This is a place to reflect on history's greatest conflict. You'll see stories about soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and civilians, people I've been privileged to meet as a reporter for Louisiana's largest daily newspaper, The Advocate. You're welcome to share stories of your own by posting a comment or emailing the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Irma Darphin served as a nurse in Europe after the Normandy Invasion. (Photo used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)
By George Morris
The smell of cordite no longer hung in the air when Lt. Irma Darphin came ashore on Utah Beach in 1944. Six weeks had passed since D-Day, and shells no longer fell, bullets no longer flew and the groans of the wounded no longer sounded along the Normandy coast.
But there was no shortage of wounded soldiers in France, and Darphin was on her way to help them.
USS Shaw explodes during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941 (National Archives)
By George Morris
The day that helped define the 20th century started as a typical Sunday morning in 14-year-old Janice Hobson’s home in Honolulu, Hawaii. An Ink Spots song, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” was playing on the radio. The only oddity was that her dad, usually the first one up, was sleeping late. It was almost 8 a.m.
But it wasn’t a normal Sunday. Someone was setting the world on fire.
Janice heard a car horn blowing across the street. From a window, she saw a neighbor, Edward Bogan — who, like her dad, Sebaldus, served in the Navy — running with his young daughter in his arms.
“He jumped out of the car, grabbed the little girl and went up these steps to our house screaming, ‘The g-d Japs are bombing the hell out of Pearl Harbor!’” she said.
It was Dec. 7, 1941, and Baton Rouge resident Janice Hobson Wall Monro remembers it well.
Recently, the U.S. Marine Corps acknowledged it is investigating one of the most iconic images of World War II — Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s image of six men raising an American flag atop Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi. For 71 years, that group has been thought to include Navy Corpsman John Bradley. Now, historians are calling that into question.
No one, however, questions the presence of Marine Pfc. Rene Gagnon. After that image hit the front page of just about every American newspaper, Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes and Bradley were pulled out of the war zone and taken stateside as celebrity spokesmen for war bond drives. The other three Marines — Cpl. Harlon Block, Sgt. Michael Strank and Pfc. Franklin Sousley — were killed in action on Iwo Jima.
A central Louisiana 19-year-old during World War II, Alyne Swayze Gray, had seen the photo. And, on May 30, 1945, she got to meet Gagnon.
Frances Green, Margaret “Peg” Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn during WASP ferry training on the B-17 Flying Fortress (U.S. Air Force photo)
By George Morris
There was a lot the U.S. Army Air Forces couldn’t have imagined on Dec. 6, 1941. One was Marion Brown.
After the next day, eyes and minds started opening rather quickly.
There was no doubt that, for the first time in history, a major war would involve a significant contribution by air forces. It was planes, not ships, that attacked Pearl Harbor, and it was German fighter planes, dive bombers and heavy bombers that blitzed through Europe and pounded England. It took little imagination to envision that airmen would have an enormous role.
But women? They would have a part to play, too, even if not in combat.