Section 3

Going to War, 1942–45

A. F. Sozio, [Travelers Aid Society lounge]. New-York Historical Society.

A. F. Sozio, [Travelers Aid Society lounge]. New-York Historical Society.

New York City alone contributed about 900,000 of its citizens to the military. Many were among the approximately 3,300,000 troops who shipped out from its great harbor—the country’s principal war port—to battlefields in Europe and North Africa. Most soldiers and sailors who embarked here and survived their service would not return home until war’s end. But before embarkation came training. America faced the daunting task of quickly preparing millions of men and women to fight on or behind the front lines.

[WAVES marching]. Courtesy of Lehman College, CUNY. Special Collections, Leonard Lief Library (Bronx, New York).

[WAVES marching]. Courtesy of Lehman College, CUNY. Special Collections, Leonard Lief Library (Bronx, New York).

“The WAVES in the Bronx” display focuses on their boot camp at Hunter (now Lehman) College. The WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) took over jobs previously performed by Navy men. A WAVES dress uniform—designed for efficiency and style by the famous New York couturier Mainbocher—archival photographs, and a short film featuring an interview with a graduate from the “USS Hunter” recapture the excitement and dedication of the tens of thousands of young women who came to New York to do their part.

Philip Schultz, New York, 1942. Courtesy of Philip Schultz.

Philip Schultz, New York, 1942. Courtesy of Philip Schultz.

In 1942, another training base took over the former Paramount movie studio in Astoria, Queens. “The Signal Corps in Queens” display tells the story of the Army’s most important film training and production facility, where soldiers prepared to serve as combat cameramen, and GIs and Hollywood-trained actors and directors made training and entertainment films that were shown to troops all over the world. Archival footage and photographs and two short films form the core of this display. One film features an interview with combat cameraman and New Yorker Philip Schultz; the other shows an excerpt from the Signal Corps morale film Diary of a Sergeant, where Harold Russell (later, star of William Wyler’s Best Years of Our Lives) encourages gravely wounded veterans to follow his example.

Tito Puente’s band on the USS Santee. Courtesy of Ron and Joni Puente.

Tito Puente’s band on the USS Santee. Courtesy of Ron and Joni Puente.

WWII and Me is a film made in 1976 by Signal Corps–trained cameraman Francis Lee with footage he shot himself. Lee narrates his journey from East 10th Street in Manhattan to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and the subsequent liberation of Paris. This rarely seen film will show continually throughout the day in a small exhibition theater, bringing one man’s remarkable experience and the sights and sounds of battle to the exhibition.

In the “New Yorkers Who Served” display, thirteen profiles of individuals will stand in for the approximately 900,000 New Yorkers who saw duty in the Armed Forces. The profiles, each of which will include remarkable stories and personal artifacts, will feature individuals who represent a range of backgrounds and wartime experiences. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Commander-in-Chief, is one of the profiles included here and is represented with documents, images, and personal belongings. So is a profile of film director Samuel Fuller, with rarely seen film footage that Fuller shot of the liberation of Falkenau concentration camp. Another profile features the famous bandleader Tito Puente, who served on the USS Santee, and young college student Ben Bederson, who was recruited to help build the atomic bomb in Los Alamos and was present on August 5 when the Enola Gay flew to drop “Little Boy” on Hiroshima. In a short film accompanying this display, Bederson, now a retired NYU physicist, reads from the diary entry he wrote that night.

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