Courtesy Kate Nolan
Kate Nolan, right, with fellow Army nurses at Fort Bragg in 1944, just before deployment overseas.
Kate Nolan, center, with fellow Army nurses at Fort Bragg in 1944, just before deployment overseas. Courtesy Kate Nolan
There weren't many Americans whose lives were untouched by World War II.
A generation lived the war together — whether it was on the home front or the battlefront. In the decades since, it has been explored in countless classrooms, books and movies. So, it seems incredible that stories from that war can still surprise us. As Ken Burns' documentary series The War debuts on PBS, NPR explores a handful of stories from World War II that haven't been widely told. They're all stories about people who experienced the war in unique ways.
Part 1, today on All Things Considered: Producer Joe Richman began by talking to a friend's grandfather ... and wound up on the slopes with an octogenarian who carries his oxygen tank along with his skis. The result is an audio history of the World War II's "ski troops," the 10th Mountain Division. The 10th began as an experiment. Their basic training was designed to enable them to fight and survive in the toughest terrains of Europe. It included ski lessons and cold weather survival tactics, such as building snow caves. The 10th carried out a number of dangerous assaults on the German army in the mountains of northern Italy and suffered one of the highest casualty rates of the war. Veterans of the 10th are widely credited with developing America's ski industry in the postwar years.
Part 2, on Weekend Edition Sunday: Richard Gonzales reminds us of the as many as 500,000 Mexican Americans who served in World War II. The veterans he talked to overwhelmingly described the war as a pivotal experience in their lives. Back home, they were victims of ugly racism. In the Army, they proved they were capable fighting men and when they got home, they refused to accept second class citizenship. Many of them became the activists who created the Mexican-American movement.
Susan Stamberg and producer Cindy Carpien crafted two moving profiles of World War II vets.
Part 3, Monday on Morning Edition: Stamberg and Carpien's first profile is of Kate Nolan, an Army combat nurse who tended soldiers on the battlefields of Europe. Nolan earned five battle stars and recently received the French Legion of Honor for her wartime service in France.
Part 4, Tuesday on Morning Edition: Vernon Tott is the "angel of Ahlem" to survivors of a slave labor camp he helped liberate in 1945. Tott snapped pictures that day which stayed in a shoebox in his basement for decades. In the mid-1990s, he began tracking down the people in his photos. Tott died two years ago but is honored by the people he photographed because he gave them a great gift — the ability to see and remember themselves at that terrible time.
Part 5, Tuesday on All Things Considered: The last of our stories gives a fresh twist to the old question — "What did you do in the war, Dad?" It came from an obituary in The Washington Post. It was about a veteran who never told his family what he'd done in the war until mid-1990s. That's when the Pentagon declassified the records of the 23rd Special Troops and, for the first time, officially acknowledged the existence of a group of soldiers who fought to fool the enemy. Lynn Neary tells of the artists, ad men, designers and sound technicians who created fake tanks and howitzers, sound effects, and who spread rumors and thought up other deceptions to confuse the Germans.
Several of the people in our stories have died since they were interviewed. We honor them and all the veterans of World War II who participated in our series.
Deborah George was the series producer.