Wandering Wide-Eyed in America, Part 8: America Earns Its Stripes in World War II

In Part 8 of his series on exploring America through the eyes of an immigrant, Eric Anderson, MD, recounts America's emergence as a world power during World War II.

“Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die.” -Herbert Hoover

My cousin, Allister Thom, and I were commissioned in our Selective Service in the same Scottish infantry regiment in the early 1980s in Germany. When I had completed my service I went to med school; he stayed in and ended a Lieutenant Colonel as a General staff officer.

Many years later I said to him, “I would have trouble in the army now. I wouldn’t obey a stupid order!”

He replied, “That’s why war is for the young. If you came back in, at your age we’d put you at a desk well to the rear!”

Because, as William Tecumseh Sherman said, “War is hell.”

Europeans realize today the onset of World War II put Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a difficult position. Germans were actually the largest immigrant group from Europe in the United States and Roosevelt knew he did not have enough support to enter the war beside Britain, despite the continued efforts of Winston Churchill to get him to so choose. Roosevelt lies in a simple grave in upstate New York with his wife Eleanor (probably the most popular First Lady ever). When he died the Buck really did Stop Here with Harry Truman. An experienced artillery major in The Great War, Harry was an anomaly in the White House: a US president who had previous significant involvement in war.

World War II had such an impact on our new country we need to revisit its impact on us. It gave America almost universal approval. The nation had come of age. We were no longer Britain’s awkward and innocent grandchild, we were the world’s policeman whether we wanted it or not. Europe looked to us for guidance, in fact more: our Marshall Aid allowed it to re-engineer itself The Plan ran for four years from 1948. The US gave $13 billion (roughly $130 billion in current values) to get Europe back on its feet and yes, to thwart Communism.

FDR grave at the Roosevelt Presidential Library, New York State. Harry Truman’s military World War I handguns, Truman Library, Missouri. Truman’s desk, Truman Library.

You can see the pen used at the historic German surrender May 5, 1945 in Rheims, France, displayed at the Truman Library in Missouri and, in the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, KS, the cap of hero Jimmy Doolittle who led the dangerous bravado flight to bomb Tokyo.

Doolittle’s cap: Eisenhower Presidential Library Abilene, KS; pen used in German surrender: Truman Library, Abilene, KS.

There’s a lot more to see at the Eisenhower Presidential Library that show we need to remember the mass of non-commissioned simple privates and how they contributed to victory. You can see a somber statue of a GI taking a coffee break but if you want to look at Audie Murphy’s grave you need to go to the National Cemetery Arlington, VA, on your next DC visit.

Audie Murphy’s grave in Arlington, VA, a GI on coffee break in the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, KS.

The Eisenhower Library has a figure honoring the famous VE Day kiss as does a memorial in San Diego.

The Eisenhower Library, Kansas: The famous kiss photographed on VE Day in New York City that has several sailors and nurses all making claims to be the ones photographed. Insert: the same kiss in a tall statue in front of the Midway aircraft carrier in San Diego.

Eisenhower knew his decision on how he would fight the D-Day operation might not work. His library displays alternative notices he had written for his fellow Americans — to be used depending on D-Day results. One, composed to be used if the invasion failed, was his statement that he was completely responsible, that it was his decision. How he must have agonized at that important decision. Harry Truman similarly agonized over his decision whether to use the Atomic Bomb. A handwritten note in his library shows his conflict. The actual bomb itself seems awfully small. You can see one of the unused bombs (with contents removed), in the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX.

Art in the Truman Library in Independence, MO; Truman’s office; The “Little Boy” Atom Bomb in the National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, TX; Truman’s comments on using a nuclear weapon.

A display showing one of the four Japanese submarines that attacked Pearl Harbor and a discussion of nuclear weapons is in the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX. The museum is in the childhood home of Admiral Nimitz where an eight-foot statue of the admiral shows the loss of his left finger which disability nearly had him removed from navy service. His Annapolis graduation ring limited the loss to his terminal digit

The National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX, may surprise you with how eclectic its contents are, from, in the George Bush Gallery, a door taken from the wreck of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor (the dark hole in the top of the image was made by divers for observation to see if any Americans were still living in the submerged hull) to a home-made flag in the Nimitz Gallery sewn by US prisoners of war in Japan, one they created to give them strength.

The story of this special flag was recapped in press releases at the time: “In 1942, three US soldiers Paul Spain, Joe Victoria, and Eddie Lindros were ordered to destroy the US flag to prevent its capture by the approaching Japanese. Instead they removed the flag’s 48 stars and hid them in their clothing. And over the next 42 months, as the men were transferred to different POW camps and eventually to Japan, they kept the stars hidden.

Sensing their liberation was imminent, Spain, Victoria, and Lindros sewed the stars back together using parachute silk and an old sewing machine, and a rusty nail, which they converted into a sewing needle. When the American troops arrived at the camp on September 7, 1945, their “new” flag was flying proudly over the camp!”

Euripides, reputedly, said, “Ten soldiers wisely led will beat a hundred without a head.”

Photography by the author

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.