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Experiencing War (Companion to the PBS Series -- The War: A Ken Burns Film) Stories from the Veterans History Project

Episode One: “A Necessary War”
December 1941 - December 1942

By December 1941, World War II had been raging in Europe for 27 months and in Asia and the Pacific for over four years. The Japanese attack that month on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into the war on both fronts, and the war’s first American combatants were the servicemen and women who withstood the Japanese attack on the Philippines island fortress of Corregidor. Many of the survivors of that attack and those who survived fighting on the mainland were subsequently forced to participate in the infamous Bataan Death March. American war planners soon understood they would have to take back each Japanese-held island one at a time, and one of the first major island battles was fought on Guadalcanal. Back in the States, Japanese American citizens living on the West Coast were evicted from their homes and forced into inland Internment Camps, where they spent the rest of the war.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A small boat rescues a seaman from the 31,800 ton USS West Virginia burning in the foreground. Smoke rolling out amidships shows where the most extensive damage occurred.
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. A small boat rescues a seaman from the 31,800 ton USS West Virginia burning in the foreground. Smoke rolling out amidships shows where the most extensive damage occurred. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Pearl Harbor
Image of Raymond Albert Brittain

"No animosity toward us at all, not even a dirty look. They just got out of your way."

Raymond Albert Brittain's story

Image of Donald Patrick Finn

"Asiatic sailors are very bitter toward Pearl Harbor for getting caught so neatly ..."

Donald Patrick Finn's story

Image of Cecil Jesse Peart's journal

"For all we knew, we were existing in Hell."

Cecil Jesse Peart 's story

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"I had tea, and it probably saved my life."

Warren M. Smith's story

Bataan Death March
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"You just turn your eyes and move on...knowing he's going to die that night."

Albert L. Allen Jr.'s story

Image of William Burton Clark

"I went down on that march and two angels picked me up."

William Burton Clark's story

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"So there I was, looking down on four Generals and a couple of bird Colonels, all kneeling on the floor..."

Roy E. Jolma's story

Image of Romie C. Gregory

"The interpreter kept saying it was a Japanese holiday, but there was no guards."

Romie C. Gregory's story

Image of William Orville White

"If I’d been caught, I’d probably been killed."

William Orville White's story

Image of Henry John Wilayto

"The Japanese commander said... 'If you break our rules, we will kill you or we will do something worse.'"

Henry John Wilayto's story

Image of Arnold Barker, Jr.

"So I dove in under ... and I had about fifteen or twenty people dove in on top of me."

Arnold Barker Jr. 's story

Image: Warren Gordon Beavers

"Found where they were at and we had about 10 or 12 grenades apiece, and we dropped 'em in and really stirred up a real fight."

Warren Gordon Beavers' story

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"There must have been six or eight of us in a two-man foxhole, trying to get all our bodies below the surface..."

Donald Burrows' story

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"There was no opposition. The Japs were caught completely flat-footed."

Robert L. Corwin' story

Image of Jesse Dunnagan

"It was like an inferno. I couldn't believe it. It was a nightmare."

Jesse W. Dunnagan's story

Image of James C. Justice

"They were the stupidest bunch of people I ever saw."

James C. Justice's story

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"... they just kept you going from island to island, until you got wounded or killed."

Leonard Kiesel's story

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"It's a strange feeling to see the first enemy plane, really."

Ernest M. Phillips' story

Image: Raymond Seay

"We were just all in it together. That's the way it ought to be anyhow."

Raymond A. Seay's story

Image: Ned Steele

"They never found any part of that [U.S] patrol, or any parts of bodies or anything else."

Ned C. Steele's story

Image: Raymond Robert Wade

"When we picked up the rifles on that little about an acre and a half, we picked up 1,100 rifles-Japanese rifles."

Raymond Robert Wade's story

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"My most memorable moment was the day I died."

William H. Whorf's story

Japanese American Internment Camps
Image: Norman Saburo Ikari

"The first thing I think about is I better not move. They might finish me off."

Norman Saburo Ikari's story

Image: Jimmie Kanaya

"We had to prove ourselves ... worthy of recognition when we came back to the States."

Jimmie Kanaya's story

Image: Robert Hiroshi Kono

"My father happened to be targeted perhaps because he was not only a fisherman ... but also because he was a scrap metals collector..."

Robert Hiroshi Kono's story

Image: Warren Tsuneishi

"From my point of view, America is a nation in the process of trying to live up to its dreams."

Warren Michio Tsuneishi's story

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  July 26, 2011
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