 21-year old Elmer Childers, a recent Gosport High School graduate, and his family stood on the platform of the Gosport, Indiana railway terminal in January 1944 to wish him farewell as he boarded the Monon (“The Hoosier Line”) passenger train to Indianapolis and eventually to the United States Army in Europe, they may not have a much better geographical mental image of where he was going than those who stood on the docks of the Spanish port of Palos to watch Christopher Columbus sail.

Or one may also employ demographic measures to describe the size of World War II. For example, the estimated total casualties (killed in action —KIA; plus wounded in action — WIA; plus missing in action — MIA) from WWII was 60 million people or about 3 percent of the world’s population. If one adds deaths from disease and starvation then estimates reach 80 million. The size of those figures is beyond our imagination.

Let’s try another approach. According to Max Hastings (Inferno, p. 11, see below) between September 1939 and August 1945, an average of 27,000 people died every day. According to the 2010 census the population of Worthington, Ohio was 13,572. When one walks or drives through the village of Worthington located on the northwest of Columbus, the roads are crowded with traffic, the restaurants busy, and the lines are long at Kroger. Consider, however, the world lost a village the size of Worthington twice a day for every day of the war. It is still staggering, but it gives a picture we can see in our imagination.

Economic measures are another common way to measure the size of World War II. For example,
In 1939 the United States produced 3,000 airplanes. By the end of the war six years later the American aircraft industry had manufactured and delivered over 300,000 airplanes. In 1939 the United States Army had less than a dozen tanks suitable for combat deployment. By 1945 American firms had delivered over 23,000 tanks (4,680 were M4 Sherman tanks) to the Army. The United States produced 676,433 2½-ton trucks (the iconic “6x6”) and 647,870 jeeps.  Our small arms manufacturers produced 4,028,395 M1 Garand rifles and 6,117,767 M1 carbines.   

In 1937 the US Navy had 5 aircraft carriers; in 1941 it had 8. By 1945 it had 27 aircraft carriers. In addition to aircraft carriers, the United States Navy added an additional 1,200 combat ships. At war’s end the United States Navy owned 70% of the world’s total naval tonnage. 

Another way to evaluate economic data is to include the production numbers prior to the war. From above we can see US aircraft carrier production increased three-fold between 1941 and 1945; a figure matched by no other sea power. After the war American industry switched from war goods to commercial goods and had little trouble meeting civilian demand for new cars and refrigerators. Consumers were less pleased, however, about post-war inflation. While the World War II production figures for the United States appear huge, it seems there was enough economic capacity for American industry to match new (and ever increasing) consumer demands. Maybe we should approach the word “huge” from another perspective.   

Raw World War II production numbers of trucks, airplanes, and ships might be more relative than we sometimes assume. It may be more accurate to consider the large World War II production runs only in the context of the 1940s. Consider that in 2008 Ford was the second largest US-based automobile maker, 5th ranked worldwide, and employed 213,000 workers. In 2008 Ford made 5.5 million cars. In 2014 there were 16.4 million new car registrations issued in the US alone. That suggests the so-called production “miracle” of World War II was only a prelude to what technology and the American economy would become. The “arsenal of democracy”, it appeared, was just beginning to spread its wings.  

How during the war did America achieve such production figures? What accounts for its ability to become the “arsenal of democracy?” There are two reasons to explain why US production figures stand out. First, and most obvious: the war was not fought on American soil. Our industries and population centers were not bombed or starved for primary resources. Second, and most important US goods and products were produced by assembly line methods. By contrast, European production was essentially craft work. Compared to American production, European industry was labor intensive and time consuming. 

I can write pages on statistical summaries describing in ever greater detail the size of World War II. In the end, the data might not satisfactorily answer the question of magnitude. However, one of the central figures in our story recorded an anecdote that tells us more about size than do columns of numbers.  

On the morning of D-Day CPT Henry M. Hills, Jr., MC, one of our surgeons, was assigned to the United States Army 12th Evacuation Hospital (EVAC) that was stationed on the southeast coast of England. They were preparing to treat the first casualties that would come back from the beaches of Normandy. At 2330 on 5 June the transport planes carrying the 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division to their drop zones behind the Normandy beaches began taking off. When they flew over the 12th EVAC toward the channel they were about 500 feet off the ground. There were over 870 transport planes carrying 13,100 paratroopers and 3,937 glider troops. Each serial was about 1,000 feet apart; individual planes within a serial were often no more than 50ft apart.  It took 3 hours for all of the planes to fly over their position. By the time the last plane passed over the 12th EVAC, the first airborne troops had been on the ground in France for two hours.  

CPT Hills and thousands of other eyewitnesses retold the story of what they saw that night for the rest of their lives. And that is the answer to the question: How Big Was World War II? It was that big.

Let me recommend three more general histories of World War II: 

Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millett, A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press), 2000. This is a detailed operational history of World War II by two of America’s preeminent military historians. World War II is complicated and many authors attempt to reduce the complexity by discussing one sub-topic at a time. Murray and Millett, on the other hand, choose the more difficult task of keeping the reader aware that many events are happening at the same time and some of those events are causally related. Some reviewers criticized this book because it was unlike contemporary military histories in that it focused on the actual fighting and not on social and cultural issues. I, on the other hand, think that is one of the book’s strengths. 

Max Hastings, Inferno: The World At War: 1939-1945 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), 2011. This work is especially good at describing and accounting for the human sacrifice and human cost of World War II. It is reflective and sobering.

Peter Calvocoressi and Guy Wint, Total War: Causes and Courses of the Second World War (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books), 1972. Because this is an older work, it obviously does take advantage of recent World War II scholarship. Its advantage for us, however, is that it is written from the perspective of the British Empire and, consequently, includes details of the war in the British Commonwealth that most American general World War II histories lack. Don’t worry, this book won’t turn you into a British imperialist, but it will give an insight to the legacy of an empire on which the sun never set.

Friday, August 28, 2015

An Invitation to: “The Surgeons of Bastogne”

I invite you to my lecture, “The Surgeons of Bastogne”, 14 September 2015, 10:00 AM to 1130: AM at the Griswold Center, 777 High Street, Worthington, Ohio, 43085. Between now and then I will be posting here some short essays that will provide an introduction to my presentation. I hope you enjoy them and you may also enjoy more of my posts on Clio Muses. 

Our story takes place in the Belgium village of Bastogne. Prior to the war Bastogne was a picturesque and popular tourist attraction. But in December of 1944 Bastogne was the center of the most important American battle in the European Theater of Operations (ETO), World War II. 

Bastogne was the junction of several major roads through the Ardennes Forrest. The 101st Airborne Division had been sent to hold Bastogne at all costs. They were surrounded by General Lüttwitz’s XLVII Panzer Corps who attacked relentlessly. Early in the battle most of the division’s doctors, surgeons, nurses, and all of its medical supplies were captured by the Germans. The few who were left, were killed by artillery. The 101st Airborne Division was now without any medical care except from two doctors serving with two other units also trapped in Bastogne and the 101st’s company medics and what supplies they carried in their own bags. Moreover, the sky was so overcast the United States Army Air Force could not provide combat support or parachute in supplies. Conditions were desperate and they were going to get worse.  

As the fighting increased, American casualties mounted. They had scant little medical care. How the casualties finally received medical treatment, how most of them were saved, who saved them, and how that contributed to the ultimate victory is our story. 

I think you will like it.

In addition to some of the World War II posts already on this blog and the ones I will publish in the next couple of weeks, you may also like to read  more on the Ardennes Counter Offensive, popularly called the Battle of the Bulge. I recommend the following: 

For a readable and authoritative overview see the relevant chapters in Allen R. Millett, Peter Maslowski, and William B. Freis, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States from 1607 to 2012 (New York: Free Press), 2012. Chapter 13, “The United States and World War II: From the Edge of Defeat to the Edge of Victory: 1939-1943,” and Chapter 14, “The United States and World War II: The Road to Victory, 1943-1945.” For the Ardennes Counter Offensive, see especially “From Normandy to the Rhine,” pp. 486-494; and ”The Axis Last Stand,” pp. 499-507.   If you are interested in American military history, For the Common Defense would be a welcome addition to your book shelves. 

For a more detailed and fascinating study I recommend Danny S. Parker, Battle of the Bulge: Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive, 1944-1945 (Boston: De Capo Press), rev ed. 2004.  

The classical and much recommended study is Charles B. MacDonald, A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge, The Greatest Single Victory in U. S. Army History (New York: William Morrow & Company), 1984.  

I am sure you will find any one of these works informative and helpful. They are available from the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Barnes & Noble, or 

I forward to seeing you in September.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Persian Gulf War 25th Anniversary, 2 August 1990

At 0100 hrs (Kuwait time), 2 August 1990, I Corps and II Corps, Republican Guard Forces Command (RGFC), commanded by Lieutenant General Iyad Futayyih Khalifah al-Rawi, attacked across the Kuwaiti frontier.  The Hammurabi Armored Division supported by the Nebuchadnezzar Motorized Infantry Division, and the Tawakalna Mechanized Infantry Division with the Al Faw Infantry Division in support, spearheaded the main attack south into Kuwait along the Safwan-‘Abdally axis, driving toward the Al-Jahra pass.  

Farther west, the Medina Armored Division supported by the Adnan Infantry Division and the Baghdad Mechanized Infantry Division also crossed the frontier. Simultaneous with the main attacks, units from the 8th As Saiqa Special Operations Divisions conducted an air assault attack on key installations in Kuwait City; and an amphibious attack on Bayan Palace, the Amir’s official residence.    

By 0530 the two attacking columns had linked up with the special operations units just west of Kuwait City. By 1900 hrs they had captured Kuwait City and were pressing toward the coastal, port cities.  

On 3 August 1990 The New York Times reported, “Without warrant or warning, Iraq has struck brutally at a tiny Kuwait, a brazen challenge to world law. Iraq stands condemned by a unanimous UN Security Council . . . President Bush’s taste for bluntness stands him in good stead: ‘Naked Aggression!’ is the correct term for President Saddam Hussein’s grab at a vulnerable, oil-rich neighbor.” 

Recommended readings: 

Ballard, John R. From Storm to Freedom: America’s Long War with Iraq (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press), 2010. 

Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress (Washington, D. C.: Department of Defense), 1992.


Friday, June 26, 2015

The Berlin Airlift, 1948-1949

On this day, 26 June 1948, the Berlin Airlift began. The Berlin Airlift is one of American Armed Forces’ great humanitarian achievements. It was successfully executed on short notice by a military that was gutted from post-World War II hasty downsizing.

It was agreed at the Potsdam Conference that at the end of World War II Germany would be divided into 5 occupying zones: France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was assigned the Eastern Zone, which they had conquered and occupied by May of 1945. Berlin fell within the Soviet Zone and it was determined jointly that Berlin would be a “free city” divided into two sectors (East Berlin and West Berlin). The civil governance of the Western Zone was shared by the French, British, and Americans; East Berlin was governed by the Soviet Union.

The Soviets allowed access to West Berlin by one autobahn, one railroad, and two air corridors. West Berlin, the largest post-war German city with a population of a bit over 2 million, received all of its coal, oil, petrol, medicines, and food through those Soviet-controlled corridors.

After President Roosevelt died in April 1945, the US stopped all pretense of diplomatic “friendship” with the Soviet Union. The Potsdam Conference (July-August 1945) was the last Allied Conference of World War II. It was attended by Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Harry Truman. The Conference quickly revealed the deep tensions between the British and Americans, on one side, and the Soviet Union on the other. The Soviet Union had resisted the joint occupation of Berlin and had pressured the Allies to withdraw from Berlin entirely. Stalin increased the diplomatic pressure in June 1948 by closing all air and ground access to West Berlin from the west.

Rather than giving in to the Soviet demands or letting 2 million people starve, the United States organized, with British assistance, an airlift to supply West Berlin with needed fuel, water, medicines, and food among many other items.

Under the command of General Curtis Lemay, United States Air Force, and General Lucius D. Clay, United States Army, the United States launched a massive operation to supply West Berlin by air. Using virtually every transport plane and pilot the new United States Air Force organized a round-the-clock 7-days-a-week “air bridge” (die Luftbrucke). There were numerous complications and obstacles, not the least of which was inclement weather. Because of Soviet hostility the transport planes had to be escorted by US fighters, which restricted the already limited air space in the air corridor into Berlin. Moreover, there was only one large airfield in Berlin, the former Luftwaffe air base, Tempelhofer Feld (rendered Templehof in English). As the airlift continued, smaller fields were built in Berlin but they only slightly mitigated the space problem on the ground and in the air.

Planes landed and took-off at Tempelhofer Feld every four minutes. Crews were flying 2 to 3 missions a day. One of the two major fields in West Germany was Rhein Main, AFB, Frankfurt am Main. Rhein Main was closed in 2005, but I had the good fortune to lay over at Rhein Main returning from ODS in 1991. The second major base in West Germany was Wiesbaden AFB. Wiesbaden had been the World War II headquarters for the Luftwaffe. When the Americans arrived in 1945 Wiesbaden became the US Army Headquarters Europe. By 1948 Wiesbaden was a major Air Force Base and the headquarters of United States Air Force Europe. When we were stationed in England I can remember at least two vacations in Wiesbaden and Frankfurt am Main.

The coordination for the Berlin Airlift was difficult and exacting. On the ground the planes were lined up nose-to-tail and loaded several at a time. The start and completion of loading each plane had to be timed so the plane could lift off on schedule. With a take-off and landing every four minutes one can appreciate the demanding choreography of the ground operation. Planes requiring maintenance were pulled out of the line and replaced with repaired ones. The “air bridge system” in many ways resembled a linear assembly line rather than a “bridge”.

According to my father, one interesting consequence of this demanding system was that pilots were assigned planes as they were parked in the loading line rather than by their squadron assignments. For example, my father was assigned to the 332nd Troop Carrier Squadron, 513th Troop Carrier Group, Rhein Main AFB. The 332nd flew the new the Fairchild C-119, “The Flying Box”. It had just entered service with the USAF in November 1947. It was the first post-war cargo plane specifically designed for paratroop operations, airborne cargo drops, and with a short runway capability. Like most of the other troop carrier pilots during the Berlin Airlift, my father flew whatever came up next, whether it was a C-47, C-46, or a C-54. At that time there were only two classifications of Air Force pilots: single engine or multi-engine. It was expected that the multi-engine pilots could fly a plane with two engines or four (or one or three when an engine feathered). As aviation technology became more complex, pilot training and ratings changed accordingly.

The Soviet Union was caught off guard by America’s ability to supply Berlin by air. By September 1949 the Soviet Union backed down and settled for a negotiated status quo ante: Berlin would remain divided and the West would be re-guaranteed access. The Berlin Air Lift delivered and amazing 2.3 million tons of cargo; flew over 189,000 flights; logged over 600,000 flying hours; and flew 92 million miles. During the 15 month operation the accident rate was lower than the entire Air Force for the same period of time. There were only 12 air plane accidents during the Air Lift. Unfortunately, 31 Americans were killed, mostly from ground accidents.

The Berlin Airlift defined the American strategic spirit for the remainder of the Cold War. It was eloquently summarized by President John F. Kennedy in his 1961 Inaugural Address:

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty” .

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

Memorial Day is a day set aside to for the nation to remember and honor American Armed Forces members who died in war. Veterans Day, on the other hand, is a day set aside for the nation to remember and honor all who have served in the American Armed Forces.

Our contemporary Memorial Day grew out of the Civil War experience. As deaths increased from 1861 to the end of the war those killed in action were recovered, buried, and memorialized through the service member’s unit, his comrades, his family, his home town, or his home state. There was no army-wide system for accurate identification of the remains, next of kin notification, or burial. For years after the war the bodies of tens of thousands of soldiers were reinterred by their family to family or local cemeteries; or, after 1867, to the new national cemeteries.

Today there are 147 United States National Cemeteries maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs; 14 cemeteries associated with historic sites or battlefields maintained by the National Park Service; and 24 American military cemeteries maintained overseas by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Since the Civil War administrative improvements have been made in identification, notification, and burial; but nothing mitigates the profound loss experienced by family, friends, and the nation.

While towns and states began to develop various memorialization’s, ceremonies, and remembrances, the idea of a national memorial day was the consequence of John A. Logan’s indefatigable work and skilled leadership.

Before of the Civil War Logan was a US Congressman from Southern Illinois. At the opening of the war he volunteered and rose to the rank of Major General. He had a distinguished war record that included commands at Vicksburg and at the Battle of Atlanta. He returned to Congress after the war and became involved in veteran affairs.

In 1866 he attended the first veteran’s memorial services at Woodlawn Cemetery, Carbondale, Illinois. The following year, in his capacity as the commander-in-chief of the Civil War veteran’s fraternal organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), he founded Memorial Day as a national holiday.

On 5 May 1868 he issued a proclamation to announce the start of a national, annual memorial day. The proclamation, which might be considered the first Memorial Day speech, explains why he thinks a national Memorial Day is important. His original idea was to remember the Union Civil War dead. Since then, Memorial Day has grown to include all American wars. Though his language represents the flowery style of the 19th century, I nevertheless hope his words still soar to inspire and enrich our thoughts, reflections, and memories this weekend.

General John A. Logan

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form or ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose, among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their death a tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the Nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and found mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice of neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the Nation's gratitude, -- the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use every effort to make this order effective.

By order of

Adjutant General



Friday, May 08, 2015

Victory in Europe Day

Today is Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day. At 0241 Tuesday, 7 May 1945 Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, Stabschef Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (roughly the equivalent of our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), representing Germany’s armed forces, surrendered to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force. The ceremony took place at Eisenhower’s headquarters in Reims, France. One-hundred and seventeen days later Japan would surrender and World War II was over.

World War II was the largest and most terrible event in human history. The war was fought on every continent including Antarctica. Conservatively, 60 million people died and millions more were wounded, displaced, or missing.

The end of the war marked the economic and political decline of Europe and the emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as the world’s two dominant powers. It was the beginning of the Cold War, the Nuclear Age, the dissolution of European colonial empires, the rise of national liberation movements and the “Third World”, the formation of a world-wide monetary system, and the formation of a world-wide political organization.

“For the whole earth is the tomb of famous men; not only are they commemorated by columns and inscriptions in their own country, but in foreign lands there dwells also an unwritten memorial of them, graven not on stone but in the hearts of men. Make them your examples, and, esteeming courage to be freedom and freedom to be happiness, do not weigh too nicely the perils of war."

[Funeral Oration of Pericles]
― Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Surgeons of Bastogne

The Ardennes Counter Offensive is officially dated from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945. It was not exactly that precise, especially for the participants. Historical periods are chronological aids; actual history knows no such precise periodization. However imprecise, carefully dating periods gives history structure. A historical period is like a grid on a map: the dates are the coordinates that show you where you are.

The Ardennes Counter Offensive is popularly known as “The Battle of the Bulge”, which unfortunately is misleading. A “bulge” is journalistic slang left over from World War I. If generals are supposed to fight “the last war”, then journalists tend to wright about “the last war”. I adhere to the formal name, Ardennes Counter Offensive, because it best defines the sequence of events that we are studying.

One of the most obvious but little noticed characteristic of history is how ordinary it is. Living during the 1940s with a world war raging was not, as some like to write, romantic. It was not a time for Victory Doughnuts and brave young warriors. It was not a “Good War” and it was definitely not the time of “The Greatest Generation”. It was a time of immense suffering for countless men and women, boys and girls. It was a time of unimaginable sacrifice and of breath-taking joy. It was a time when people attempted to relieve misery and save lives, even when those lives were doomed. It was a time when people enthusiastically raised torture to high art forms, and exterminated people in the name of truth. Killing was as natural as love making. The war years were so normal, they were so ordinary. Ordinary people just doing the ordinary things people do. It was a time when many were guilty and none were innocent. It was a time memorable not for its heroes or its villains, but for its rapacious banality.

Though with difficulty and often not the “same” as it had been before the war, life in America went on. People worked, went to school, graduated, had romances, got married, had babies, followed sports, went to shows, talked about the latest movie, and complained about rationing and the weather. It was a time when taxi cab drivers parked in front of homes and apartments and delivered telegrams that announced the unthinkable to someone who was about to have the worst day of his or her life.

The winter of 1944-1945 was the coldest and wettest European winter in nearly a hundred years. It was not that cold in North America but it was a colder than average. When I was brought home from the hospital in December in Washington, D. C., there was snow on the ground and it was below freezing; unusual before Christmas.
It was also a cold season for the Washington Redskins. They finished 3rd in the National Football League-East division with a 6-3-1 record. Then the game was played with traditional values: no tie-breakers. But the traditional value of winning eluded the ‘Skins that season. The last two games were both played against the New York Giants. The first was played at the Polo Grounds, the Giants’ home stadium. The Redskins lost 16-13. The next weekend they played at home at Griffith Stadium and lost 31-0. The film highlights of that game are available at: The following week the New York Giants lost the NFL Championship Game to the Green Bay Packers, 14-7. Mercifully that dismal season was over before I was born.

Indiana University, to which in the 1940s our family had no connection but do now, also had a season not to remember. In the 1944-1945 season IU went 10-11 overall, 3-9 in the Big Ten, which was worth a ninth place finish when the conference actually had ten teams (Chicago University was a Big Ten member but Michigan State was not). In 1944 the Ohio State University basketball team won the Big Ten Conference with a 14-7 overall record and a 10-2 conference record. OSU then lost to Dartmouth, 60-53, in the NCAA Regional Final.

The NCAA Championship game for the 1944-1945 season was won by Oklahoma A&M (becoming Oklahoma State University in 1957) defeating New York University 49-45. The Oklahoma A&M coach was Hank Iba who in 1972 became the first American Olympic basketball head coach to lose the Gold Medal game breaking a string of 63 successive US Men’s Basketball Gold Medal victories.

During World War II most of the professional sports teams lost their best athletes to the Armed Forces. Most of the “stars” were draft age. One professional baseball player to serve in World War II was John (Buddy) Kelly Lewis who played his entire career as the Washington Senator’s two-time All-Star 3rd baseman. He was an Army Air Force Pilot who flew 500 transport missions over “The Hump”, which was the dangerous “air train” over the Himalayas that supplied the British and American armies fighting in Burma and in Thailand and the Chinese Army fighting the Japanese in China. For this Lewis was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. After the war he returned to the Washington Senators ending his career in 1949.

Starting in 1940 the American economy boomed. Unemployment was as low as it was in the 1920s and salaries sky-rocketed. Many consumer items were rationed, but a growing number of Americans now had enough money to beat the rationing system by buying on the Black Market. My grandfather and Ginny’s grandfathers were employed throughout the war. Few consumer products, especially durable goods and houses, were available. Production shifted from new cars and refrigerators to tanks, jeeps, and airplanes. The economic result was consumer savings had never been so high. War time savings became the fuel that resulted in the rapid American economic growth after the war.

The modern ball point pen was invented in the late 1930s, but was not a success until 1944 when the British Royal Air Force discovered that unlike most fountain pens a ball point pen functioned at high altitudes. By the following year ball point pens entered the American consumer market, but they were expensive costing $10. Calculating for inflation that comes out to $134 in current dollars. I do not believe they were sold in packages of ten.

For the popular U.S. culture, the 1940s was the decade of the superhero. Superman got the trend going in 1938, making his first appearance in “Action Comics.” By the 1940s, the man of steel was at the top of his game, single-handedly fighting Hitler and Hirohito in one memorable cover from 1942. Batman appeared in late 1939, but he, too, was really a child of the 1940s. When Green Lantern arrived in July 1940, the archetype of the superhero was firmly entrenched in the nation’s mythology.

In the 1940s, renowned Broadway composer Richard Rodgers teamed up with a new lyricist named Oscar Hammerstein to create “Oklahoma!” “Carousel,” and “South Pacific.” Irving Berlin contributed “Annie Get Your Gun,” with Ethel Merman in the title role. Tennessee Williams’ dramas of the decade included “The Glass Menagerie” in 1945 and “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1947, for which Williams won a Pulitzer. Directed by Elia Kazan, “Streetcar” is best remembered for the performance of a 24-year-old actor named Marlon Brando in the role of Stanley Kowalski.
All over America young men left for war. Railroad trains were packed with soldiers traveling from one post to another and then to a port-of-call. There were so many traveling across the country that special canteens sprung up at rail terminals or rural stations like North Platte, Nebraska where trains stopped for coal and water. Staffed by local women and supported with local donations, they served up homemade cookies, sandwiches, hot coffee and shared conversations with young men who were often on their own for the first time and all who did not where they were going or what to expect when they arrived.

One such young man was Henry M. Hills. He was born in Lamoni, Iowa, on 14 March 1913. His father was a physician and Henry wanted to be a doctor too. In 1938 he graduated from the University of Iowa Medical School with a specialty in trauma surgery. In August 1942 he had completed a trauma and orthopedic surgery residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. He was 29 years old.

At the beginning of the summer of 1942 the United States Navy defeated a Japanese Fleet in the Pacific Ocean at the Battle of Midway. The United States Eighth Air Force began bombing missions over Germany. The German Army captured Sebastopol. The United States Marines landed on the Solomon Islands. The Army decided it was time to call Dr. Hills. The newly minted Captain Henry Hills, MD, MC, did not know he would play an important role in the Ardennes Counteroffensive.