Most Americans have relatives who served in World War II in some capacity, yet they may have little understanding of where those relatives served or what historic events they may have experienced. WWII veterans themselves often could not see the bigger picture of a conflict that spanned the globe. Many relatives worked in the Arsenal of Democracy, industries that contributed heavily to the war effort, building vehicles, ships, aircraft and munitions that supplied the Allied nations. Rick Ector, member of CAF Dixie Wing, has developed Envisioning History, a system to help veterans and their relatives identify where they may have been and where their activities fit into the bigger picture of World War II. Envisioning History is a 501.c.3 non-profit corporation dedicated to improving the use of advanced technologies for historical education and scholarship. It is an open collaboration of institutions that contribute documents and media to a “curated” digital library and archive. Once selected, validated and published, the material is available for everyone to see and download.
The Dixie Wing will be offering this feature as a service at the upcoming WWII Heritage Days in Peachtree City, Georgia April 22 and 23, 2017. While it’s impossible to include everything about the Second World War, the searchable, interactive database has details of most major WWII combat units, military bases and major events of the War. The tool allows users to locate when and where a specific unit was deployed and which major battles or campaigns it participated in.
The Dixie Wing is the Georgia chapter of the Commemorative Air Force, a 501c-3 and the world’s largest World War II flying museum, founded in 1957. Over the last 30 years, the CAF Dixie Wing has restored numerous aircraft and works closely with educators and community organizations to teach aviation and World War II history. “The mission of WWII Heritage Days is to celebrate the 1940s, salute The Greatest Generation and Inspire all ages to preserve the legacy of America’s veterans” shared CAF Dixie Wing leader Jay Bess “the data base helps connect the public with their family history.”
During WWII Heritage Days in 2016, World War II veteran Norman Monfort described his experience as a sailor aboard the USS Norman Scott (DD-690) off the island of Tinian during the Marianas campaign. Norman Scott was hit by Japanese counter fire from the island on 24 June, 1944. Her captain and 21 others were killed and 50 more were wounded, including Monfort.
In another case, Dr. Phil Lundeberg, later to become the Director of military history at the Smithsonian Institution, was a young officer on the destroyer escort USS Frederick C. Davis (DE-136) in the Atlantic. Dr. Lundeberg sat down with the database and we located on a map where he and his ship were sunk by a torpedo from the German U-boat U-546 on 24 April 1945. The U-boat in turn was immediately sunk by other Allied ships; Lundeberg was fished from the water along with many of the surviving German sailors. All were covered with oil, so Lundeberg and many of the Americans were held as POWs until they could be identified and separated from the Germans.
The public can help the Dixie Wing’s project by identifying units, military facilities, actions, industries, etc. Digital copies of documents, newspaper clipping, etc. are a tremendous help, but family lore can provide valuable clues into a veteran’s service. Gathered information will be shared with student interns Georgia Southern University who will conduct additional research, adding it to the database for future use.
Envisioning History’s initial project is to develop a media-based classroom resource on the history of World War II for the university undergraduate level. To find out more about Envisioning History, click HERE.