Of the 16.1 million Americans who served in World War II, the US government estimates that fewer than 3 million are alive today.

According to the US Census 2006 American Community Survey, Quincy Massachusetts (population 90,000) is home to more than 1200 World War II veterans, most of whom are over 80 years old.

As part of its Remembering World War II series, Quincy’s Thomas Crane Public Library has created this website to explore and celebrate the history of this “Greatest Generation” through personal stories, interviews, and a selection of books, films, websites, music and pictures that we hope will bring this period of history to life.

We would love to hear from you. Please visit our Stories page to write your own story, or contact us at 617-376-1316 for information on other ways to tell your story.

The Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw:
“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest.

They succeeded on every front.

As they now reach the twilight of their adventurous and productive lives, they remain, for the most part, exceptionally modest. They have so many stories to tell, stories that in many cases they have never told before, because in a deep sense they didn’t think that what they were doing was that special, because everyone else was doing it too.”

World War II veterans: Proud to Serve
—From the United States Department of Veteran Affairs

16.1 million
The number of U.S. armed forces personnel who served in World War II between Dec. 1, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946.

33 months
The average length of active-duty by U.S. military personnel during WWII.

The proportion of U.S. military personnel who served abroad during WWII.

16 months
The average time U.S. personnel served overseas during WWII.

The number of U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines killed in battle in WWII.

The number of other deaths sustained by U.S. forces during WWII.

The number of U.S. troops wounded during WWII.

The estimated number of women in 2002 who were WWII veterans. These women comprised 4.4 percent of WWII vets.

The proportion of all veterans in April 2000 who were WWII veterans.

76.7 years old
The median age of WWII veterans four years ago when the last census was conducted.

The proportion of WWII veterans who were still employed in 2000.



courageThis website is dedicated to the memory of those who served in World War II, both on the homefront and on the battlefield. It is the collective work of Library staff, and the people of Quincy.

To the extent that this site represents design and work on my part, it is  also  dedicated to my father, Jeremiah Thuma, who served as a flight engineer in the US Air Corps and whose pictures appear on several of these pages; and to the late Simmons College professor Allen Smith, whose Library Science class on oral history is the inspiration for this collection of interviews and stories. It wasn’t so much that Professor Smith was an exacting and rigorous teacher–he was–but rather that he taught his students to appreciate–and to accept–those invitations so often overlooked or dismissed– to stop what we are doing and hear a story.

allen1To know  Allen Smith was to value humor, grit, and discipline. And to find yourself cheering on the people who show those qualities, and who are generous enough to share them with you. Whether it’s  in a classroom, in a conversation, or on this Library website.

Allen Smith used to tell his students that we were each allowed to use one exclamation point in our entire lives. And he preferred we did not use it in any papers we submitted to him.

If it is true that we each only have one, then I use mine now, when I say, in thanks, that Allen Smith was a remarkable person, and a remarkable teacher!

End Note: A reporter from the Patriot Ledger newspaper who wrote a story about this website asked me about the importance of World War Two. I’m not a historian–I’m not even a very astute observer of politics or culture or finances. But the financial crisis that is now enveloping the US and other countries has an “end of the century” feel to it that entirely by coincidence makes the library’s World War II programs and site feel as much like a farewell to the America created by that war as it does a remembrance.

The promise and sheer capital that the war generated seems to have been spent, and now we are again looking at tough times and looking for leaders who can help summon not just the policies of recovery, but a collective national will to re-imagine how we live and how we think.

In our final interview, Dan Breen looks at the future through the lens of World War Two, and finds every reason to be optimistic

“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” –Aristotle

Please! Leave us a comment. Share your thoughts and memories.

Thank you.


Harold Crowley was eight years old when World War 2 ended. On August 14th, 1945, three months after the surrender of Nazi Germany and just days after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese government bowed to defeat. Across America, and here in Quincy Massachusetts, people took to the streets—and celebrated.

“We had a parade, and everybody had something to make noise. I had a cow bell. So we paraded around the street with the cowbell.”

Given the fall of Hitler’s third Reich a few months earlier, and the utter destruction of Japan’s two major cities, Victory over Japan day–known as VJ Day–was not a complete surprise. But for Harold and every other American whose life had been affected by the war, the announcement was electrifying. It also meant the end of an era that reached back to the great Depression; and the beginning of a post war economy and US rise to political power that would usher in dramatic changes in everything from industry to fashion. At the time though, what would be seen through the lens of history as a seismic cultural shift, revealed itself in practical and even mundane ways. And in economic dislocation. America had placed its complete economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort. When the war ended, it marked the end of the boom in shipbuilding that had kept Harold’s father working 7 days a week.

“We’d won the war. It was over and of course everything was going to change after that and we knew it. Well we didn’t really know but everything did change after the war. Styles changed. Everything changed. My father was laid off. Shipbuilding went down the tubes..right after the war it took a while to transition to something else…..”

Listen to Harold’s story

Harold DiMattio

Harold DiMattio (left) and his brother Stephen

Harold DiMattio and his brother Stephen

Harold Angelo DiMattio was one of the first veterans we interviewed for this website.  It is with sadness we post this announcement of Mr. DiMattio’s death.  He will be missed by all who knew him here at the Library where he served as a Library Trustee and always had a kind word and a smile for staff and patrons.

From The Patriot Ledger newspaper:

A copy of the March 17th Obituary for Harold A DiMattio who died at the age of 84 on March 13th, 2009

A copy of the March 16th Patriot Ledger obituary for Harold A DiMattio who died at the age of 84 on March 13th, 2009

Transcription of The Patriot Ledger March 16th obituary:

Harold Angelo DiMattio, age 84, of Quincy died Friday, March 13, 2009 at the Quincy Medical Center.

Mr. DiMattio was born in Braintree, raised and educated in Quincy schools, and graduated from Quincy High School, Class of 1943. He graduated from Northeastern University in 1958 and later graduated from the University of Virginia in 1977 receiving an Associates Degree in Industrial Engineering.

He lived in Granbury, Texas for fifteen years, earlier five years in St. Francisville, Louisiana, but for most of his life he lived in Quincy. Harold was employed for thirty years with the Stone and Webster Engineering Company as a planning engineer. He worked with the Nuclear Division which included nuclear start up and construction. He was involved with the River Band Site in Louisiana as well as with Commanche Peak in Glenrose, Texas.

Mr. DiMattio was instrumental in preliminary construction and start up of the North Anna Plant in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Previously he worked at the former Fore River Shipyard in Quincy for both the Bethlehem Steel Company and for General Dynamics.

Mr. DiMattio served in the United States Navy during World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters on the destroyer U.S.S. Barber. He was very active in veterans affairs and was a member and Past Commander of the George F. Bryant VFW Post in Quincy, Past Commander and Chaplain of the Morrisette American Legion Post in Quincy, and the Disabled American Veterans.

He was also a 4th Degree member of the Knights of Columbus in Texas as well as the Quincy Sons of Italy Lodge 1295. Mr. DiMattio was also active in world conservation.

Beloved husband of the late Anna L. (Antonelli) DiMattio. Devoted father of Stephen J. DiMattio and his wife Marjie of Washington, D.C. Loving grandfather of Rachel Burneston of Ridgeley, MD and Adrienne Shaw of Philadelphia, PA Great-grandfather of Elise Nicole Burneston.

Brother of MaryAnn Veno of Quincy, the late Michael DiMattio and the late Stephen E. DiMattio, Q.P.D., Ret. Stepson of Eleanor DiMattio of Braintree, Stepbrother of Phyllis Clark of Braintree and Vincent DiMattio of N.J.

“Library 2.0”

Southeastern Massachusetts Library System newsletter

Southeastern Massachusetts Library System newsletter

This website is part of our effort to use “social software” like blogs (this website is a blog), podcasts (our audio interviews are podcasts), and Flickr (where we have posted our collection of images of war posters and historical photographs from the 1940s)  to move information outside the physical walls of the library and to invite people to enrich our collection by contributing content of their own.

So-called “Library 2.0” is gaining more and more attention within the library profession as a way to connect digitally with our customers, and with people anywhere in the world who have access to the Internet. Quincy’s local newspaper The Patriot Ledger noted this trend in an article it published back in November of 2008, and the Quincy reference staff wrote an article about this website for our December 2008 regional library newsletter recommending other libraries try similar projects.

We would love to hear from you about your experience using this website. Please let us know what worked for you and what did not.  Please share your suggestions and ideas.  Check out our Library profile on Facebook, and if you have your own Facebook account, please consider becoming a fan!

Thank you!

Patriot Ledger article on interactive website

Patriot Ledger article on interactive website

Typhoon LouiseAs veteran Jim Joyce of Quincy Massachusetts tells his grandchildren, the enemy in World War II wasn’t always the Germans and Japanese. The weather played a key role in the planning, success, and failure of military operations. According to the Department of the Navy, Typhoon Louise, which hit Okinawa without warning on October 9th, 1945, could have doomed the Allies planned invasion of the Japanese mainland:

“Winds of 80 knots (92 miles per hour) and 30-35 foot waves battered the ships and craft in the bay and tore into the quonset huts and buildings ashore. A total of 12 ships and craft were sunk, 222 grounded, and 32 severely damaged. [for listing of vessels] Personnel casualties were 36 killed, 47 missing, and 100 seriously injured. Almost all the food, medical supplies and other stores were destroyed, over 80% of all housing and buildings knocked down, and all the military installations on the island were temporarily out of action. Over 60 planes were damaged as well, though most were repairable. Although new supplies had been brought to the island by this time, and emergency mess halls and sleeping quarters built for all hands, the scale of the damage was still very large. If the war had not ended on 2 September, this damage, especially the grounding and damage to 107 amphibious craft (including the wrecking of four tank landing ships, two medium landing ships, a gunboat, and two infantry landing craft) would likely have seriously impacted the planned invasion of Japan (Operation Olympic).” —Naval Historical Center

Granddaughter of WWII Seabee Jim Joyce18 year old Jim Joyce, who was a SeaBee in the US Navy had never seen or even imagined a storm like Typhoon Louise. “It was a terrifying night,” he recalls. “The storm lasted 12 hours. The winds were so strong they lifted the Quonset huts off their moorings. We were on land at the time. We didn’t realize until the next morning that all the small craft had run aground.”

It’s not just libraries and history buffs who are interested in World War II. Jim Joyce received this card from his granddaughter after she interviewed him for a Veteran’s Day school project. If only Meghan could have seen the smile on Jim’s face when he showed us her thank you note:

For more about weather and war, check out this article in Military Officer; and for more information on how weather forecasts are treated as military intelligence, don’t miss the fascinating history of the Weather Bureau Record of War Administration.

One might call Florence DiTullio Joyce the first lady of Fore River Shipyard.  “I was the first woman to fill out an application, to be interviewed, and to be hired,” Joyce said last week as she recalled the early days of 1941.

She and several others were hired early in the war years, before women were urged to work in defense plants for the war effort.  Two uncles, Dan Libertini and Rocco DiTullio, worked at Fore River and encouraged the 19-year-old beauty and recent high school graduate of Quincy High School to apply.  “They’re thinking of hiring women,”  Joyce’s Uncle Rocco told her.  Joyce was raised on Washington Street and lived on Pond Street after her marriage.  Joyce got the job and the rest is history.

The first women, like Joyce, were so successful and good at the jobs, that thousands of women were subsequently hired for defense work.  At the time, Joyce was a pioneer in a man’s world and no one called her “Flo” or “Florence”.  “I had a gorgeous figure and they put ‘Woo, Woo’ on the back of my welding jacket,” Joyce recalled, adding that her male co-workers gave her the nickname ‘Woo, Woo’ and it stuck.

“I loved it,” Joyce said, adding that “the majority of men were respectful.”  She recalled that the green suede-like protective clothing was heavy and cumbersome as was the helmet which Joyce had to wear when welding to project her eyes.  “You’d get a flash, if you took your eyes away,” Joyce said of the dangers of looking at the welding flame, even from the corner of an eye.  “The flash burns the eye tissue.”

Shortly after Joyce was hired, four other women joined her and the women began the heavy-duty, and sometimes dangerous, welding work previously only performed by men.  “We were an experiment,” Joyce said when she recalled those early days.  “We were an experiment, but we must have done a good job because they kept us and hired many, many more women welders.  When they found that women were capable of any job, they hired women as burners, welders, shipfitters.”

“I welded parts of THE WASP,” said Joyce, recalling one of the ships she’d worked on and others commissioned after being built at Fore River.  Records suggest that many more than 2,000 women shipbuilders worked at the Fore River Shipyard for the war efforts.

Ron Adams, a history teacher at Broad Meadows Middle School, has done extensive research with his students on the Fore River Shipyard.  His students recorded oral histories of the workers and invited Joyce and her fellow workers to the school for “Winne the Welder” tributes.  Adams says he believes that there were many more than 2,000 at Fore River but official records are elusive at this time due to asbestos lawsuits.

Workers at Fore River were exposed to asbestos and to the lung diseases associated with asbestos.

Women were employed as welders, painters, pipe coverers, crane operators, burners, sheetmetal workers, nurses, and cafeteria workers.  As a group, the women workers were called “Winnie the Welder.”

“There were thousands of people that worked there. It’s too bad it ended up the way it did. It could give a lot of people a job,” Joyce said of the Fore River Shipyard.  According to reports, the Shipyard, which was operated by Bethlehem Steel Corporation, produced more ships than any other shipyard in the country. At its peak, the shipyard employed 32,000 people. Once the war was over, the women workers were forgotten for years.

In 1991, Mayor James Sheets dedicated “Winnie the Welder Day.”

Joyce said she’s still in touch by mail at holidays with two former workers who live out of state.  At 88, she said she can still wield a welding tool, but she is content to work at her painting.  Her four children and grandchildren keep her busy now.  They are Gail Plant, Rockland; Michael Wilson, Atlanta GA; Jace Wilson, Pembroke; and Lynette Frederickson, Halifax.

by Laura Griffin, Quincy Sun (November 6, 2008)

These ‘Winnie the Welders’ at the Fore River Shipyard helped win World War II. Quincy’s Florence DiTullio Joyce is in the middle of the second row dressed in full protective gear with the welder’s helmet.
[Photo courtesy of Broad Meadows History Project]

Short history of WWII

Don’t have time to read the books or watch the films? Newbury College professor Dan Breen to the rescue!

In these short interviews, Dan sketches a picture of America on the eve of World War II, through the DDay invasion that clinched the Allied victory over Germany, all the while shining a light on how the events of nearly 70 years ago, created the world and the country as we know it.

homefrontguns1“America Goes to War”: Throughout the 1930’s, Americans watched with concern as Germany and Italy took over Europe, and Japan began its campaign of imperial expansion. Under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America responded by supporting Britain’s opposition to Nazi Germany and by building up our own its military presence at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the U.S. territorial outpost in the Pacific. Reluctant to intervene in conflicts on “foreign soil”, and remembering the horrors of World War I, Americans were forced out of isolation and onto center stage when the Japanese attacked Pear Harbor.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941- a date which will live in infamy- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through absolute victory”. -President Roosevelt in his Address to Congress

Professor Dan Breen on what America looked like on the eve of World War II.

Quincy resident and WWII veteran Jim Joyce: Everybody was joining up

“The Homefront”: By 1943, the Allies were producing nearly three times as much munitions as the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan. The effort on the American Home Front was the economic Juggernaut that helped tipped the scales of victory.

“Never before have we had so little time in which to do so much”. -President Roosevelt, fireside chat, 2/23/42

Dan Breen on the making of the American economy

internmentThe Japanese American Experience in World War II: After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the US government opened what would be a shameful chapter in its own history by ordering the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who were forced from their homes into “permanent relocation centers”.

“How could such a tragedy have occurred in a democratic society that prides itself on individual rights and freedoms? I have brooded about this whole episode on and off for the past three decades…” -Milton Eisenhower, director of the War Relocation Authority

Dan Breen on the internment of 16,000 Japanese Americans

tuskegeebondposterMood Indigo: African Americans and the War: More than 1 million African Americans fought in World War II, in a military that would not be desegregated until 1949. They were often treated as second class citizens by military commanders, and the accomplishments of black WWII servicemen have been underestimated and under-reported. But on the field and on the battlefield as well as the homefront, the war sowed the seeds of the civil rights movement that later transformed this country’s political and social landscape.

“They battled Nazism and Fascism in the skies over North Africa and Europe, and racism on the ground back in the United States. They painted the tails of their P-51s bright red, and names like “Hammerin’ Hank,” “Creamer’s Dream,” and “‘Mo’ Downs” on the sides of their aircraft. But what really made the Tuskegee Airmen distinct was the fact that they never lost a bomber during some 200 escort missions during World War II.” – from Air Force News Service article, Aug 1995 by Master Sgt. Merrie Schilter Lowe

Dan Breen on how the war set the stage for desegregation.

1942_grinderWomen Join the Workforce: During World War II, the number of women in the workforce increased by about 25%. Although many of these women left the workforce when American servicemen returned home, the second world war helped lay the groundwork for the feminist movement of the 1970s.

“The first thing to do to win your war is to lose your amateur standing. Girls and young women are needed badly and immediately for the daily jobs that must go on if our world is to go on…Somewhere, right near you, there is an empty job that must be filled; a job a man has left to go where he was told to go. He may have driven a bus, a taxi or a trolley; he may have worked in a bank, a drugstore or a telegraph office. If he can do what he is doing now, certainly you can do what he used to do. For God’s sake–are we women or are we mice?” -writer Dorothy Parker, in an article that appeared in the May 1943 issue of Mademoiselle magazine

Professor Dan Breen on the effect of women joining the workforce.

normandyThe Experience of Combat: D Day, a documentary from PBS The American Experience “D-Day is told entirely with rare archival footage — much of it never shown before — and the voices of 43 people who were there. Produced by Charles Guggenheim, the film is also a centerpiece for the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. It should never be forgotten that, of all events of our tumultuous 20th century, perhaps the most important was the defeat of the Nazi empire; and for a long and very dark time, for nearly five years, that outcome was by no means certain. D-Day was the turning point. It was day one of the final drive to complete Allied victory.”

The first brief communique was electrifying — “London, Tuesday, June 6, 1944: Under command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.” The world caught its breath. Not since 1688 had an invading army crossed the English Channel, but now it was happening — Operation Overlord, D-Day, the all-out attack on Hitler’s fortress Europe. The first assault wave hit the beaches of Normandy at 6:30 a.m.

The place of the landing was the best-kept, most important secret of the war in Europe, and success depended on elaborate deception; but it was the individual valor of the men who went ashore in combination with the greatest marshaling of ships, planes and guns ever in history that were decisive. Never was America’s productive might so dramatically employed. The armada reached as far as the eye could see.” —from The American Experience

“At the edge of the cliffs, the wind is a smack, and D-day becomes wildly clear: climbing that cutting edge into the bullets.” — John Vinocur

Dan Breen on what you might be surprised to learn about the largest sea borne invasion in military history.

courageEnd Note: A reporter from the Patriot Ledger newspaper who wrote a story about this website asked me about the importance of World War Two. I’m not an historian–I’m not even a very astute observer of politics or culture or finances. But the financial crisis that is now enveloping the US and other countries has an “end of the century” feel to it that entirely by coincidence makes the library’s ww2 programs and site feel as much like a farewell to the America created by that war as it does a remembrance.

The promise and sheer capital that the war generated seems to have been spent, and now we are again looking at tough times and looking for leaders who can help summon not just the policies of recovery, but a collective national will to re-imagine how we live and how we think.

In our final interview, Dan Breen looks at the future through the lens of World War Two, and finds every reason to be optimistic.

“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” -Aristotle

Please! Leave us a comment. Share your thoughts and memories.

Thank you.