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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Role of African Americans on D-Day

Hello Friends!

Each February, the United States recognizes the accomplishments of African Americans through Black History Month.

During World War II, the practice of segregating our armed forces applied most directly to African Americans. For those of African descent, segregation in the military most often meant being pigeonholed into non-combat positions. Despite their relatively high rate of enlistment in the Armed Forces, African Americans were for the most part assigned labor-intensive duties, such as quartermaster and cook. Though the frontline was denied to most African American servicemen during World War II, there were still a handful of segregated units that distinguished themselves in battle during the Normandy campaign.

The Tuskegee Airmen

 The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military fighter and bomber pilots who fought in World War II. They were the first African American military aviators. Formally, they formed the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They flew missions in Sicily, Anzio, Normandy, the Rhineland, the Po Valley and Rome-Arno and others. The red markings that distinguished the Tuskegee Airmen included red bands on the noses of P-51s as well as a red rudder, the P-51B and D Mustangs flew with similar color schemes, with red propeller spinners, yellow wing bands and all-red tail surfaces, hence the nickname “Red Tails.” The Tuskegee Airmen accomplished a lot during the war, including destroying over 400 enemy aircraft, 950 motor vehicles, 40 boats and barges, and put a destroyer out of commission.

761st Tank Battalion

Another segregated unit that distinguished itself in battle was the famous 761st Tank Battalion, also known as the “Black Panthers”. Though this unit did not land on D-Day, they did benefit from the sacrifice made on that day as they embarked onto Omaha Beach on October 10, 1944. As a part of Patton’s 3rd Army, the 761st fought bravely until the German surrender and was amongst the first units to link up with Soviet forces in Austria. The uniqueness and importance of this first African American tank battalion is perhaps best summed up in the words Patton used to greet them on Omaha: “I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don’t care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sons of bitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all, your race is looking forward to you. Don’t let them down and, damn you, don’t let me down!”

320th Barrage Balloon Battalion

On D-Day in particular there was only one segregated unit that landed on the beaches with the assault forces. That unit was the 320th Anti-Aircraft Balloon Battalion, a unit of about 1,500 soldiers and 49 officers. Originally intended for defending the homeland, the 320th found itself reassigned to the Normandy invasion late in 1943. Their task was to defend the landing forces from low-altitude strafing aircraft by deploying gas-filled balloons attached to the ground by steel cables. These steel cables were meant to catch on the wings of passing aircraft, thus destroying them. Though originally designed to be manned by four-man teams, the soldiers of the 320th successfully performed their duties with only three-man teams. General Eisenhower praised the 320th’s service by saying that the battalion “carried out its mission with courage and determination, and proved an important element of the air defense team…your fine effort, has merited the praise of all who observed it.”

Not much has been written on the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion, but there recently Linda Hervieux has published a book on the topic, Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes. We are fortunate to be able to host Mrs. Hervieux on
Monday, February 22nd at 6:30PM as a part of our annual Lunchbox Lecture series at the Bedford Welcome Center through the generosity of the Virginia Foundation of the Humanities. There will also be a book signing following her presentation.  This is no charge for admission to this lecture, but donations are appreciated to help support future educational programming. Call 800-351-DDAY for more information and to RSVP. Seating is limited.

It is incredibly important to honor and remember the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of all who contributed to the success of D-Day and World War II no matter their gender or skin color. The brave men of the Tuskegee Airmen, 761st Tank Battalion, and 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion played integral roles in the success of the Normandy campaign and we are honored to help preserve their legacy.

Until next time,


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Who Wins the Battle Between American and German Soldier Rations?

Hello Again, Friends!

A few months ago when I was putting up the artifacts after a school program, I was curious about the contents of the German ration kit we used for school programs. We didn’t open it like we did the American K Ration reproduction box to limit its wear and tear due to the number of school groups we see each year. I had heard that the German rations were better than the American, and I wanted to see it for myself. So today on the blog, I am going to be comparing the two ration kits and talking a little bit about the importance of rations.

What are Rations?

Rations are packages of food designed to feed members of the military. They are made to be distributed quickly, and designed to be prepared and eaten in the field. Therefore, they are designed to have a longer shelf life.

An American Ration Kit

For this blog, we will be using the K Dinner Ration. They were packaged in cardboard with an interior cardboard box that was coated with wax to waterproof the box, because who wants wet food or cigarettes? Definitely not the American GI.

Here is a list of what all was inside of the box:
·         Napkin, or really just toilet paper since soldier’s on the warfront typically don’t care much about wiping their face or hands while eating
·         Pack of cigarettes
·         Stick of chewing gum
·         Matches
·         Crackers, or biscuits as they called them
·         Packet of sugar
·         Bouillon Powder—used to create soups or broths
·         P-38 can opener
·         Chocolate bar
·         Canned meat that was typically beef or pork luncheon meat

I always save the canned meat for last when showing the K Ration to school groups. Usually, the student who is holding it finds it disgusting because it jiggles, and then I give the entire group the opportunity to guess what is inside of it. I always ask if they ate the meat warm or cold during the first few days of the invasion. While many cringe at the thought of eating it cold, it is always rewarding when they connect that this was a part of the sacrifice that soldier’s made for our freedom.

A German Ration Kit

Unlike the American ration boxes, the German rations were in what appears to be a smaller cardboard container. There is no separate interior packaging for these kits.

Here a list of what all is inside this box:
·         Fruit and Nut Bar
·         Chocolate bar
·         Pack of cigarettes
·         Hartkek—hard and nutritious biscuits
·         Milupa BC—chocolate caramel candies
·         Kraft Keks—more biscuits
·         Coffee


Packaging: Without a doubt, the Americans win in regards to packaging. Not only were the boxes more durable, but the inside waxed box gave the food more protection from water.

Contents: I have to give it to the Germans. Not only did they have a greater variety of options, it was also seems more edible. Also, they had larger portions than the Americans, including the number of cigarettes – the Americans received 3 cigarettes in each box while the Germans received 6.

While the Americans may not have won in regards to the content of their ration kits, they were able to win the war! While it may not have been the most delicious, it was just what the Americans needed to end the German occupation of Europe.

Until Next Time,


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Our D-Day Fallen: Charles Albert Rippon

Hello Friends!

I am excited to feature a blog written by our Director of Education, John Long. On top of all of his other job responsibilities, he’s been working tirelessly on reorganizing our collection while accessioning new artifacts at the same time. One of both of our favorite aspects to artifacts is how they tell a story. Today, John is going to tell you about some artifacts we have received and how they tell a story of one of our D-Day fallen, Charles Albert Rippon.

We’re all born…we all die. It’s an inevitable sequence of events.

Between those two happenings (which as a rule we like to be as far apart as possible) we live our life. We work and play, have happy and sad moments, impact other people, make a difference in some degree. Along the way, we leave behind a legacy; that legacy is often revealed in the “paper trail” that inevitably survives us in the modern world.

One of the more fulfilling aspects of working with the National D-Day Memorial Foundation is being able to take the documentary ephemera of a single life and use it to recreate a person’s story. In the archive of the Memorial (now over 10,000 items) you’ll find quite a few stories of the WWII generation preserved, just waiting for the right researcher to come along and do the detective work and reveal the hidden history.

Not long ago we took time to explore and catalog a collection of letters, documents, and photos associated with Charles Albert Rippon, one of 2,499 American fatalities on D-Day. Some would look at the box of yellowed documents and faded photos and see only a hodgepodge of old paper. But we saw a legacy, a way to tell the story of an American hero, to pay tribute to a man who gave his life for his adopted nation.

Photograph of Charles Rippon with his
signature at the top
No one’s ever heard of Charles Rippon, so we’d like to tell you his story. It’s a story emblematic of the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of all of the D-Day participants.

Charles was born August 26, 1908, in the parish of Crowle in Lincolnshire, England, to Edward Graystock and Ann Elizabeth Hinchliffe Rippon.  But he spent only a few months of his infancy there. In July 1909 the family boarded the good ship Haverford at Liverpool and crossed the ocean for a better life in America.

The Rippons settled in Johnsonburg, PA where Charles grew up in an idyllic American childhood, eventually with four brothers and three sisters. Like every boy in the small hometown in Elk County, he played baseball on the local Little League team, learned to fish, went to school. He graduated from Johnsonburg High in 1927; a year later his father died and presumably Charles became one of the family’s breadwinners. He worked for a local paper mill and supported his mother and siblings.

How much he loved his adopted nation might be deduced from the painstaking process he undertook in 1938 to become an American citizen. At that time, Britain was inching closer and closer to war, and perhaps Charles was concerned that unless he became a naturalized American, he could be drawn into British service. If so, it’s ironic that the war would eventually put him in an American uniform and ask him to lay down his life anyway.

Charles Rippon, March 1, 1943
War, of course, came to the small town in 1941. Charles Rippon, like most of the patriotic men of his generation, was quick to enlist. He joined the Naval Reserve and trained as an electrician’s mate, eventually rising to the rank of EM 1/C. In the summer of 1943 he again crossed the Atlantic and returned to his native country, quipping in his first letter home to his mother that “It has taken me a long time to make the round trip.”

Rippon’s frequent letters home to his mother spoke of side trips to see the sites of England and visits with long-lost relatives, but only vaguely hinted at the dangerous business that brought him to the United Kingdom. Like many a serviceman in many a war, he tried to allay mom’s fears with encouraging news and confidence that he would probably never face the enemy in combat. “This winter we will no doubt train and I doubt very seriously if we will ever see an action…they must really be pasting the Axis on the continent,” he wrote in Sept. 1943 (Italy had recently surrendered at the time and Mussolini had been deposed, although Rippon was wrong about the fighting there being conclusive or even quickly concluded).

We know, if he could not directly get such info through the censors to his family at home, that Rippon and his fellow sailors were training to cross the channel as part of Operation Overlord. He was assigned to a Landing Craft Tank, LCT-458, with the assignment of delivering an artillery unit to Utah Beach. It would not be an easy task—slow moving LCT delivering tanks or big guns would be obvious targets for German fire and vulnerable to mines. Nonetheless, he remained positive and confident in his letters. In one of his last letters home, dated May 23, 1944, he referenced a recent letter from a sister about how she had to cut the grass herself. “Picture me coming home with lots of lawn to mow—oh no! After this easy life I will hire someone to cut the grass.”

Sadly, it would never happen. At about 9:00 AM on June 6th, LCT-458 hit a German mine about a mile off of the French coast, sinking almost immediately in one of the greatest tragedies of the Utah Beach sector. Only three men from the naval crew survived the sinking; Rippon was not one of them. His body was never recovered and his name appears on the Wall of the Missing at the Normandy American Cemetery above Omaha Beach.

The Landing Craft on which Rippon gave his life for his adopted nation was transporting Battery B of the 29th Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Division. Altogether 39 of about 60 soldiers in that battery also died. Only three soldiers on that LCT would ever return to the fight in France. The full story of what happened to LCT-458 has never been told, perhaps because there were so few survivors. We hope to uncover more of that heartrending tale through further research.

Charles Albert Rippon was only one of 4,413 Allied servicemen to pay the ultimate price for the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny. On June 20, his brother-in-law Paul Mellander, not yet aware of what had happened, wrote to Charles “We thought of you and how busy you must be. It was something to think about when D-Day came, and [it] gives one a funny feeling when you think of the size of the undertaking and lives lost.” His sister Mabel added in the margin “I hope you’re safe and sound in Good Old England.”

The letter, of course, was never delivered. It was stamped “return to sender—unclaimed” and sent back to the grieving family, who by then had received the dreaded telegram from the Secretary of War. That poignant letter is now part of our archive, helping to tell only one of the countless stories which form the tapestry of our history.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Education Updates for 2016

Hello Friends!

I always enjoy New Year’s Day because it often feels like a brand new start. 2016 is no exception, especially for the National D-Day Memorial. After a strong year for the Education department in 2015, we are positioned to expand our educational offerings in 2016. It’s an incredible opportunity we have to share the legacy of our D-Day and World War II veterans and we do not take that for granted. Here’s a little bit of what we have coming up in 2016:

New Director of Education

John Long, Director of Education
National D-Day Memorial Foundation
Shortly after Felicia left in the fall of 2015, the Memorial started a search for someone with extensive experience in curating, grantwriting, historical research and an education background, particularly related to WWII and specifically D-Day. In October, the Foundation hired John Long as the new Director of Education. John previously served as the Executive Director of the Salem Museum and Historical Society and has taken over educational initiatives at the monument while working on evaluating the Foundation’s archival and artifact collection as the Memorial considers future plans for an educational facility. His experience is an incredible asset to the Memorial as we expand on-site and virtual programming in the coming year. Be on the lookout for blogs from him this spring on various artifacts in our collection and topics related to WWII and D-Day.

Prelude to Invasion

Living historians from previous education
events at the Memorial
Each year we host an event open to the general public called Prelude to Invasion that also serves as our annual Scout Day. However in 2016, we are revamping this event to focus on the Allied preparations for D-Day through WWII era encampments, interactive activities with living historians, military gear, live 1940’s era radio broadcasts, and more! There will also be WWII veterans present who will share stories of their time in the war throughout the day.

Our scouting component of the event is also more extensive this year with activities based on the Memorial’s values of valor, fidelity, and sacrifice, to earn a special patch featuring our arch. We are also offering the opportunity for Boy Scouts to complete a merit badge, Scouting Heritage, during this event for an additional fee. Prelude to Invasion: Meet the Allies will be on April 23, 2016 from 10:00-5:00 with discounted pricing of $4 for scouts and scout leaders who pre-register. Contact for more information.

Virtual Field Trips

Another exciting development for Education at the Memorial is the expansion of our virtual programming. In 2016, we are updating our technology in our virtual studio and expanding our programming to cover topics that hit vital history curriculum standards, such as STEM in WWII, Minorities in WWII, and others. These upgrades will allow us to reach more classrooms and groups across the country, and even the world, through video conferencing to share the legacy of D-Day for future generations.

This is only just a glimpse of what’s ahead, but I am excited for what 2016 has in store for the National D-Day Memorial and I hope that you are too!

Until Next Time,


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

World War II Ration Era Recipe: Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls

This week, we are combining two of my favorite things into one blog post: Popcorn and Christmas.

Popcorn was popular in World War II at Christmas. Not only was it used as garland on Christmas trees, but it was used to make tasty treats at the holidays. Peanut Butter Popcorn Balls provide a source of protein and satisfy the holiday sweet tooth without forsaking the war effort.

Recipe from “Grandma’s Wartime Kitchen: World War II and the Way We Cooked” by Joanne Lamb Hayes

·         1 cup light molasses
·         2/3  cup of light corn syrup
·         1 tablespoon of vinegar
·         1 teaspoon of salt
·         1/2 cup of peanut butter
·         1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
·         3 quarts of popped corn

·         Combine molasses, corn syrup, vinegar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently until mixture reaches 250oF or until a little syrup dropped into cold water forms a hard ball. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter and vanilla.
·         While syrup is cooking, spread out popcorn in a deep roasting pan. When peanut butter mixture has been combined, pour immediately over popcorn and stir until popcorn is evenly coated.
·         Lightly oil hands and shape mixture into 12 balls. Set aside to cool completely.

I will be honest, this recipe sounded much more promising than what it turned out to be. It was more difficult and messy than I anticipated in regards to mixing the molasses-peanut butter combination with the popcorn. I’ve also never really liked molasses, and the popcorn balls tasted more like molasses than peanut butter. They also did not stick together well at all, even after putting them in the refrigerator.

Perhaps, the reason why I did not do too well with this recipe is because I made it. I hope that you take time to try it out and I hope that you have better results than I did, especially if you like molasses J

Until next time,


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A 1940’s DIY Christmas

Hello, Friends!

The National D-Day Memorial's 2015 Christmas Tree
for the Festival of Trees
Each year in Bedford, Virginia, our Welcome Center hosts an event called “Festival of Trees.” Businesses and organizations decorate trees throughout the Welcome Center and the public is able to vote for their favorite tree for $1 a vote. Voting began November 18th and goes on through December 31st, 2015. All of the proceeds of the winning trees will be donated to their selected charities, with the Memorial's being our educational initiatives. 

This year’s theme is “DIY (Do It Yourself) Christmas.” While DIY is the “it” thing in home decorating today thanks to Pinterest, the Memorial hit the jackpot of sorts since Christmas both on the homefront and warfront during World War II for most involved improvising and creating their own decorations in order to support the war effort. Nothing was put to waste with most items being reused and recycled. So as I selected items to decorate the tree, I took into account things that would be readily available on the homefront during the war and could be repurposed for Christmas ornaments and decorations. Below are a few of the decorations we created for this event:

Materials Needed: Popcorn, cranberries, thread, needle and acrylic sealant spray

1.       Thread cranberries and popcorn onto a string to use as garland
2.       Stretch the cranberry and popcorn garland out on your work surface.
3.       Shake the can of acrylic sealant spray vigorously for several seconds. Hold the can of acrylic sealant spray about 10-inches above the garland.
4.       Start at one end of the garland and coat it with a thin layer of the acrylic sealant. Continue in this manner while moving down the strand. Let the sealant dry for at least 12 hours.
5.       Turn the garland over carefully and coat the backside of the garland with the acrylic sealant in the same manner as before. Let dry for at least 12 hours before using the cranberry and popcorn garland.
6.       Store the garland in an airtight plastic container after use. Add a few silica gel packets to the container before storing it away to help prevent moisture from building up in the storage container. Place the container in a cool and dry location.

During the early 20th century, popcorn was a holiday favorite not just for food but for decorations.

Of course, during World War II, acrylic sealant spray would not be available. But for the sake of preserving our decorations for almost two month, we needed to use it to keep it looking fresh and to keep the bugs and animals away.

Cookie Cutter Ornament featuring Bedford Boy,
Frank Draper

Materials Needed: Cookie cutters, photographs, scrap paper, and glue

1. Choose patterned papers or color-photocopy pictures onto card stock. Trace cutter on top; cut out. Dab white craft glue along cutter's edge. Press paper in place; let dry.
2. Thread narrow ribbon through needle; poke between paper and cutter, and wrap ribbon around top of cutter and tie a knot.

We chose to use photocopied photos of the Bedford Boys for the tree to give a personal touch to the tree.

We would love for you to come out and take a look at the Memorial’s tree, as well as all of the other gorgeously decorated trees. Just make sure to vote for our tree though! 

The Welcome Center is located at 816 Burks Hill Road, Bedford, VA 24523 with special hours as following:  Open until 9:00pm on Friday, December 4, 2015, Friday, December 11, 2015, Saturday, December 12, 2015, Sunday, December 13, 2015 and Friday, December 18, 2015. The Welcome Center will be closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day along with closing at 12:00pm on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Until next time,


Monday, December 7, 2015

74th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

This week, we are featuring a blog from Ches Bono, one of our Visitor Services staff members, about Pearl Harbor since today is the 74th Anniversary of the attack. I’ll be back next week with a blog on a 1940’s do-it-yourself Christmas tree.


Early in the morning of December 7, 1941, the Japanese Imperial Army attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During the attack, over 2,400 Americans died, and over 1,100 were injured. Of the eight battleships in the harbor, four were sunk and the rest significantly damaged. 188 aircraft were destroyed, three cruisers were sunk or destroyed, as well as three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. This surprise attack was meant to cripple the Pacific Fleet and deter the United States from entering World War Two. However, the attack woke a sleeping giant instead.

Jeanette Rankin, Congresswoman from Montana
(1916-1918 and 1940-1941)
On December 8, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress for a declaration of war against
Japan. It was passed almost unanimously. The only dissenting vote came from Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, famously said, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” Ironically, she was in Congress for the declarations of war in World War I and World War II. Almost immediately after the declaration of war, Germany, Japan’s ally and fellow Axis Power, declared war on the United States. With one swift attack, the United States entered World War II.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt during
a fireside chat
Throughout the Great Depression and the war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt communicated with the nation through his fireside chats over the radio. In his address to the nation after the attack, he declared that it was “a date which will live in infamy.” Americans all over the country were shocked and saddened by the sudden loss of life from such an attack. In Bedford, as in other communities across the country, the townspeople were preparing for the holiday season and enjoying their normal Sunday activities when they found out. Families were heading off to church and gathering afterwards
for a meal. When word came, families across the county worried for those in the Pacific, but they also worried for themselves since many of the young men in the county had enlisted in the National Guard in order to make ends meet during the Depression. For many of these young men, a dollar a day for the work that they did with the National Guard was a fortune, especially during such a harsh economic downturn. When Congress declared war on December 8, these young men were now in the military for the long haul of the war, whether they liked it or not. For many, however, the desire to serve their country outweighed the fear of war.

Although the United States participated in the war prior to the attack through the Lend-Lease Act, this declaration of war caused the economy to shift from a peacetime one to a wartime one, with rationing and production increasing across the nation. Although the United States did not see intense action for a few years, men were still called away from home for training leaving the factories and farms largely unattended. The women of the United States answered the call, and joined the ranks of factory workers and providers for their family, aiding in the victory effort.

On this solemn anniversary, we remember those who lost their lives on December 7, 1941 and all who participated in the war. Each December, the National D-Day Memorial remembers the 4,413 men who lost their lives on D-Day during our Flames of Memory Illumination Event with 4,413 luminaries placed around the Memorial. The event takes place December 11-13 from 6 pm to 9 pm on these evenings, and the cost is free for all, although donations are appreciated. We hope to see you all there!