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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

On This Day: Battle of Berlin

Hello All,

Tanks rolling through Berlin
It has been a few weeks since we have explored some World War II history, so today, let's dive right back in, shall we?

As you may know, 2015 marks the 70th Anniversary of the end of World War II. Specifically, 70 years ago on this day, April 21, Soviet Forces finally breached the German High command defense during the invasion of Berlin.

This month in 1945, was the point of no return for the Germans. The Americans and British were closing in on the west, while the Soviets on the east were barreling over top of the Germans in their capital city of Berlin. By this point in the fighting, the Allied forces had all but destroyed the German regular army and all whom were left to defend their country were Hitler Youth teenagers, SS foreign volunteers, and Waffen-SS divisions. Outfitted with barely anything at all, strategically located in the city streets, these remaining Germans fought hard to ward off the Soviet Army. Needless to say, they could not defend their city properly and the Russians were able to easily roll their way into the heart of Germany.

Furher Bunker destroyed
The Battle of Berlin was the last major offensive in the European theater. For the most part, both sides knew this operation would be the last, no matter the outcome. Fighting was brutal and by April 21, the battle had been raging for over a month. A few days after breaching the heart of the city, close hand to hand combat raged through the streets. The battle continued until the end of the month. Many lost their lives during the battle, but the outcome was worth the sacrifice for the Allies. The Soviet's lost a total of over 81,000 for the entire operation, while the Germans have estimated a total between 92,000 and 100,000 killed. The exact number of civilians killed is unknown, but estimates have reached up to 125,000 during the operation. A major portion of the surviving civilians were now homeless and starving.

Until next time,

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Home-School Event: April 24, 2015

Calling All Home-Schooled Students!

Want to experience World War II history through interactive stations and living history? Would you like to participate in activities geared towards you and all your friends? Then join us for the National D-Day Memorial Home-School Event on Friday, April 24, 2015, 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM. All age groups are welcome and fees are $4.00 per person. Children under 6 are free. Space is LIMITED, please register by April 15, tomorrow, at the very latest.

For more information or to register, please contact the National D-Day Memorial's Education Department at (540) 586-3329, ext. 114.

Hope to see you all there!

Take Care,

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Prelude to Invasion: National D-Day Memorial Event

Hello All,

I hope you all had a relaxing and beautiful Easter Weekend! Spring is finally upon us; the weather is steadily getting warmer, the vegetation is blooming, warm days are here to stay! Activity is buzzing around the Memorial now that we have moved into the spring season.

If you are in the mood for an education-packed weekend, than I suggest you make a special trip to the National D-Day Memorial on April 18, 2015, 10 AM-5 PM, for our Prelude to Invasion Event! The event is for children young and old but family and guardians are more than welcome to join in the fun!

Special Announcement from our Education Director:
 “The event is designed to showcase the preparations for the Normandy landings. Omar Bradley and a Polish Living History unit will be on display; WWII veterans will be in the education tent, and several authors will be onsite throughout the day. Several stations will be set up on the site that focuses on several aspects on WWII.”

Scouts are encouraged to attend this event and will receive a discounted admission rate, at $4.00 per scout, as well as the chance to earn a special patch. Pre-registration of Scouts is required by April 10. Family members who wish to join their scouts will be charged regular admission upon arrival.

Some notable attractions include,
·         Book signings throughout the day by…
o   Bob Vandeline, Respect: Forgotten Heroes and Korea
o   Zoe Myers, We Two: A Story of War and Love
o   Thomas Carter, Beachhead Normandy: An LCT’s Odyssey
o   Franz Beisser, A time and Place and Red Solstice
·         Jeff Bush will be in attendance with our WWII Veterans
·         Interactive Living History Stations for a firsthand look at military life during the 1940s, and
·         Dave’s Dogs will be available for lunch.

For more information or to pre-register, contact the Memorial’s Education Department at (540) 586-3329, ext. 114.

This event is generously sponsored by American National and Pro Tech Fabrications, Inc.

Hope to see you all there.

Take Care,

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Eleanor Roosevelt: Passionate Spirit, Tenacious Ambition

Hello All,

Today marks the last day of Women’s History Month for the year 2015. To celebrate the end of a most enjoyable month, let’s discover more about one of the most influential woman of the 1940s, Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Not only was she a power-house politically, she was also an impassioned spirit capable of accomplishing anything she set her mind towards.

As many of you already know, Eleanor grew up in a wealthy home in a ritzy area of New York. Her uncle, Former President Theodore Roosevelt, helped the Roosevelt clan reach and maintain celebrity amongst the American public. His work in social reforms undoubtedly influenced Eleanor as she grew older; reinforcing her tendency at doing good works and philanthropy.
Roosevelt family portrait
Born October 11, 1884 in New York City, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt grew up in a lavish life that was struck by tragedy all too soon. At the tender age of eight years old, Eleanor lost her mother and then her father only two years later. Naturally, with such a tragic loss, it would be very easy for a child to revert into themselves; however, boarding school in England helped Eleanor regain her self confidence, setting the groundwork for the woman she would become.

In her early twenties, Eleanor fell in love and married her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the future President of the United States. Together, the pair had six children: Anna, James, Franklin, Elliot, Franklin Jr. and John. The first Franklin died in infancy. Having many children did not slow Eleanor down in the slightest. During the First World War, Eleanor stayed active in the American Red Cross, among many other civic duties.

Eleanor visiting soldiers abroad.
Eleanor’s public service prepared her for one of the biggest trials she and Franklin would face together, his polio disease. Franklin was diagnosed with polio in 1921 and suffered from limited mobility, making everyday tasks difficult, especially for a future president. When Franklin took office in 1933, Eleanor became his eyes and ears throughout the country. She wanted to take charge of the situation dealt to her family and become a leading role in American politics, forever changing the expectations of a First Lady. Her biggest concerns were for family matters and women’s issues, but she spoke fervently about Human Rights in press conferences and in her very own newspaper column, “My Day”; which mainly dealt with the country’s poor and social justice for all. When war broke out across the world for a second time, Eleanor did not hesitate to visit U.S. troops overseas.

Despite Franklin's death in 1945, Eleanor continued to work in public service for another fifteen years. She spent some time, 1945-1953, as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, as well as participated in the Human Rights Commission.  Her greatest achievement would be when she helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She wrote several autobiographies, including On My Own (1958) and Autobiography (1961) and she later appointed chair of the Commission on the Status of Women by President John F. Kennedy.
Eleanor’s work throughout her life was invaluable for women, then and now. She changed the way women were viewed, not only in politics, but in the work force as well. Eleanor passed away at 78 years old to cancer. Her humanitarian efforts and political fervor has created a long lasting legacy for all women to aspire towards.

Take Care,

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hanna Reitsch: German Avaitrix and Test Pilot

Hello All,
Hanna Reitsch
To continue with Women’s History Month, I would like to introduce you to Hanna Reitsch, an accomplished German aviatrix and Nazi test pilot during World War II. She was the only female to be awarded the Iron Cross First Class and the Luftwaffe Pilot/Observer Badge in gold with diamonds. It is important to remember that both sides of this horrific conflict suffered greatly and triumphed in different ways, and while Hanna supported the opposing side, her accomplishments surpassed those of the average woman of her day and age.

Hanna was born 29 March 1912 in Hirschberg, Silesia (Now in Poland) to an upper middle-class family. Her father was a doctor and hoped his daughter would follow in his footsteps. Hanna agreed with her father but had her own unique agenda in mind; a flying missionary doctor for Northern African countries. She studied medicine at the Colonial School for Women and began flight training soon after, in 1932, at the School of Gliding. She later enrolled in a German Air Mail flying school for powered aircraft, adding to her skill set immensely. Noticing her talents as a pilot, Hanna’s instructors encouraged her to become a fulltime pilot. She decided to leave medical school in order to pursue a career as a pilot/instructor for a gliding company and was later approached for stunt piloting in the film, “Rivals of the Air”. Her proficiency won her many competition prizes and distinguished medals. 

Candid photo of Hanna in her aircraft
Naturally, when war broke out in Europe for the second time, Hanna’s aptitude for flying made her highly qualified for the Luftwaffe. Reitsch became the first female helicopter pilot and was also one of the few to fly the first fully controllable helicopter, which earned her the Military Flying Medal. Her well mannered demeanor and good looks (particularly an Aryan look) made her a propaganda gem for the Nazi Party, which became her primary claim to fame.

To keep up appearances, Hanna ran daily ‘missions’ and partook in various expeditions in the late 1930s. But one of her major tasks was to test pilot all the latest and greatest aircraft in production. She would provide detailed reports on how the aircraft handled and any concerns that may arise for other pilots. Hanna crash landed only once during her time as a test pilot, which put her in the hospital for five months. Despite her injuries, she was still able to give a full detailed report on the aircraft. That particular incident earned her the Iron Cross First Class.

Hanna Reitsch propaganda
As her notoriety grew, her influence with military hierarchy grew alongside it. After visiting the Luftwaffe on the eastern front, post Battle of Stalingrad, Hanna presented Hitler with the idea of suicide flight bombers, known as Operation Suicide. This operation would entail volunteers to fly gliders into enemy targets, essentially acting as gigantic bombs. At first, Hitler believed the situation for Germany did not warrant such an extreme plan; however, by the summer of 1944, the plan was set in motion. Reitsch began test piloting suitable gliders and made several successful flights before training the volunteers. The operation was never employed; by the time training would have been sufficient, the war had taken a terrible turn for Germany. Regardless, the idea that a well mannered woman could enact such an extreme plan suggests her determination for German victory.

When the Russian Red Army began heavy bombardment of Berlin, Hitler invited Reitsch to his Führerbunker. The Red Army was already invading the area when she flew into Berlin. Her low altitude flight training served her well, enabling her to find an alternative escape route, landing close to the bunker. Upon arrival, Hitler gave Hanna a vial of poison, fully prepared to die alongside her leader. However, before such drastic measures were needed, an escape plan was initiated. Using the same improvised airstrip as before, Reitsch was able to successfully take off despite the Red Army’s advances.
Hanna meeting Adolf Hitler
Nevertheless, soon after her escape from Berlin, Hanna was captured by American military intelligence officers and was questioned as to why she had left the Führerbunker on April 28, 1945. Her statement included little detail, only that she was disappointed she could not die alongside the leader of her country. Hanna was particularly inexperienced in regards to Hitler’s ulterior motives for Germany. She refused to believe the atrocities Hitler and Nazi regime committed during the war, believing the rumors to be falsified. When questioned, those around her validated her convictions that the news was indeed fiction. They wanted to keep her in the dark to protect their propaganda agenda. She spent the remainder of the war in captivity. 

Hanna meeting Pres. John F. Kennedy
After war’s end, Hanna settled in Frankfurt and began flying gliders once several of the bans for German citizens were lifted. She continued with flying competitions as before the war, becoming a German champion in 1955. She was able to break the women’s altitude record in 1957 and earned her first diamond of the Gold-C badge. In 1959, she was invited to India to institute a gliding center; then, in 1961 she was invited to the White House by President Kennedy. The celebrity of her career followed her for the rest of her life, but she was determined to follow her heart’s first desire one way or another. In the mid 1960s, Hanna moved to Ghana, establishing the first black African gliding school.

At first, the people of Ghana were apprehensive of Reitsch past, but it quickly became apparent that she was politically naïve and her past opinions no longer rang true. She felt a kindred spirit with the friendships she built in Ghana and had a new respect for other cultures. However, despite building a new life for herself in Africa, Hanna could never fully shake the events of the war, especially while in the Fuhrer’s bunker. She loved Germany with a passion and believed the country had deep regret for the war, but were more upset they had lost. Hanna returned to Frankfurt but unfortunately died shortly after, at 67 years old, in 1979. She would never marry, nor have children to carry on her legacy. It has been rumored Hanna kept the poison Hitler had given her so many years ago and that she finally used it under the pact she and another had made; however, it is more universally believed she died from a heart attack.
Reitsch test piloting.

In the end, Hanna had written four autobiographies and has been portrayed in various films, three of which were produced before her death.

Take Care,

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Winter Lecture Series: Night Witches of the Soviet Union

Hello everyone, 

Join us at the Bedford Area Welcome Center on Thursday, March 26, 2015 at noon for the final winter lunchbox lecture of the season.  This week we will be looking at the 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Union.  Nicknamed the Night Witches by the German soldiers, the 588th was completely women regiment – pilots, navigators, and mechanics – everyone involved in the regiment.  Marina Raskova was responsible for the formation of this regiment and two others.  A famous aviatrix and national icon, Raskova petitioned Stalin for the right for women pilots to form their own unit.  It was a battle for her, but eventually she won and was named commander of the 587th Bomber Regiment.  While on her way to the front, she was killed in a crash.  Raskova was given a state funeral and interred in the Kremlin. 

The 588th Night Bomber Regiment was activated in the summer of 1942 and was honored in 1943 by building designated a “Guards” regiment, officially changing its name to the 46th Taman Guards Bomber Regiment. Initially comprised of two squadrons, a third squadron plus a training squadron was later added. Their mission was to destroy tactical targets located close to the front lines, such as fuel depots, ammunition dumps, ground troops, support vehicles, bridges, and enemy headquarters.  Members of the regiment were also used on occasion to fly supplies and ammunition to Soviet front-line troops. 

During the course of the war, women accounted for more than 12 perfect of the Soviet Union fighter aviation strength.  They were moved around to different regiments, even flying beside male pilots, who trusted the veteran women pilots as they flew as they flew as trusted wing-men on a number of missions.  One of those women was Lilya Litvyak was a pilot in the 586th Fighter Regiment.  Known as the White Rose of Stalingrad, Litvyak was the first woman pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft, first female pilot to earn the title of fighter ace, and the holder of the record for the greatest number of fills by a female fighter pilot.  

Litvyak flew her first combat flights in the summer of 1942 before being assigned to the 437th, an all male fighter unit, for the Battle of Stalingrad.  On 13 September 1942, she scored her first two kills, just three days after beginning the defense of Stalingrad.  Her second kill was a dogfight with Bf 109 G-2 piloted by Staff Sergeant Erwin Maier, an 11-victory ace, three-time recipient of the Iron Cross.  Maier parachuted from his aircraft, was captured by Soviet troops, and asked to see the Russian ace who had out flown him.  When he was taken in front of Litvyak, he thought he was being made the butt of a Soviet joke and was not until Litvyak described each movement of the dogfight that he knew he had been beaten by a woman pilot.  

Litvyak was killed in action on 1 August 1943during the Battle of Kursk.  She never returned from her fourth sortie of the day and it was discovered that she was killed during a dogfight with a pair of Messerschmidt 109s.  At her death, she had achieved the rank Senior Lieutenant and was an ace in the Soviet Air Force with at least 12 solo and 4 shared kills over a total of 66 combat missions.  
To learn more about Raskova, Litvyak and more of these incredible women, remember to join us Thursday, March 26, 2015!  We hope to see you there! 

Until next time,