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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

College Life during World War II

Hello All,

First and foremost, I would like to thank all those who were able to come out for our Abbott and Costello event this past Sunday! It was a huge success and we appreciate all those who were involved. Also, a warm thank you to Bill Riley and Joe Ziegler (Abbott and Costello), you guys were fantastic and we enjoyed having you both!

Radford College
Now on to today’s topic! I would like to explore the role college students had during World War II. As a recent graduate of Radford University, I have often wondered what it must have been like for the women who attended school during wartime. What changes did they see? How many stayed behind? How many dropped out to help the war effort?  What changes were made to their everyday life and curriculum? 

Since I, and a few of my colleagues at the Memorial, attended Radford University, I will use this particular school as an example. 

Some may not be aware, but Radford, known then as State Teachers College, was actually an all women’s institution that primarily focused on Education.  Despite the lack of male counterparts, the campus still saw a huge disruption at the onset of the war. Many faculty and staff members felt compelled to serve their country, as did the female students who were looking to support their country by joining the armed forces or working in factories for war manufacturing. In 1942, the War Defense Council was organized and the academic programs were changed to suit the needs of the war. Most classes were adapted to focus on the conflict, such as Pre-Flight Aeronautics, War Craft Math, and Geography for War.
First Aid training, Radford College, WWII.

Despite the decline in enrollment, Radford persisted and even proposed a union with nearby Virginia Tech. This proposal was an effort to bring together higher educational institutes in order to give students the best quality education they could acquire without costing the state an exorbitant amount of money. This merger changed both foundations’ names to what we recognize them as today, State Teachers College became Radford College and the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute became Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Radford, of course, had the Women’s Division of V.P.I. and those women were given the same opportunities as their male equivalents. Joining together gave both schools a chance to thin out similar courses in order to save money, while simultaneously preserving their unique identities.
Student of State Teachers College (Radford College) 1940s.

Even though Radford went through many major changes within a short amount of time, post war enrollment did not skip a beat. Enrollment rates in the later part of the 1940s grew immensely. The school was able to afford necessary renovations and construction plans and by 1948, Radford’s campus stretched beyond its original brick borders. Interestingly enough, other schools saw an increase in female enrollment during wartime because families could now afford to send their daughter’s to school since their son’s were fighting and the ever-important realization that self-efficient and trained women could actually be a huge benefit to the chaotic and uncertain world they lived in.

In addition to the changes in academics, the college students of the 40s were not removed from the everyday effects of wartime rations and services. Many institutes encouraged their students to stay healthy and fit to be prepared for service. To combat the labor shortages in higher education, particularly in labor intensive positions, institutions would have their students provide at least one hour of service each day in order to help sustain a functioning school. Cafeteria style dining became the norm during wartime because of the lack of wait-staff. Today, it would be inconceivable not to have a cafeteria! 

Frances Hilt's Ration book during World War II.
Weekend activities were also affected by the war. Many students felt discouraged to leave for the weekends because of war activities or rationing problems they faced. This helped colleges facilitate a recreational and social atmosphere on campus, which in turn, created unity amongst the students and a readiness to participate in school activates, like student government. What we perceive as normal breaks from school was actually developed as a result of the war. Winter vacation was extended to four weeks in order to give students a much needed break from the demanding work load of school, since they were unable to leave other times of the year.  ‘Spring Break’ was actually spent at school, but the students were given time off from classes. During those times, many of the students would help take care of the grounds and general maintenance. 

Radford University today.
The wartime period of the 1940s was a difficult time for most. But through hard work, dedication, and patriotism, the citizens of the time were able to pull through and succeed, paving the way for the future generations. 

I hope you enjoyed!
Take care,

Radford History:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Meet the hilarious duo, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, at the National D-Day Memorial

Studio photograph of Bud Abbott (Left) and Lou Costello (Right)

October has arrived and you know what that means?! Of course it means changing leaves, crisp cool air, pumpkins, and apple cider. But most importantly, it means the D-Day Memorial is hosting our annual birthday celebration event on October 12, 2014!

This year, the Memorial invites visitors to celebrate the 124th birthday of General Dwight Eisenhower with a few special guests, the outrageously funny duo, Abbott and Costello! Enjoy watching the critically acclaimed comedians perform their most popular vaudeville and burlesque skits, like “Who’s On First?” And get a firsthand look into their personal lives and the entertainment industry of the 1940s. Bill Riley and Joe Ziegler are the hilarious men responsible for bringing Bud Abbott and Lou Costello to life in front of your very eyes. Both men have been performing together since 1994 and through vintage dress, authentic recreation, and vocal styling, they have mastered the art and genius of Mr. Abbott and Mr. Costello. As an added bonus, the comedic pair are bringing along their trusty Ace Press Agent, Scoop Fields, performed by Jason Crutchley.

Comedic duo acting out "Who's On First?" Skit
Guests of the event will enjoy bellies full of laughter and delicious food if they choose to join us for lunch and the performance. Or, if you prefer to skip lunch, guests can just enjoy the show! For two years in a row, the Memorial has sold out of this event! As a result, advanced tickets are required since seating is limited. So make sure to pick up yours today! Lunch is served at 1:30pm followed by the performance at 2:30pm.

Tickets for both the lunch and performance are $35.00 per person or $60.00 per couple. Tickets for the performance only are $15.00 per person. Call 540-586-3329 to purchase tickets or visit the Bedford Area Welcome Center. Click here to learn more about this event.
To get guests eager for the upcoming event, here are a few fun facts about the most popular comedic duo during World War II.

  • Costello held a series of jobs, including a stint as a boxer, before heading to Hollywood in the late 1920s to pursue a career in acting, only to find out he was not particularly successful as a dramatic actor. He ultimately decided to move back home to New Jersey, but did not have the funds to make it all the way. So he worked his way up in Missouri burlesque clubs.
  •   While working in Missouri in 1930, Cristillo changed his stage name to “Costello,” after actress Helene Costello.
  •   At the age of 15, Abbott was drugged and shanghaied onto a ship bound for Norway.  He was eventually able to work his way back to the US. 
  • Costello pitched the idea of pairing with Bud Abbott in 1936, and together they made one of their first radio appearances on The Kate Smith Show in 1938.
    Buck Privates poster (1941)
  •   Of the duo Abbott was the “straight man,” meaning he was the unfunny part of the duo that set up the comedic to deliver the punch line. 
  • From 1940 to 1956, the duo made 36 films.  Among their most popular films were Buck Privates, Who Done It?, Buck Privates Come Home, Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.

Call us today to purchase tickets and show your support for the National D-Day Memorial. Celebrating General Eisenhower’s birthday is always a special event for the Memorial and we would love to share that experience with you all!

(Left to Right) Costello and Abbott on set (1940).
Hope to see you all there!

The Memorial is thankful for the support of event sponsors English Meadows (Elks Home Campus), Everafter Flowers, Cakes, and Gifts, The Glebe, and Town Kitchen & Provisions.  

Monday, September 1, 2014

Flight Nurses of World War II

Before World War II, women’s positions in the military were limited. With the changing times of World War II, modern warfare called for a more active and present role for women in the Armed Forces. Not only were droves of women volunteering for nursing, but also their skills were needed across the board! From office, clerical jobs to truck drivers, airplane mechanics and laboratory technicians, radio operators, test pilots, to the new occupation of flight nursing, women’s roles in the military were vital to victory.

Flight Nurses in Guam, WWII
Flight nurses were introduced into the US Army Air Force in 1942. The new program, the School of Air Evacuation, began in the fall of 1942 at Bowman Field, Louisville, Kentucky and ran for six to nine weeks, eventually moving to Randolph Field, Texas in October 1944. Training was disorganized at best, a few squadrons even deployed overseas before training was officially over for them. The first group of flight nurses to complete the full coarse graduated in February 1943. Training consisted of aero-medical physiology, field survival, map reading, crash procedures, and physical conditioning.

A flight surgeon and chief nurse were assigned to each Medical Air Evacuation Squadron.  Each squad was then divided into four flights consisting of six teams of flight nurses and surgical technicians. Cooks, clerks, and drivers were situated at headquarters section.

Typical Uniform:
- White dress or skirted suit, not user friendly
- Eventually adopted a waist-length gray-blue jacket and matching trousers/skirt, with a white or light blue blouse
- In 1944, colors changed to olive drab
- The insignia was a pair of golden wings with a maroon N in the middle. Later changed to silver.

Duties of a Flight Nurse:

Evacuation Flight, WWII
Flight nurses were truly unique for their time. Not only did they operate under their own authority, they outranked the male surgical technician that accompanied them. Believe it or not, in the 1940s, only trained physicians could start IV’s and oxygen on a patient, but the flight nurses were doing it on their own and in hostile and dangerous environments. They also had to deal with extreme medical emergencies, including shock, hemorrhage, and sedation.

As with any military profession at the time, flight nursing did not come without its risks and dangers. Those brave women had to keep the fighting men alive while combating the dangers in the air over the European and Pacific theaters. Many women were taken as POWs after crash landing behind enemy lines. In all, sixteen flight nurses were killed during the war. “Through professionalism and courage, the women who served as flight nurses in World War II saved many hundreds of lives and comforted over a million sick and wounded servicemen.” – Sarah Sundin

Our Very Own Angel of the Airfields: Evelyn Kowalchuk

Like many women, Evelyn felt compelled to serve her country during the war, by taking care of the men who volunteered to fight for their democracy and freedom. When she volunteered, nobody could answer her question of what flight nursing was, but she viewed it as an adventure and began training in Kentucky on C-46 and C-47 cargo planes transformed into ‘flying ambulances’. She used to joke about how many times their uniforms changed throughout the war and how disorganized it was for them. During training, she and the twenty-four other girls living in one quonset hut with only one bathroom, with one toilet and one sink! She has said before that it was a team effort; everyone helped each other because they were all partaking in something unheard of in modern warfare.

Evelyn Kowalchuk in uniform.
When training was over, the women were sent to England. From there they were sent on various missions to retrieve badly wounded soldiers. Evelyn landed on Omaha Beach on D plus 3. She recalled that many of the nurses had never seen such horrific wounds before in their lives. Many men had to be treated immediately, so they could not be properly cleaned off or even remove clothing before their limb was amputated. Each time they went back to England, the flight nurses were to get on another fully stocked plane and travel back to retrieve more men. Jeeps and ambulances had to be ready for their return to take the wounded to the hospital as soon as possible. Fighter pilots were the only ones able to fly them back and forth; however, if it was too late, the nurses had to sleep on the beaches in the plane. Evelyn even spent a night in a foxhole on Omaha Beach. She remembers hearing the bombs and guns in the distance. It was hard for her and the other nurses to reconcile with the fact that so many young men would live the rest of their lives without their limbs.

After the day was done, it was rare when the women would talk about the events and scenes of the day; they carried on and pushed forward. “We were patriotic”, said Evelyn. Whenever she and her ‘sisters’ would get together throughout the years for various events, they never really discussed the extraordinary and horrific events they all went through, they wanted to look forward and continue living their lives, proud of their past.

Take care,

P.S- Are you are interested in learning more about Evelyn? If so, go to the February 2013 post entitled, "Voices by Land, Air, and Sea: The Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Were There", where you can watch a video interview with Evelyn!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Back to School!

Good afternoon everyone,

First, I want to send a giant THANK YOU out to everyone who has made this one of the best summers at the Memorial.  From the 70th Anniversary Ceremony to Day Camp to everyday visitation, we have been very busy on-site.  Hundreds of people have been on tours learning more about D-Day, the Bedford Boys, and the symbolism in the design of the Memorial.  I would also like to say THANK YOU to all our wonderful, dedicated volunteers who make all that we do possible.  They are the ones out there everyday leading tours, working in the gift store, and assisting in all the programming we do throughout the summer. 

Now that we are starting the new school year, the site is about to start filling up with students.  We offer special SOL-based programming for classrooms 3rd grade and up.  If you are close enough to plan a field trip to the Memorial, students will step back in time as they learn about D-Day and WWII in an authentic GPL military tent.  Starting with a broad overview of the history of WWII and what D-Day means in the larger context of the war, students will handle artifacts that connect them to the history they read and learn about in their classrooms.  Visits to the Memorial conclude with a tour of the Memorial by one of our highly trained tour guides. 

If you are too far for a field trip (or if field trips have been cut from your budget), we have a solution for you!  We now offer two options for distance learning.  The first is a traveling trunk.  We will send you a modified footlocker full of artifacts that relate to the homefront and the front lines, as well as several SOL-based lesson plans ready for use in your classroom.  The second option is a live, virtual programming.  Set up in a studio, the virtual programming is a way our education staff and volunteers can come to you.  Students will be able to interact in real time as they learn about WWII and D-Day. 

Students learning about life in WWII from WWII Veteran
We look forward to seeing all the students up here on-site to carry on the legacy of the largest amphibious invasion to history!  If you would like more information or to book an educational programming, please contact our education department at 540-587-3617 or via e-mail at 

Until next time,

Monday, August 4, 2014

Vote for Ssgt. John Schenk's Bible!

Hello everyone, 

I apologize for the lack of radio traffic over the last few weeks.  However, I have something really exciting to announce to you.  Beginning on Monday, August 4th you can vote for Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifact--where you may notice a familiar story: John Schenk and his Bible.  Click here to vote!!

Read more about the John's Bible and the importance of conservation below! 
Bible Belonging to Bedford Boy Nominated as Top 10 Endangered Artifact

Front interior of Bible
The National D-Day Memorial has nominated the Bible belonging to Bedford Boy John Schenk to the Virginia’s Top 10 Endangered Artifact competition.  This Bible was gifted to John by his step-mother, Rose Lewis Schenk, prior to the D-Day invasion. Assigned to the 29th Division, 116th Regiment, Company A, Ssgt. John Schenk landed in the first wave of the assault on Omaha Beach at 0630 with 34 young soldiers from Bedford, Virginia.  In his pocket, he carried this Bible—a physical connection to his family an ocean away—when he became part of the largest amphibious invasion in history along the Normandy coastline on June 6, 1944.

Tin cover on Bible
It is imperative to conserve artifacts such as Schenk’s Bible, according to Felicia Lowrance, Education Coordinator for the National D-Day Memorial.  “Historical pieces such as this create tangible connections to our shared past.  This Bible represents millions of family members and friends who would inevitably cheer the news of the successful invasion or grieve at the loss of loved one.”

Ivylyn Schenk had no idea her husband, John, lay buried on the beaches of Normandy when she composed her daily letter on June 25, 1944. She wrote “John, my darling. Well, it has been twenty-two months since we were married. It has seemed very long, and yet, unbelievably short in duration… the only constant thing about it is that I continue to love and appreciate you more and more each day.” At the time of this writing, her beloved husband was one of more than 4,000 Allied soldiers who had sacrificed their lives on D-Day to secure freedom for generations beyond their own.
Back of Bible

The Foundation is delighted to be selected for this preservation initiative conducted by the Virginia Association of Museums. Schenk’s Bible is currently housed in a climate-controlled environment to help protect from further deterioration.  “We are concerned with the conservation of this piece and ensuring that it is preserved to tell the story of the Bedford Boys and D-Day for future generations,” Lowrance said.
The Virginia Top 10 Endangered Artifact competition highlights unique artifacts throughout Virginia and the Washington, D.C. area.  Voting for artifacts will begin on August 4.  

Back interior of Bible

Until next time