World War II

Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band Disbands

Glenn Miller’s band plays for US and Allied troops in England, Jun-Dec 1944. (Photo Source: U.S. Air Force, Public Domain) http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Visit/Museum-Exhibits/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/196150/maj-glenn-miller-army-air-force-band/

On November 13, 1945, the National Press Club hosted a dinner honoring President Harry Truman at Hotel Statler. The 1,000 person guest list featured a virtual who’s who of Washington’s political elite, but more than anything, attendees looked forward to a performance by Glenn Miller’s famous Army Air Force Band. While festive, the evening was also bittersweet, for the band was without its leader. Nearly a year earlier, Major Glenn Miller, famous bandleader and trombonist, had gone missing over the English Channel, while traveling from England to France to give concerts to the troops liberating Europe. 

Eleanor and Diana's Victory Garden

Diana Hopkins hoes her victory garden at the White House as her parents look on. (Source: AP)

Though it’s certainly the most famous now, Michelle Obama’s iconic White House garden is not the first of its kind. Throughout the centuries, the presidential mansion has hosted crops and sheep and all manner of landscaping. But by World War II, the White House lawns were considered purely decorative. A First Lady would have had to fight hard to install a garden by the White House. Luckily Eleanor Roosevelt was up to the task.

Redskins quarterback Sammy Baugh (Source: Library of Congress)

Pearl Harbor at Griffith Stadium

Approximately the same time the Redskins took the field at Griffith Stadium on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich put it, “With America at war and lives already lost, a football game had lost its importance.” That was undoubtedly true... for everyone outside of the stadium. But on the inside, most fans didn’t know anything about the attack – at least for a while – as the team declined to make an official announcement. 75 years later, it remains one of the most peculiar scenes in local history.

U.S. Naval Torpedo Station in Alexandria, Virginia circa 1922

The Torpedo Factory Art Center: Alexandria's World War II Landmark

Sitting on the waterfront of the Potomac River, the 85,000 square foot Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria is a landmark of Northern Virginia history. Today, the building houses artist studios, galleries, art workshops, and even an archeology museum. Yet during the tumultuous years of World War II, workers produced something very different in the space — the Mark 14 submarine torpedo used by U.S. Navy personnel in the Pacific theater of the war. Over 70 years after its decommissioning as a munitions depot, the history of the Torpedo Factory is a fascinating tale of politics, faulty weapon engineering, and local spirit.

The Manhattan Project Comes to Washington, D.C.

War Department Building, 21st and Virginia Ave., N. W., Washington, D. C. (Source: Boston Public Library, Tichnor Brothers Postcard Collection)

When people think of the Manhattan Project, the top secret American mission to build the first atomic bomb, they often think of Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the world’s first atomic device was actually assembled and detonated. But in reality, the project was assigned to 26 locations across the country, from research labs in Chicago and New York to uranium mines in Colorado to production and design facilities in Tennessee and New Mexico.

And it was all run from a small two-room office in Washington, D.C.

The Tizard Mission: The Briefcase That Changed World War II

Sir Henry Thomas Tizard (Source: National Portrait Gallery, London)

On the morning of August 29, 1940, while the Battle of Britain raged in the skies overhead, a small group of men boarded an ocean liner and left the country with the nation’s most sensitive military secrets.

These men were not spies or Nazi sympathizers. They were among the United Kingdom’s foremost civilian and military scientists, and they were headed for Washington, D.C. in an attempt to turn the tide of the war, which at that point was going very heavily in favor of Nazi Germany.

Mussolini in 1940. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

Mussolini’s Mysterious Stay at St. Elizabeths

St. Elizabeths Hospital has had its fair share of infamous patients. Would-be Presidential assassins Richard Lawrence and John Hinckley, silent film actress Mary Fuller, and “The Shotgun Stalker” James Swann have all called the psychiatric hospital home. But the building has also had some lesser-known, but equally significant, guests – or at least parts of them. St. Elizabeths quite literally got a piece of Benito Mussolini’s mind when sections of his brain were sent there for research in 1945.That’s right: as literary great Ezra Pound spent time in the Chestnut Ward, a portion of his fascist idol was just next door. And while Pound left after twelve years, the brain remained, shrouded in obscurity, until its eventual disappearance more than twenty years later.

Let’s go back to April of 1945. It was the final year of World War II, and things weren’t going well for Il Duce. Allied forces were invading Italy, and as he attempted to flee, Mussolini was captured by Communist partisans near Lake Como. There, he was executed with his mistress, Clara Petacci, and taken to Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

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