Archive for the ‘Stories to hear’ Category


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


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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.

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You’d never know by looking at Jim Joyce that 63 years ago he was a member of the famous “We Build! We Fight!”  construction battalions of World War Two known as the Seabees. But when Jim, still tall and lean, pulls out an old picture of six young men grouped around a wooden box in Okinawa Japan just two days after the Japanese surrender of that island, you can spot Jim in the handsome face of the 18-year-old standing in the upper left of the photograph. It was a historic moment for the US Navy……

Listen to a three minute interview with WWII veteran and Quincy resident Jim Joyce.

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 this thank you note: Granddaughter of WWII Seabee Jim Joyce

As Jim told his granddaughter, the enemy 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

18 year old Seabee Jim Joyce 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.”

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.

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“They raised millions of dollars” Humorist and WBZ radio personality Mel Simons talks about how musical greats Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman all did their part to help the war effort, and play the last hurrah in a musical era that would end within a few years of the troops coming home.

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Bill Corman’s father survived almost impossible odds. Now Bill collects artifacts of World War II. (Three minute interview)

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83-year-old Mildred Vento worked as a ship painter in the Quincy Shipyard during WWII when she was only 17 years old.

Listen to Mildred’s story.

For more stories from the homefront, go to A Legend on the Homefront.

Homefront: Quincy in the War Years
During the Fall of 08, Dr. Edward Fitzgerald of the Quincy Historical Society presented an illustrated talk about Quincy during the early 1940s. Ron Adams, a teacher at Broad Meadows Middle School, talked about his students’ ‘Winnie the Welder’ project–video interviews with women who worked at the shipyard during the war. A project to reformat these old video interviews into DVD is currently underway. Check back with us! Eventually the DVDs will be available at the library.

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Lifelong Quincy resident Harold DiMattio left school at the age of 16 to join the Navy.

As a Fire Controlman 1st Class, he spent four years in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and fought in some of the most decisive naval campaigns of World War II.

Listen to Harold’s story.

More clips from our interview with Harold DiMattio:

I’d had enough
Life’s lesson

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