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THE WAR
A Ken Burns Film

WWII IN HAMPTON ROADS

A documentary film class from Old Dominion University carefully collected oral histories from veterans and residents who had amazing stories to tell about the war and life in Hampton Roads during the war. The class and WHRO worked together to edit a series of short interstitial “War Stories” that aired on WHRO as promotion for Ken Burns documentary “The War.” The oral histories recorded by the students will also be sent to the Library of Congress where they will remain for future generations to experience.

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Pearl Harbor
While in the movie, a young lady heard an announcement over the PA system for all service people to return to their posts. At the time, the movie goers didn’t know why – but later in the morning a special extra edition of the newspaper appeared on the street with the headlines “Pearl Harbor bombed.”
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Pearl Harbor – At home in Hampton Roads
In this compelling vignette, a women remembers when she heard the news of Pearl Harbor. She was accompanying her father – a minister – on a trip when the news came over the radio. He immediately pulled over to the side of the road and then turned back towards Norfolk. One of his church members was a Japanese women who was married to a Navy man – the sailor had asked the minister to watch after her while he was away on duty. By the time they got back to Norfolk, the young Japanese woman had already been taken downtown.
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Pearl Harbor – Where were you when you heard the news?
Poignant vignette from 3 people remembering when they heard the news of Pearl Harbor. One man was at his Grandfather’s house when the news came over the radio. His Grandfather came out the door and said “The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Where is Pearl Harbor?”
With a tinge of sadness another man remembers “It changed everyone’s life, whether you were in the service or not.”
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Norfolk and the Navy
Reminiscing about how sailors were treated in Norfolk. You could go downtown and all you would see is a sea of white sailor caps. One lady remembers a sign that said “Sailors and dogs not allowed on the grass.” She was horrified. Either you had a good impression of Norfolk or a bad one – depended on where you spent your time – at the bar or in the church.
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Life in Norfolk
One gentleman remembers that Norfolk was really just a small town – you could walk down Granby Street and even if you didn’t know everyone’s name, at least they looked familiar. But so many people came to Norfolk because of the war, the population almost doubled overnight. One lady remembers walking with her mother and a sailor made a pass at her – her mom hit the sailor with an umbrella!
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Life at Home
One lady remembers the USO in town where people would volunteer. She was too young, but the older girls would go and be dance partners with the Navy guys. There were bars within five feet of each other downtown, one gentleman remembers. He was in a band with his cousin and they played in a club where the Norva is now.
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Preparing for Battle
Combat preparedness – one gentleman remembers going over to the warehouse and picking up cold weather gear. The next week they picked up hot weather gear. They heard the rumor they were going to the Philippines. They ended up headed towards Okinawa and heard Tokyo Rose come over the loudspeakers taunting them “Welcome – we’ve been waiting for you. We hope you like it here.”
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First Combat
One gentleman remembers going in with the first wave on a beach and saw sand jumping up all around his feet – bullets being fired at them. They started running across the beach and he saw two infantry men being hit right before his eyes. One gentleman remembers saying “Mom, Dad help me.” He sadly recalls that nobody could help him.
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Hampton Roads' Heroes
WHRO collaborated with Patriots Colony in Williamsburg, a retirement community for former officers of the armed services, as part of its promotion of The War- a film by Ken Burns. Several stories were submitted from Patriots Colony and four of those remarkable and poignant stories can be found here. These stories remind people that even though war is traumatic - it also has a very human side.

These oral histories will also be sent to the Library of Congress where they will remain for future generations to experience.

Subscribe to series , or download/stream each episode below.

The Navy Never Forgets
“The Navy Never Forgets.” He requisitioned survival gear for his crew and said send the bill to the supply office. Years later while in graduate school, he received a bill from the Navy for the gear. He went down to the supply sergeant at this time and complained that he shouldn’t pay for the gear – the supply officer replied that the only person who could waive the bill would be the Secretary of the Navy. Rear Admiral Freeman said – “The Navy Never Forgets!” And he paid the bill.
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Love
He was late for the battle of Trevieres – the captain of the ship was intoxicated and tried to veer off course and the Merchant Marines wouldn’t work past 5pm. Fortunately the first mate intervened and they managed to arrive at the battle – albeit late.
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West
Fini-La-Gare!

A young Luftwaffe pilot surrendered to a group of pilots in Italy. They were on the ground when they spotted a plane headed directly towards them. They first thought it was a Spitfire but turned out to be a ME 109G of the Luftwaffe – it taxied over to where West was standing and the pilot jumped out and shouted in broken Italian “Fini – La Gare!”
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Rathbun
Suspenseful story of a submarine being depth- charged by the Japanese. They had fired several torpedoes at the ship on the surface, but one took a wrong turn and headed straight back towards the sub – would they be able to elude the errant torpedo? They were scared, but they did live “To Fight Another Day.”
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