Author Archives: Second Air Division Memorial Library

About Second Air Division Memorial Library

During the Second World War many young Americans, members of the 2nd Air Division of the 8th United States Army Air Forces, based in Norfolk and Suffolk England, lost their lives in the line of duty. The 2nd Air Division Memorial Library makes available for loan current material covering all aspects of American history, culture, and life. This includes approximately 5,000 American books, 25 American periodicals, and several hundred videos. It also includes some specialized material about the Second World War in the air, and material about the special relationship between the people of the United Kingdom, specifically the people of East Anglia, and the people of the United States.

Life After the War

Following up on my earlier post about my family friends and his involvement with Patton’s 3rd Army I wanted to discuss some of the stories he told me about his later life. It is important, in my opinion, to look at all the facets of a person to get a feel for them as a whole and in civilian life he was no less exemplary than while in uniform.

On being discharged after the end of WW2 he returned to a small town on the Minnesota/North Dakota border and started a career with the railroad. It had been his dream to become an engineer and through hard work he was able to achieve this goal. Talking with him his years driving trains in this rural part of the country were some of the happiest of his life.

He often spoke of the days when he would slowly be going through a town, the most excitement most small farming communities had at this point, and being hailed by kids running and waving trying to keep up with the train. Often, with the parents’ permission, he would give some of the kids rides in his train engine to the next town and return them later in the day during his return run. Other times, if he had the extra money but not the time, he would buy candy to throw to the kids who marked his path and brightened his day.

For years until his retirement he led a happy, simple, and generous life. I always found these stories of mid-century american idyll fascinating having grown up in a time of such easy transport and over-stimulation but he made the life of an engineer sound more glamorous than any CEO or actor could possibly have. I like to think that his kindness and joy during these later years of his life helped in some way to calm the turmoil he faced during the war. I know many veterans found such outlets and led wonderful lives as a way of saying thanks or simply celebrating their lives after violence.

As I said, it’s important to always look at every aspect of a person and my friend was a hero in every aspect of his life, like so many others like him throughout the country who helped create the world we live in.

 

Thank you for reading,

Mike

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AMERICAN ANIMATION: The 91st Academy Awards

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I’m taking a quick break from writing about WWII films for a bit in order tackle a more lightheaded subject – the Academy Awards, specifically how they are honouring animation this year. The films and shorts nominated at this ceremony have a tremendous effect on how both the industry and audiences in America view animation, especially in contrast to the medium’s reputation in other countries. Please note, these are not predictions or anything like that. They are just observations about what films have been nominated and their place in the history of this awards ceremony.

First up, Best Animated Short Film is the longest running of these categories. Introduced in 1932 as “Short Subjects, Cartoons”, this award has grown from a way to continuously honour Walt Disney to a way to spotlight international, independent, and experimental animators. This year, what was once the norm has been a rarity. Bao played in front of The Incredibles 2, making it the sole nominee to be theatrically released. The others – Animal Behaviour, Late Afternoon, One Small Step, and Weekends – gained recognition through festival runs.

Best Animated Feature, on the other hand, is the Academy Awards’ newest category. Introduced in 2001, it has almost consistently gone to mainstream 3D CG animation, with two early exceptions – Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away in 2002 and Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005. For the past decade, the winner has been either Disney or Pixar. While both have contenders (Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet and Pixar’s The Incredibles 2), this year threatens to break that trend with Sony’s visually innovative Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Rounding out the set of nominees, the stop-motion Isle of Dogs represents a kind of auteur-led animation for adults, akin to the nomination for Anomolisa in 2015. Finally, Mirai is notable for being the first non-Ghibli Japanese film nominated in this category. It was distributed in the States by GKids, which has been continuously netting nominations for non-American animation since The Secret of Kells surprised in 2009.

Finally, we have Best Visual Effects, which has evolved to become a way to acknowledge computer animation in otherwise live-action films. Solo: A Star Wars Story is a typical example of the type of VFX-heavy studio fare that usually dominates this category. However, similar nominees – namely, Avengers: Infinity War and Ready Player One – also foreground the use of character-centric animation, accomplished via motion capture. Christopher Robin is another example of this focus on character over pure spectacle. Finally, First Man demonstrates how VFX can support traditional dramas without becoming the centrepiece of the whole film.

I hope you all enjoyed this little diversion from our usual material. My next post will return to more explicitly WWII-related material. If you want to learn more about the Academy Awards, be sure to check out our collection on Hollywood and American films at the 2AD Memorial Library.

-Francis

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Holocaust Remembrance

Today is a very important day and requires special attention in today’s fraught interpersonal climate. In order to do justice to the memory of those victims of the Holocaust I want to share another personal anecdote shared with me by a veteran of WW2.

My older friend, whose name I will withhold for the sake of his family’s privacy, was a scout for the 6th Armored Division of Patton’s 3rd Army. Being a scout meant he was often far from the front lines and was thereby the first to see many things which we know about now. One such thing was the concentration camp of Buchenwald. Now for those who may not know Buchenwald was one of the few places where the prisoners, hearing about the end of the war nearing and seeing the increased cruelty and efforts at extermination, managed to seize control. It was this scene of violence, deprivation, and horror that my friend was the first American soldier to witness.

Discussing his time in the army with him over the course of several unofficial interviews only once was he able to bring himself to talk about what he found or the impact it had on him. One thing that sticks out so sharply to me is the total lack of preparation he and his crew had for this discovery. While upper echelons of the military had at the very least heard rumors of work and death camps, especially as the Soviets had already liberated Auschwitz by this point, the rank and file servicemen were left in the dark. It was this that lead to the total shock experienced upon the discovery and the inability of many first responders to render appropriate aid.

Now while meeting a man who was one of the first American soldiers to see these horrors first hand is amazing enough his story does not end there. Those of you who may have read Night by Elie Weisel (if you haven’t I highly recommend it as a brilliant and unblinking account of the jewish experience in camps during the holocaust) know that the book finishes with the arrival of American tanks at the fences of Buchenwald the same day the prisoners overthrew the SS. It is, in fact, my friend and his crew who are mentioned.

Many years later my friend went to a reading by Elie Weisel, by then a celebrity and also a target for those who would continue to blame the Jewish people for WW2. After the reading he attempted to go and speak with Mr. Weisel and was stopped by security; however, Weisel recognized him, even after the span of roughly 30 years, and told his security that this man was welcome anywhere he was because of the lives he saved, his own among them.

I find myself immensely privileged to have known such a man who had such a lasting impact on the world. Whether he was just doing his duty as he frequently asserted or if he had a higher calling to humanity I will always call him a hero and a true witness to events which must never be forgotten. So, on this day, I want to call attention to the millions of victims, both alive and dead, of one of the greatest tragedies to befall humankind and to those who fought, and still fight tirelessly, against those who would seek to recreate history.

Thank you for reading and remembering.

 

-Mike

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Perusals from the Botanical Gardens – The Pros and Cons of Living and Learning Abroad

Hello! I’m Emma, and I’m a third-year student from the University of East Anglia. This past September, I embarked on the most intimidating journey I have been on in my life: moving five and a half thousand miles from home for ten months to study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). And as I sit here in the UCLA Botanical Garden – a place that has quickly gone from quaint novelty to my writer’s haven – observing this bizarre juxtaposition of plants from Californian cacti to English lavender to Chinese palm and beyond, I can’t help but think of how they all seem so simultaneously out of place yet fit together perfectly on this campus. It’s a sensation I’ve become very familiar with recently, and one that I’ve realised is an ingrained and essential part of my time here in California.

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The Familiar Meets the Unfamiliar… But with Trees

Anyone who knew me before this journey started would say that I was the most unlikely person in the world to venture on this path. I was a home bird who had never been so far from the U.K. – the girl who once cried to her friend in an airport at the end of a rare two-week trip because she was so desperate to get home – so the thought of studying abroad never once crossed my mind. I couldn’t possibly afford it, nor would I want to risk getting settled in a place and then having to move on. Travel just wasn’t for me. Then UEA’s American Studies department stepped in. Rescuing me from self-inflicted chaos on results day, the department didn’t just offer me a place on an unexpected course, but they set me on a path to discovering a love for the interdisciplinary study of America, be it politics, history, film or a whole world of cultural studies previously unknown to me. An integral part of that would be stepping out of my comfort zone and facing my fears of flying and distance to experience a year at an American university, a journey which has both challenged and inspired me on my way to making me a better academic, and – I hope – a more informed and adaptable person.

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On top of the world in Boulder, Colorado

I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t had to face some of my worries in the past few months. One of the big ones that almost stopped me entertaining the thought in the first place was money. It almost goes without saying, but living in California is probably going to cost you more than you’re anticipating! I had to pick my jaw up off the floor the first time I saw how much orange juice costs here! Figuring out the exchange rate and learning more than ever how to tightly budget (all whilst having a world of new and often expensive experiences at your fingertips) forces you to become better at planning, which has never been my forte. So firstly, a very, very important thank you to the Walker family and the 2nd Air Division Memorial Trust: the existence of the Charles L Walker scholarship, which I was so honoured to receive last year, has enabled me to glimpse what America has to offer outside of Los Angeles. It gave me the opportunity to examine the heart of literary and cultural movements which have long fascinated me in San Francisco, and it helped me reunite with old friends in Sacramento and in Boulder, Colorado, for awe-inspiring (and indeed poetry inspiring) mountain-top views and a proper American Thanksgiving I will never forget!

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Red brick buildings are a very familiar sight at UCLA

Another fear of mine was struggling to settle in to a new environment. This was partially allayed the moment I stepped onto UCLA’s campus. The sea of aesthetically pleasing red-brick buildings that make up the North campus have a sense of grandeur that makes it seem far older than its years, and also incredibly easy to get lost in when you’re in a hurry. The massive student body – and the wider Californian community – is comprised of so many people who are often happy to jump into random conversation with you in the most unexpected (and occasionally unwelcome) places, in that way that Americans can manage without it becoming an awkward-stranger-on-the-London-Underground experience we are used to. The vibrant sports scene allows you to stand in the student section of the Rose Bowl with a large group of international students to moan together about how long American football lasts, then become obsessed with water polo alongside an equally captivated American friend just 24 hours later. Those stereotypical questions you worry you don’t quite know how to answer – “What does [insert British colloquialism here] mean? What do you think about Trump/American politics/Brexit/British politics? What do you think of my attempt of your accent?” – definitely do rear their head every once in a while, although far more often prefaced with “oh my God, you have an Australian accent!” (Spoiler: I don’t…) And with every single question, I get a little tinge of homesickness, alongside a bucketful of opportunities to learn just as much about the other person as they are able to learn from me.

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Some lost international students exploring their new home

However, if there is one word to sum up what this experience has given me these past few months and continues to give me on a daily basis even now, it’s self-confidence. It really does take learning in the American college system to appreciate how much it differs from life back at UEA. UCLA has such an incredible range of classes on offer that has opened doors to areas I never thought I would be able to explore: from disability law to Native American languages, there’s a plethora of topics you’d never encounter in our more specialized degrees. And while the breadth of study can be a little bit strange at first, and I’m not sure I’d seek a full undergraduate degree here as opposed to in Britain, it has undoubtedly enticed me into trying my hand at things I had never dared to do. Don’t understand public policy? Give it a go! Never thought about taking education classes? Think about it now! Trying new things and succeeding at them has made the undoable seem do-able and given me so many ideas of where I want to go, academically and beyond. The professors I’ve had the pleasure of working with have been nothing but encouraging, giving me faith in myself to pursue academia further than I thought I could and a sense of accomplishment in my work that I had never reached previously. And with some of the great names associated with UCLA, I’ve even had the opportunity to take writing workshops with a poet whose own work had inspired me to start writing poetry before I even knew I was coming here: that alone has been an experience I will never forget!

So, I suppose the message I’m gradually learning to open my heart to is to welcome the unexpected. Make the most of the opportunities thrown your way, even if they scare you at first. And when you’re sat over five thousand miles from home and your friend says, “do you miss it?” remember that it’s okay for your first response to be yes, and maybe when you’re back in rainy little Norwich and someone asks you the same question of Los Angeles, your response might just be yes then as well.

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