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From time to time while working in the records, NARA staff find documents that provide new perspectives on events through which they lived.  I recently had that experience.

I remember well the terrible humanitarian disaster that befell local populations as Yugoslavia ripped itself apart during the 1990s.  I remember, too, how many commentators expressed surprise over the breakup of that country.

As I began working with the records of the Department of State and other foreign affairs agencies, I learned that to some of the experts in the U.S. government, what happened to Yugoslavia came as no surprise.  The files contain many documents explaining the centrifugal forces in that country likely to take over after the death of Marshal Tito, who ruled in Yugoslavia from World War II to his death in 1980.

I recently located the following document that presaged the calamity to come.  While it is not an analytical piece, it serves as good example of the developing understanding of the situation in Yugoslavia.

This memorandum was prepared by Walter R. Roberts, then the Deputy Associate Director (Research and Assessment) in the United States Information Agency (USIA), and sent to the Director of the agency, Frank Shakespeare.  Among other jobs, Mr. Roberts served in the Office of War Information (OWI) during World War II, in the Department of State after the war, in USIA during the 1950s, and as a public affairs officer and as Counselor for Public Affairs in the U.S. embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia from 1960 to 1966.  He ended his government career as Associate Director of USIA, the senior career position in that agency.

The Brzezinski mentioned in the last paragraph is Zbigniew Brzezinski.  At the time he was a professor at Columbia University, but he earlier served on the Policy Planning Council in the Department of State and later became National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter.


Source: RG 306: Records of the United States Information Agency, Entry P-266, Office of Research and Assessment, Program Files, 1969-1971, File: IAS – Soviet Union/East Europe.

Today’s post is by National Archives Volunteer Bill Nigh. This is the sequel to his earlier post.


In my first post, I briefly described the volunteer project based on the records of the U.S. Secret Service  (Record Group 87).  I stated that this organization began its presidential security mission following a presidential assassination, but its initial mission was about money.  Presidential security came an amazing 42 years later.

“Nation of Counterfeiters”, Hezekiah Niles, 18181

Prior to the Civil War, it is estimated that more than 1/3 of the currency in circulation was counterfeit, a number that would probably turn our present economic environment into ruin.  Over 1600 state-chartered banks printed their own currency (bank notes); it is estimated that there were more than ten thousand kinds of paper2.  That’s a number hard to conceive with our present system operating with essentially four paper denominations ($1, $5, $10, and $20).  Obviously, the common businessman could not reliably determine whether or not the paper he held in his hand was counterfeit.

Bleached Notes

Counterfeit bills permeated the entire currency system.  How did this happen?  Each bank hired engraving firms to produce their own printing plates, dies, and currency.  The counterfeiters would move in and work both sides of this business relationship.  They would bribe the engravers for the plates or pay the engraver to produce a plate for their benefit.  The counterfeiters would also acquire plates from the many failed banks or bribe bank officials to look the other way while confiscating the needed printing materials.  As William Sumner in his 1896 classic book on the history of banking said: “a person receiving a bank note would inevitably turn to a counterfeit detector (a publication of known counterfeit bills) and scrutinize the worn and dirty scrap for two or three minutes, regarding it as more probably ‘good’ if it was worn and dirty than if it was clean, because those features were proof of long and successful circulation”3.

One folder consists of cases dealing only with “bleached notes”.  The term “bleached note” is counterfeit paper defined simply as low denomination money that is chemically processed to remove the ink, which is then reprinted with images of a higher denomination.  Why do this?  U.S. currency paper has a distinct appearance and texture that’s different from many other types of paper4, and this method excluded this discriminator.

An interesting case of bleached notes reads like a television police show.  A Dr. Joe Johnson from Connecticut had supposedly perfected a bleaching process and wanted to produce counterfeit $100 bills.  Learning about this, the Secret Service used two informants to convince Dr. Johnson that they could provide him an engraver’s plate for the $100 bill.  The plan was to show Dr. Johnson the plate, produce a couple of bills for examination, and then arrest the doctor with the goods (the classic sting operation).  The reports did not address the operation’s final outcome.  (Report in “Bleached Notes” folder from ARC Identifier 1661969).

A question to consider is where was law enforcement?  First, there was no national police force.  Secondly, the federal government had the only constitutional authority to print money but there was never a challenge to the states’ rights to charter banks and print its own currency.  Monitoring the state’s banking industry was sporadic at best.  Thirdly, enforcement of counterfeiting laws was entirely local; many times local police looked the other way.  Lastly, our economic system worked.  We were a nation poor in gold and silver but desperate for credit and capital to satisfy our dreams and speculative nature.  Counterfeit money picked up the slack5.  However, big events frequently compel change and the next one found the federal government wanting money and lots of it.

The Civil War — We Need Money, Fast

To fund the enormously costly war, the federal government needed lots of money to pay its bills and its gold and silver reserves were quickly depleting.  The Legal Tender Act of 1862 authorized Congress to print money ($150 million) and stipulated that the new currency (greenbacks) did not have to be backed by gold or silver.  And just as significant, the legal tender status of the greenbacks required creditor acceptance, whereas creditors did not have to accept state bank notes.  The greenbacks were popular, hailed as “patriotism of the people” by the New York Herald, but problems still remained for the Lincoln administration.  More money was needed.  The state bank notes still remained the primary medium of exchange, burdened with the counterfeiting issue.

Enter Senator John Sherman from Ohio, the younger brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman.  Senator Sherman believed the existing circulation of state bank notes must be replaced with a uniform national currency issued by national banks6.  Senator Sherman was one of the major proponents and activists of the National Banking Act of 1863 followed by another Banking Act in 1864.  Together they granted the federal government the power to charter a new system of national banks, issue a new national currency, impose a tax on state bank notes (which forced state-chartered banks to sign up as a national bank), and punish counterfeiters.  States’ rights were defeated; state bank notes went into decline.  These series of events profoundly transformed our country’s economic order.

With the war coming to an end, the government now faced a direct threat to federal sovereignty: how to protect the integrity of the new national currency.  A national police apparatus transcending state lines was seriously considered for the first time.



1 Stephen Mihm,  A Nation of Counterfeiters (Harvard University Press 2007), 6.

2 Mihm 3.

3 Mihm 360.

4 Joel Zlotnick, “Counterfeits Made with Bleached U.S. Currency”, <

5 Mihm 15.

6 Mihm 315.


Today’s post (part one in a two-part series) is by National Archives Volunteer Bill Nigh.

When I was assigned my first volunteer project, one associated with the U.S. Secret Service (Record Group 87), I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Like many my age, I picture the Secret Service agent climbing on the rear deck of the black limousine in Dallas in 1963.  I recall the Clint Eastwood movie, “In the Line of Fire”, with the ever present sunglasses and the white coiled-wire ear buds.  But what I discovered after several months on the project was far different than the presidential protection scenes.  The material was so fascinating that I had to dig deeper into the history of this organization.  I was hooked.

Project Purpose.  The records of this project, spanning 1918-1937, comprise 510 boxes containing primarily operative reports regarding investigations of counterfeiters, suspicious financial activities, those threatening the President, and other correspondence.  Our small group of volunteers is developing a finding aid.  We log the following data into a spreadsheet for each folder of Secret Service reports:

  • Reference Box Number
  • Folder Designation (alphabetically  arranged)
  • Coverage Start Date
  • Coverage End Date
  • General Record Types (Textual Records, Artifacts, Photographs, Maps and Charts, etc.).

Since volunteers are part of Education and Public Programs in Museum Services, we were asked to identify cases that might be of interest to the general public.

Initial Findings.  After months of work, I found most of the cases involved illegal use of currency, for example, cases of forgeries of checks, bonds, and notes — particularly government issues, and counterfeit money.  I estimate that currency cases number more than 95% of the reports; I also found a few terrorism cases.  But where were the presidential security reports?  Though the numbers of terrorism cases encountered are few up to this point in time, they are astonishing to read.  Here is one such case.

Black Legion.  My first report on one particular day immediately got my attention.  It was correspondence between Secret Service Chief Moran and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director J. Edgar Hoover (shown below).  Hoover’s letter informed the Chief that the FBI had learned of a possible threat against President Franklin Roosevelt (this was May 1936) by a radical group named the Black Legion.  It was known that the Black Legion believed the government was occupied by the country’s enemies: Catholics, Jews, and foreigners.  The Legion vowed “to defeat Roosevelt in 1936, by ballot if possible, by force of arms if necessary”1.  It was thought that a march on Washington was imminent.  The FBI had acquired this information from the City Editor of a Flint, MI, newspaper who had spoken with three informants/former members of the Black Legion.  After interviewing the informants and the local police, the Secret Service operatives determined that the Black Legion was a dangerous organization but there was no immediate credible threat.

Black Legion Report in “Black” folder, ARC Identifier 1661969

The Black Legion, operating in the 1930’s, was a hate-based quasi-paramilitary organization with a mission to enforce its version of Americanism.  Operating in Ohio and Michigan, it numbered between 20,000 and 30,000 strong; some contend it splintered from the Ku Klux Klan.  As an example of how it ruled its members, the resignation of a member triggered a reprisal of violence or even death to that member.  Its reign of terror ended when eleven members were convicted of murder in 19362.

Delving further into the history of the U.S. Secret Service, I discovered that this organization was founded just after a presidential assassination, but its initial mission had nothing to do with presidential security.  It was about money.  The presidential protection mission came 42 years later.

This post will be continued next week.


1 William Carlson, SS Operative Report, May 26, 1936.

2 Detroit News, “Michigan History (August 5, 1997) /apps/history/ index.php?id=151.

Today’s post is by Dr. Greg Bradsher.

Englishman Nicholas Cresswell, during July 1777, wrote in his journal that the American army was composed of a “ragged Banditti of undisciplined people, the scum and refuse of all nations of earth.”  Baron Curt von Stedingk, a Swedish colonel in French service, described the American army in Savannah during 1779 as being composed “almost wholly of deserters and vagabonds of all nations.”  These were somewhat exaggerated descriptions, yet at times they seemed very true and therefore concerned the revolutionary leaders.  Their ideal was a disciplined army composed of Whigs who had a stake in society.  They desired an army composed of men who shared the same cultural, political, and social background and beliefs. What was desired—mature domestic yeomen—did make up the bulk of the army surrounding Boston during the summer of 1775, but by the end of the year many of those had left the service when their enlistments terminated. Thereafter, because of the difficulty in recruiting such an army, and military necessity, many who did not share a stake in American society as they envisioned it enlisted in the patriotic forces.

The first group taken into the American military forces against the wishes of most Americans were African Americans, a people many had feared to arm.  Even though African American soldiers had demonstrated their skill and courage at Lexington and Bunker Hill, General Washington issued orders that they were not to be recruited, although those already enlisted could remain. The Continental Congress in September rejected a motion to discharge all African American soldiers, but a council of officers at Cambridge, MA, on October 8, 1775, unanimously agreed to discharge all slaves.  By a large majority, they agreed that free Blacks in service should not be reenlisted.  Washington concurred.

Late in 1775, however, because of difficulty in recruiting, Washington allowed African Americans to reenlist. Learning this, Congress informed Washington that he could continue to reenlist those who had faithfully served at the siege of Boston, but no others.  This restriction was lifted during the following years as enlistments slackened, and African Americans, including slaves, were encouraged to join both the Continental Army and the state military forces.  By the summer of 1778, there were over 750 African Americans serving in the Continental Army, and by 1780 both Rhode Island and Connecticut had all-Black companies, except for the officers.

This increasing use of African Americans did not take place without protest.  Six members of the Rhode Island Assembly opposed the decision of their body to raise Black companies, expressing the fear that the world would believe the Americans were attempting to win their rights and liberties with a band of slaves.  General Schuyler asked General Heath if it was “consistent with the Sons of Freedom to trust their all to be defended by Slaves?”  Heath agreed it was not.

Opposition to allowing African Americans to fight, as one would surmise, was greater in the southern states. One southerner wrote that arming them was “the child of a distempered imagination.”  Nevertheless, from the beginning of the war, Virginia allowed African Americans to join the militia, and South Carolina (the only southern state to do so) allowed them to be enlisted and even resorted to drafting them in 1781.

Congress, during the British invasion of South Carolina and Georgia in 1779, suggested using slaves under white commissioned and noncommissioned officers, compensating slave owners for any loss they may suffer.  Alexander Hamilton, for one, thought the plan a good one, believing slaves, having lived a life of subordination, would make good soldiers.  But he doubted that southerners would readily accept such a plan, believing “prejudice and private interest will be antagonists too powerful for public spirit and public good.”

Hamilton was correct in believing the plan would not be adopted, for as one southerner wrote after learning of it, “We are much disgusted here at the Congress recommending us to arm our Slave, it was received with great resentment, as a very dangerous and impolitic step.”  Despite the rejection of the plan, some Continental officers and civilian leaders continued to lobby for it, believing that the threat posed by a British army outweighed the danger of using slaves.

Col. John Laurens, once elected to the South Carolina legislature in 1782, raised the possibility of the state enlisting an African American regiment under his command.  This recommendation was not adopted, as “the prejudice against the measure,” according to Lewis Morris, Jr., “are so prevailing that no consideration could induce them to adopt it.”  The legislature did, however, agree to the limited use of American Americans for fatigue duty.

It has been estimated that some 5,000 African Americans served during the American War for Independence in various guises, primarily as sailors aboard privateers.  Many served in the Continental Army. A Hessian officer observed in 1777 that “no regiment is to be seen in which there are not negroes in abundance, and among them there are able-bodied, strong and brave fellows.” They served as well and with the same degree of bravery as their White contemporaries. African American Rhode Island and Virginian Continentals were reported to have made excellent soldiers and distinguished themselves in many engagements.

Freedom for most slaves serving in the military forces did not come as a result of their service. However, the American Revolution (as distinct from the American War for Independence) created a “contagion of liberty” (to borrow the chapter title from Bernard Bailyn’s Pulitzer Prize–winning The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution). The ideas espoused about freedom and liberty were found to be inconsistent with the realities of the political and social landscape of America, and calls for change arose.  As a result, changes in many facets of American life were made.  With respect to slavery, between 1777 and 1804, antislavery laws or constitutions were passed in every state north of the Ohio River and the Mason-Dixon Line.  I would like to think the recognition of the service of African Americans in the patriot cause, in addition to the “contagion of liberty,” had some role to play in the abolition of slavery, at least in the northern states.

Remembering Dave Brubeck

by on December 13, 2012

Jazz great Dave Brubeck died on December 5, one day short of his 92nd birthday.  Since then, there have been many retrospectives – in print, on television, on radio, and on line.  Almost all of those remembrances mention the goodwill tour of Poland and the Far East that Brubeck and his quartet made in 1958 at the behest of the Department of State.  The Department described Brubeck and his combo as well qualified to make the trip: “As a serious jazz artist with some classical training and background, we believe Mr. Brubeck can add a new dimension in correcting certain overseas misconceptions on American jazz.”

While the documentation in the Department’s central file on the 1958 trip is not extensive, the reports found there present a picture of a successful and well received visit of “‘cool’ or ‘horn-rimmed’ jazz.”  Here are some extracts from those reports:

From Poland (Embassy Warsaw Despatch #355, 24 March 1958):

[In Krakow][i]t started with a musical greeting of the Quartet (by a delegation of local musicians) at the railroad station at five o’clock in the morning. For two evenings the collegiate generation of Krakow packed the Rotunda auditorium and applauded vigorously. Following the first evening concert, the piano was hauled from the concert hall to the Literary Club for a jam session that continued until three o’clock the next morning. Here all the ‘cats’ gathered to hear and be heard. There were over two hundred present at this session alone.  And while none of the members of the Brubeck Quartet speaks any foreign language, there was considerable demonstration of skill in this modern international language.

From Turkey (Embassy Ankara Despatch #363, 12 December 1958):

Reports continue to be heard from Istanbul and Izmir, as well as here, about the “marvelous”, “wonderful”, “excellent”, etc. representation job done by all members of the Quartet and their families in addition to their concerts.  The morning that they left Ankara, two boys who had gone to the airport stood shaking their fists at the plane, and the young French horn player, with tears running down his cheeks cried “It’s terrible, terrible!  We are like children without a father now that he (Brubeck) is gone!”  Although all of the responses to Brubeck did not match the emotion of this little scene, reactions were unanimously enthusiastic, and each performance a sell-out. . . .

While in Ankara, Mr. Brubeck asked a member of the USIS cultural staff to prepare a tape that would include representative music of Turkey.  A tape was made with excerpts of such early phases as the Drums of Mehter (more commonly known as the Janissary music) up through today’s better known Turkish composers’ works.  Based on this tape and his recollections of Turkey, Brubeck later composed the “Golden Horne,” which is included on a disk called “Impressions of a Trip”. . . .

From Ceylon [Sri Lanka] (Embassy Colombo Despatch #1154, 9 May 1958):

Mr. Brubeck was most gracious about signing autographs and listening to young musicians who followed him around.  The entire Quartet was outstanding in this respect and left an excellent memory of their good manners and engaging personalities.  The newspapers carried many pictures showing Mr. Brubeck surrounded by young autograph fans.

From Pakistan (Consulate General Dacca Despatch #315, 14 May 1958):

Western music is strange to most people in this part of [the] world but Jazz has a greater universal appeal than classical music to the Pakistanis.  This may be explained by the fact that the “Blues” note or fourth is quite common in Bengali melodic structure.  Further, the driving rhythms of Jazz, especially the varied accents of progressive Jazz, are very similar to those used in both folk and classic Bengali music.  Many of the Pakistanis among the capacity crowd who attended the Shahbagh concert were pleasantly surprised, especially by those numbers where the drums were most emphasized.  Introduction of numbers by the Assistant Cultural Affairs Officer helped the audience to understand the music and to realize that Jazz as performed by this group is a true art form.

From Afghanistan (Embassy Kabul Despatch #628, 7 May 1958):

[Saxophonist Paul Desmond was ill and did not participate.]  The members of the trio were received with great interest and enthusiasm by a cross-section of people in Kabul, ranging from Shah Mahmoud and Shah Wali, members of the Royal Family, at the opening concert, to members of the university and schools who had heard the Brubeck records and gave the group a first-class welcome.  The Embassy is of the opinion that this visit was not only successful but valuable in establishing American entertainment at a new level in Afghanistan. . . .

It is tempting to overestimate the value of so successful a mission, and to read into it a more lasting impact than perhaps is the case.  But the performances by the Brubeck trio are without question one of the most successful entertainment episodes which have occurred in this city for a considerable time and . . . Brubeck, by his simple dignity, his friendliness and the fact that all members of the group are attractive American people, have placed us at least for the moment in a position where we have outpointed our Soviet competitors.  The Embassy cannot speak too highly of the value of a comparatively small, highly talented group who meet people easily and well who conduct themselves with quiet poise. . . .

From Iran (Embassy Tehran Despatch #1023, 22 May 1958):

Playing to three audiences totaling some 2200 people in Tehran and Abadan, the appearances of the Brubeck Quartet in Iran were an outstanding success.  The music was of an unaccustomed but dynamic type which won over the younger generation and interested the older and in every way was a program asset in presenting one of the aspects of American culture.

The personality of the group was very winning and provided that indefinable characteristic that makes Americans appealing on the personal level. . . .

From Iraq (Embassy Baghdad Despatch #1219, 25 June 1958):

When news first broke that Brubeck would appear in Baghdad, it was received by the Baghdadi jazz lovers with electrifying enthusiasm.  Requests had been made for so long by this segment of the population that they could hardly believe their ears when they heard the news.  Tension mounted and enthusiasm increased daily for approximately a month until the night of May the 8th when he presented his first program in Khayyam Theater to an enthusiastic audience composed of high ranking Iraqi Government officials, members of the foreign colonies and jazz loving Iraqis.  This audience of over 1500 was immediately won, not only by Brubeck’s music, but also by his charming personality.  A matinee performance was given the following day primarily for the Iraqi college students.  In spite of final examinations which were taking place at this time, more than 500 enthusiastic jazz fans gave Brubeck and his “boys” a standing ovation, wild with enthusiasm.


Source Note:  All quotations are from documents in File 032 Brubeck, Dave Jazz Quartet, in the 1955-58 segment of the Central Decimal File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State.

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.

On the morning of August 7, 1942, the Marines landed on Guadalcanal, relatively near an airfield that the Japanese had begun constructing, and the relatively small number of Japanese on the island melted into the jungle.  The following day the Marines began collecting Japanese souvenirs near the airfield.  On August 9 a 1st Sergeant with the 11th Marines (artillery) reported that he saw some members from the 1st Marines, First Marine Division, returning from chasing the Japanese and that they had acquired Japanese souvenirs. The following day this sergeant reported that he went into a Japanese weather station, found weather charts, and “other interesting things.”  Around August 10 or 11, members of 11th Marines found in some rubbish near a tool shed among scattered papers, blank notebook paper which they divided among themselves.  Within a few days many Marines were writing letters on Japanese paper, as well as using Japanese occupation money they had found at the airfield to buy souvenirs, and by August 13 one gunnery sergeant had began conducting a small class in Japanese flower arrangement; his text a beautifully illustrated book on the subject recently published in Tokyo and picked up as a souvenir.

A little over week later, in the darkness of the morning of August 21 a newly landed Japanese force of about 900 men from the 28th Infantry Regiment, termed the Ichiki Force, commanded by Colonel Kiyono Ichiki, tried to cross the sand bar at the mouth of the Ilu in a bayonet assault designed to overrun the positions occupied by the 2nd Bn., 1st Marines, protecting the east flank of the perimeter. For many Marines and others the myth of Japanese invincibility was shattered at the Tenaru (as the battle at the Ilu would be mistakenly called).  Almost all of the Ichiki Force were killed, wounded, or captured.  Coast Watcher Martin Clemens, who later visited the battlefield, wrote in his book Alone on Guadalcanal, that “we had great difficulty with Marine souvenir hunters as we searched for maps, orders, and the like.”  Indeed, as soon as the fighting ended, the souvenir hunting began. Robert Leckie, recalled in his book Helmet For My Pillow, that “moving among them [the dead Japanese] were the souvenir hunters, picking their way delicately as though fearful of booby traps, while stripping the bodies of their possessions.” The packs of the dead were inspected. They contained the inevitable diary and Japanese flag, as well as small amounts of candy and cigarettes. Many of the dead Japanese officers and non-commissioned officers carried heavy leather dispatch cases containing maps of the area, notebooks, and other records.  This souvenir hunting would continue several days.  Maj. Gen. A. A. Vandegrift, the commander of the First Marine Division, would later report to the Commandant of the Marine Corps that during the August 10-21 period a great deal of captured material was wasted through pilfering and souvenir hunting.

Despite the setback at the Tenaru, the Japanese were determined to recapture the airfield, named Henderson Field, which had become operational on August 12, and drive the Marines off Guadalcanal.  Assigned the task was the 35th Infantry Brigade, commanded by Maj. Gen. Kiyotake Kawaguchi.  In early September Kawaguchi landed his forces on Guadalcanal and moved them through the jungle and launched a surprise attack, primarily aimed at a ridge near the airfield held by the combined raider and parachute battalions, commanded by Lt. Col. Merritt A. Edson, which had been brought over to Guadalcanal from Tulagi at the end of August.

An estimated 2,000 soldiers from Kawaguchi’s brigade attacked the ridge (later termed Bloody Ridge and Edson’s Ridge) on the nights of September 12-13 and 13-14.  The Marines held their position and at daylight on September 14 the Marines found upwards of six hundred dead Japanese on the ridge slopes and nearby jungle.[see image number 3]  Souvenir hunters quickly moved around the bodies in search of swords, fire arms, flags, and other such items. A 1st Sergeant with the 11th Marines went out to the battlefield on September 16 and 17 looking for souvenirs.  He found some and noted that the Marines there had all sorts of souvenirs from the battlefield, including some exquisite swords.

By the time the 2,852 men of the U.S. Army’s 164th Infantry began landing on Guadalcanal at dawn on October 13, the Marines had an abundance of souvenirs with which to trade or sell.  The soldiers came with hundreds of cases of assorted candy bars.  Bartering began about 9am with Hershey bars or Butterfingers being exchanged for a sword or flag.  Often the flag was one that the Marines had made, which, to make it appear more authentic, included Japanese script copied from Japanese canned goods.  The Marine Pioneers, according to Guadalcanal veteran Kerry Lane, in his Marine Pioneers: The Unsung Heroes of World War II, traded souvenirs to the soldiers for “food, new socks, dungarees and even shoes.”  The Marines also traded or sold souvenirs to the crews of ships that had brought the soldiers to Guadalcanal.  It was not just the enlisted Marines who were into bartering.  General Vandegrift recalled in his Once A Marine, that he had an aide trade sailor’s cold storage eggs and canned ham in return for a Japanese rifle or sword.

Reading the various accounts of the Guadalcanal campaign one gets the impression that the Marines seemed obsessed with souvenirs. Newspaper correspondent Ira Wolfert, in his 1943 classic Battle for the Solomons, recalls the story of when in mid-October 1942 on Guadalcanal an American pilot told him of a conversation he had with a captured Japanese bomber pilot, who claimed to have been a graduate from the Ohio State University.  The Japanese said they were fighting for Togo and the Germans were fighting for Hitler, “but your Marines seem to be fighting for souvenirs!” William Manchester, another Guadalcanal veteran, wrote in Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War that “We used to say that the Japanese fought for their emperor, the British for glory, and the Americans for souvenirs.”

Although souvenir collecting, according to some, represented the one major industry on Guadalcanal, the mission of the Marines and soldiers were removing the Japanese from the island.  This was accomplished at the beginning of 1943, but not before the death of 1,598 American ground combat forces (1,152 of them Marines).

Remembering Pearl Harbor

by on December 7, 2012

In the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 71 years ago today, agencies of the U.S. government swung into action.  The Army and Navy immediately went on a war footing as did American diplomats in the Department of State and at embassies and consulates around the world.  Since the formal outbreak of war in September 1939, the American diplomatic establishment had been closely watching the international situation.  Assistant Secretary of State Adolf A. Berle, Jr., recorded in his diary that the Department of State had been informing the Navy for the previous month that something “of this kind might happen and that they should be on the alert on all fronts.”

Another agency that went on heightened alert was the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), largely responsible for internal security matters.  Attorney General Francis Biddle was out of town and the Solicitor General was also temporarily unavailable to provide direction, so, Berle noted, “we [the Department of State] have been giving them a hand.”  Fearing fifth-column disruptions, Berle explained that “[w]e have endeavored to cover communications, air travel, telephones, and to a less extent railway travel, etc.  The thing to do seems to be to paralyze everything during tonight, and reconsider the situation in the morning.”  He noted the next day that the Department of State had no jurisdiction over some of the matters, “but we did it first and talked afterward.”

At 9:30 p.m. the night of the attack, as the the day was drawing to a close, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sent Berle, his counterpart in the Department of State, the following memorandum describing the actions relating to internal security that the FBI had taken in the 8 hours since the attack.  It fully explains the actions taken up to that point to “paralyze everything.”


The next day, Berle noted in his diary that “we unraveled some of the machinery we set up last night, straightening matters out as between various overlapping agencies as well as we could.”  He also routed the FBI’s memorandum to Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, the second-in-charge in the Department of State, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who saw it, respectively on December 9 and December 10.

Click through to enlarge:

Sources: The document reproduced above is attached to the Berle Memorandum to Under Secretary Welles and Secretary of State Hull, December 8, 1941, File 894.20211/500, 1940-44 Central Decimal File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State.  The Berle diary is part of the Adolf A. Berle, Jr., Papers at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, NY.  I thank my colleague Robert Clark at the Library for providing copies of pertinent diary entries.

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.

On the night of May 30, 1942, the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command mounted its first “thousand plane” raid against Cologne and two nights later struck Essen with almost equal force. At this point the United States Army Air Force’s 8th Air Force was just beginning to arrive in the United Kingdom.  It would not be until October 9, 1942, that it would be able to mount even a hundred plane raid, and that was against German airfields in France.  It would not be until January 1943 that the 8th Air Force struck Germany and it would not be until May 1943 that the 8th Air Force had a sufficient force to be able to mount even a two-hundred plane raid.

The 8th Air Force was activated on January 28, 1942 at Savannah, Georgia, and during February the first detachment of its officers arrived in the United Kingdom. The 8th Air Force arrived in England believing totally in both the daylight precision bombing doctrine and the defensive capability of their strategic bombers. The 8th Air Force, commanded since May 5 by Maj. Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, was formally established in the United Kingdom on June 18, 1942. At that time it consisted of only 200 assorted aircraft and about 2,000 men. During the summer of 1942 it grew by leaps and bounds.  At the end of July its personnel strength exceeded 15,000 personnel and over 400 combat aircraft. By the end of August the 8th Air Force was composed of 30,313 personnel and consisted of one Bomb Group (B-17s) two Fighter Groups (P-38s).


The 8th Air Force mounted its first bombing mission in Europe on August 17 when 8th Air Force’s VIII Bomber Command, led by Brig. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, sent out 12 B-17Es, escorted by 8 squadrons of Royal Air Force (RAF) Spitfires to bomb the Sotteville-lès-Rouen Marshalling Yards, on the Seine west of Paris.  At the same time 6 B-17Es, escorted by 15 squadrons of RAF Spitfires, undertook a diversionary attack.  In the very late afternoon the main attacking force, with Eaker in the lead plane, dropped 18.5 tons of general purpose bombs on the target. They encountered light flak and German fighter aircraft and one B-17E was moderately damaged, but they all returned to base.  The attack was considered a success.  General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, the Army Air Force commander, declared, “The attack on Rouen again verifies the soundness of our policy of the precision bombing of strategic objectives rather than the mass bombing of large, city size areas.”

Brig. Gen. Ira C. Eaker

During the rest of August and in September and October the 8th Air Force attacked various marshalling yards, aircraft factories, submarine pens, steel and locomotive plants, and other targets in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  The B-17s were in August and September normally escorted by at least two squadrons of RAF Spitfires.  In early October P-38s joined with the Spitfires in escort duty and also in early October B-24s joined with the B-17s in making the attacks. On October 9 the first mission of over 100 bombers (108 B-17s and B-24 bombers attacked air fields in France) took place. Up to the end of October the 8th Air Force had dispatched 601 aircraft and 260 had dropped nearly 680 tons of bombs.  Fifteen of the aircraft had been lost in action and four damaged beyond repair.  At that time the 8th Air Force had four bomb groups of B-17s and one of B-24s, and one fighter group, with Spitfires; with three fighter groups, with P-38s being transferred in October to the Mediterranean Theater Operations (MTO).


Because of the high shipping losses in 1942 U-boats became a top priority target.  Thus the offensive against submarine bases and yards that began in October would continue and take up the major part of the 8th Air Force’s activities until June 1943.  During November and December the 8th Air Force on several occasions attacked the submarine pens at St. Nazaire, La Pallice, and Lorient. They also attacked other targets, such as a Luftwaffe servicing and repair base at Romilly-sur-Seine, close to Paris. Often these missions were unescorted, but normally they were escorted by at least five squadrons of RAF Spitfires, or Spitfires flown by the 8th Air Force’s fighter groups. But the Spitfire was a short-range fighter, built for defending the United Kingdom, and did not have the range to go all the way to Saint-Nazaire or La Pallice During November and December the 8th Air Force dropped 1,058 tons, while having twenty-two aircraft missing in action and four damaged beyond repair.

During November and December the 8th Air Force expanded as new bomb groups arrived and contracted as units were reassigned to the MTO.   During those two months four 8th Air Force Fighter Groups and two Heavy Bomb Groups were transferred to the MTO for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa.  At the end of November, when Spatz transferred to North Africa, Eaker became commander of the 8th Air Force and remained its commander until January 1944, when he was succeeded by Maj. Gen. James (“Jimmy”) Doolittle.

By the end of 1942 the 8th Air Force had dispatched 1,491 aircraft and 705 of them had dropped some 1,740 tons of bombs (some 1,680 tons on France and the remainder evenly divided between Belgium and the Netherlands).  By way of comparison, during 1942 the RAF dropped over 42,000 tons of bombs on Germany.  The 8th Air Force’s contribution to the war effort in 1942 was minimal.  But the invaluable experience it gained during the fall of 1942 would prove most useful in the succeeding years.

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher.

Three years ago, on October 9, 2009, a former member of General Patton’s Third Army, in Room 105 of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. returned to the German Ambassador two 16th Century books he had taken from a German mine during April 1945.

The story how this soldier acquired the books began a year earlier.  From June 1944 until the last week of March 1945, the former Prussian State Library at Berlin sent for safekeeping, some 1.5 million books, as well as a large collection of maps and manuscripts, to an unworked salt mine in Hesse, with shafts at Heimboldshausen and Ransbach. The mine is about fifteen miles west of the mine at Merkers, ten miles west of Vacha, and five miles west of the potash mine at Philippstahl.  In August 1944 the University of Marburg Library sent some 250,000 books 80 miles to the northeast to the mine. Later that summer the Berlin State Opera and Theatre sent approximately 50 boxes of musical scores and sheet music for the musicians and actors and upwards of 200,000 stage costumes to the mine. In the spring of 1945 the Landes und Stadtbibliothek of Dusseldorf sent 500,000 books and manuscripts to the mine.  Books were also stored in the mine by other libraries and private collectors. And German military archives relating to economics were placed in the mine at the end of March.

In the late afternoon of April 2, 1945 elements of the 358th Infantry Regiment (90th Infantry Division, Third U.S. Army) reached Ransbach and quickly moved eastward.  Meanwhile, elements of the same regiment reached Heimboldshausen.  On April 3 elements of the regiment captured Vacha and Philippsthal and secured a bridgehead across the Werra River.  On April 4 the regiment moved 5 miles eastward and captured Merkers and its mine, full of fabulous artworks from Berlin museums and Germany’s gold reserves.

Robert E. Thomas, an 18-year old soldier with the 358th Infantry Regiment, a veteran of fighting on the Siegfried Line, and a headquarters officer, probably on April 2 or 3, were inspecting the area that the 90th Infantry Division had captured.  During their inspection they stumbled upon the mine and entered it. They then returned to their headquarters to report what they had found. Thomas took two books with him. They were a German statue book entitled Hofgerichts-Ordnung des Herzogtums Preusen, Konisgsberg (1573) and the other was a commentary on Roman Law, entitled Commentaria in illustrem titulum des iureiurando sive voluntario Sive neessario sive iudiciali (1593).  After serving time with the occupation forces Thomas returned home to California, taking with a Bronze Star medal, a Combat Infantryman Badge, and the two books he had found in the mine.

In some respects it was lucky that Thomas took the books, because on April 25, 1945, before the American Army was able to place a proper guard at the mine, displaced persons, in the mine looking for costumes to wear (to replace their ragged clothes) accidentally started a fire.  The fire destroyed and damaged at least 25,000 books and made gaining access to the mine’s contents almost impossible until the spring of 1946.

View of the charred remains of books from libraries in Berlin and Marburg that had been stored in a salt mine near Heimboldshausen, Germany

The University of Marburg books in the mine were returned to Marburg in June 1946. The Dusseldorf books were returned to Dusseldorf in August 1946.  The Prussian State Library books, rather than being returned to Berlin (and to the Russian Sector) were transported to the University of Marburg between August 1946 and March 1947.  They were returned to Berlin in the 1990s.

In March 2009 Dr. Robert E. Thomas, a retired Optometrist in Chula Vista, California, and a Volunteer Docent on the Historic Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum in San Diego, having seen an article I had written about the Merkers Mine, contacted me by email, sharing some of his story about his adventure at a mine in Germany near the end of World War II, and asked me to inform him which mine he had visited.  Based on the information Thomas provided and what little I knew of the mines of Hesse and Thuringia I informed Thomas that he might have been at the Ransbach mine.  Thomas wrote back, providing more details, including the fact that he had picked up two books. I responded, providing additional thoughts regarding the story of the mine and suggesting that he might consider returning the books and having the National Archives and Records Administration work with him to facilitate their return.  He agreed and mailed me a packet of information about his experiences and numerous photographs of the books.  On April 6, 2009, for his 83rd birthday, I sent Thomas an account of the books at the Ransbach-Heimboldshausen Mine and asked him why would an 18-year old choose books as a wartime souvenir.  He responded that his interest of books started in high school when he was a frequent visitor to the Long Beach Public Library.

I suggested to Thomas that he send me the books and I would ensure that they would be returned to the German Government.  He was insistent that he fly to Washington, D.C., and personally return them.  I joked with Dr. Thomas that he might have to pay an overdue fee if he showed up in person. But he wanted to come to Washington, D.C.  So working together the NARA staff and the German Embassy arranged a ceremony for the return of the books.  At Archives I Dr. Thomas turned over the books to the German Ambassador (see Washington Post article and video) and subsequently the German Government returned them to their rightful owners.

Political cartoonist Clifford Berryman made use of Thanksgiving throughout his career to highlight timely political issues near the holiday. Below are two examples of his Thanksgiving-themed cartoons:

Delegates of the allied powers met in Washington after World War I to conduct peace negotiations. In this 1921 cartoon on the day before Thanksgiving, Berryman compares the enthusiasm of a peace dove and a turkey to report on the progress of the negotiations. In 1922, the U.S., Great Britain, France, Japan, and Italy signed the “Five-Power Treaty” to limit the construction and size of naval vessels to prevent future arms races. (ARC Identifier 6011700)

At the outset of World War II, the Soviet Union, England, and France vied for regional control of Turkey – the Soviet Union to assure free access for its Black Sea Fleet and England and France to maintain control over the strategic Dardanelles waterway. In this 1939 cartoon, Berryman uses a Thanksgiving turkey wearing a fez as a pun to portray the fight over Turkey. Stalin is pulling on one leg while Chamaberlain and Daladier pull on another. (ARC Identifier 6012206)

These and other cartoons by Clifford Berryman can be found in Record Group 46 in the series “Berryman Political Cartoon Collection, 1896-1949″ (ARC Identifier 306080) as part of the Center for Legislative Archives.

Happy Thanksgiving!