Tag Archives: American Culture

We’ll Meet Again: A Scholar’s Farewell

Well, here it is, my last month as a UEA American Library Scholar. It’s hard to believe the time has flown by so quickly and incredible to contemplate some of the historic events we’ve seen together, including a global pandemic, the election of America’s forty-sixth president and the death of Queen Elizabeth II, who as a young woman served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War. But then, working together through good times and bad is what the special relationship between the United States and Britain has always been about, hasn’t it? The American Library and a PhD program in creative and critical writing at the University of East Anglia were an unknown flight path a decade ago, when I was immersing myself in all things noir. I watched a lot of film noir back then, so much so that I felt like I was living in black and white in my tiny studio on Manhattan’s East Side. Some of the movies I watched from that period were not about crime, but about war, and in one I heard (for the first time, I think) Vera Lynn’s unforgettable wartime anthem, We’ll Meet Again. It’s possible my dad sang it to us when were kids—he was known to belt out classics like You’re in the Army Now and Over There and was also a lover of big band music like that arranged by bandleader and US Army Air Forces Captain Glenn Miller, who died in 1944 when the plane that was transporting him to a concert for Allied troops in liberated Paris was lost over the English Channel.

My father, Flight Officer Eugene L. Solomon, a B-17 pilot with the 384th Bomb Group, himself spent some of his leave in Paris, as evidenced by his well thumbed American Red Cross map of that city. Fortunately, he never had to use the other map he carried, a silk escape map. After flying the last strategic bombing mission in Europe on April 25, 1945, the group was chosen to move to Germany as part of the United States Air Forces in Europe and initially deployed to Istres, France in June. Before that, the crew spent VE Day in London, where the crowd was ‘packed like sardines’ and my father saw King George, Queen Elizabeth, (then) Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Flight Officer Eugene Solomon, the author’s father, top row, second from left. The crew (not shown in listed order): Pilot Lawrence E. Thurston, Co-Pilot Eugene Leonard Solomon, Navigator Theodore T. Gore, Togglier (bombardier) Robert Lee Wilkinson, Radio Operator/Gunner William O. King, Engineer/Top Turret Gunner Oliver T. Larson, Ball Turret Gunner Elias S. Huron, Waist (Flexible) Gunner James Lindsay, Tail Gunner Ralph Cauthen. Photo courtesy of Christopher Wilkinson, the son of togglier Robert Lee Wilkinson, bottom row at left.
American Red Cross Map of Paris for service members
Silk escape map

According to Walter E. Owens’ As Briefed: A Family History of the 384th Bombardment Group, the 384th transported Allied troops to Germany and American soldiers to Casablanca for return to the US, among other missions. The latter was known as Project Green, which operated from June to September 1945 and was, according to the 384th Bomb Group’s website, ‘a key part of the “Home Bound Task Force” that returned combat troops to the USA following cessation of hostilities in the ETO. Troops were ferried from various European locations to Port Lyautey, Morocco, there to await transport home.’ 

Dad’s crew helped redeploy the 101st and the 82nd Airborne and medical personnel from field hospitals that weren’t needed anymore, some of whom were intended to be sent to the Pacific. They repatriated French citizens who had fled France and were living in North Africa, including the wife, two daughters and son of General de Gaulle’s aide de camp. Dad told us in a family interview I conducted that the crew took the kids ‘up front and let them sit in the seat and “fly the plane”’. The crew also repatriated Greek citizens who had been brought to Germany to be slave laborers. On one of their missions, they flew to an air station outside of Munich to deliver supplies and witnessed the horrifying aftermath of Dachau concentration camp. 

Another operation my father participated in was photographic mapping duty, or as he put it: ‘they photographed the entirety of Europe at 20,000 feet.’ Except, that is, for the USSR, because ‘the Russians wouldn’t let us.’ The 384th BG was inactivated in France in February of 1946; however, my father was on active duty in Europe through July, when he returned to the US.[1] In Istres, every flying officer had to get a job in a ground position, so my dad became an assistant intelligence officer, for which he had to go to intelligence school in Wiesbaden (across from the IG Farben works, a subsidiary of which produced the Zyklon B gas used in the death camps). He was also the information education officer for the Biarritz campus of the US Army University, a program that brought professors from America and elsewhere to conduct classes for servicemen and women stationed in Europe. Flight Officer Solomon returned to the US on July 17, 1946, and was relieved from active duty on September 11, 1946.

It would take many more paragraphs to list the activities I was privileged to participate in as a UEA American Scholar over the last two years. Highlights include the honor of laying the wreaths on behalf of the Second Air Division for Remembrance Week in 2021 and on Memorial Day this year at the Cambridge American Cemetery; attending the Remembrance service and Evensong at the American Chapel in St. Paul’s Cathedral; staffing the long-anticipated Library launch with colleagues in May and seeing our 2nd AD veterans movingly address us from across the pond through the magic of Zoom (yes, I cried); organizing a resoundingly successful talk by my academic supervisor at UEA, crime fiction writer and scholar Henry Sutton; engaging with the public as an ambassador of American literature and culture; and furthering the Library’s memorial mission by educating visitors about the Second Air Division’s history in East Anglia.

The US Army Air Forces monument at Cambridge American Cemetery
A B-17 flyover at Cambridge American Cemetery
The author, right, with Professor Henry Sutton at his April talk

The American Library and the Second Air Division Memorial Trust have been an invaluable resource, both in my family research as well as in supporting work on my PhD thesis with the UEA American Library Scholarship. My boundless gratitude goes out to Trust Chairman Richard Middleton, Professor Jaqueline Fear-Segal and the other Trust Governors, their American counterparts in the Heritage League, the veterans of the 2nd AD and their families, Trust Librarian Orla Kennelly, fellow Scholars and library colleagues, the Millennium Library and Norfolk County Council Library system, the Norfolk Record Office and the East Anglian community.

And here’s to you, our Scholars’ Blog readers, who commented on and shared my musings on a range of American topics.

Thank you all—but let’s not say goodbye, rather: We’ll Meet Again

—post by Suzanne Solomon


[1] His service record indicates that when he was discharged, he was attached to the 368th Bombardment Squad, 306th Bomb Group, 1st AD, which ‘engaged in special photographic mapping duty in western Europe and North Africa.’ However, there may still be more to discover about his Occupation service.

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Filed under American Culture, Books, Memorial Library, World War 2

Celebrating Black History Month

Members of the 99th Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Forces pose for a picture at the Anzio beachhead, 1944. Image courtesy of National Archives

February is Black History Month, ‘a celebration and a powerful reminder that Black history is American history, Black culture is American culture, and Black stories are essential to the ongoing story of America — our faults, our struggles, our progress, and our aspirations’, as President Joe Biden’s proclamation for 2022 affirms. The Biden/Harris administration became part of that history in 2021, with Kamala Harris serving as the first Black female Vice President. 

The American Library also recognizes the contributions of Black Americans in WWII, with over 2.5 million Black men registering for the draft, many going on to serve in the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, despite continuing racial discrimination and segregation. Black women also served as nurses and in the Women’s Army Corps, as well as contributing to the war effort in large numbers as volunteers.

Below are some selections from our collection as well as links to online resources to learn more about Black American history and culture. Visit the American Library to check out these books, get more recommendations and browse additional titles! You can also check out ebooks from our online collection of titles by African American authors.

The Warmth of Other Suns : the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
An award-winning account of the mass exodus, from 1915-1970, of Black Americans from the Southern United States, seen through the eyes of three individuals who made the journey in search of opportunity and a better life.

Beneath a Ruthless Sun : a True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King
A gripping true story of unequal justice in small town Florida by the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Devil in the Grove.

When They Call You a Terrorist : a Black Lives Matter memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele, foreword by Angela Davis
A memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement that reignited the American civil rights struggle in the 21st century.

A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry
‘A vibrant and empowering history that emphasizes the perspectives and stories of African American women to show how they are—and have always been—instrumental in shaping our country.’

Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II by Farah Jasmine Griffin
The stories of Black women artists in the WWII era, spotlighting choreographer and dancer Pearl Primus, composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams and novelist Ann Petry.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
An ‘African American feminist classic’ from one of the celebrated authors of the Harlem Renaissance.

Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance by Mia Bay
A history of segregated travel that ‘helps explain why the long, unfinished journey to racial equality so often takes place on the road.’

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
Essays on American life and letters from the celebrated poet and writer.

Passing by Nella Larsen
Two Black women, childhood friends, one of whom has chosen to pass as white, are reunited, upending both their lives, in this groundbreaking 1929 novel, now a critically acclaimed film adaptation.

The National Archives has extensive material documenting the Black experience: https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans  

This database has resources on the Black freedom struggle in the United States: https://blackfreedom.proquest.com/

— post by Suzanne Solomon

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Filed under American Culture, American History, American Travel, Books, Current Events

Book Review: The Strip by Stefan Al

by Danielle Prostrollo

A new book to the library collection is The Strip by Stefan Al. Showcasing the history of the iconic American destination, breaking it down into eras, and delving deep into each casino and hotel’s story. There are photographs that show off each casino, increasingly taller, shinier, and extreme and Al’s writing put each of these casinos into the bigger context of Las Vegas history.

the strip

According to the Al, Las Vegas’ relationship with tourism began with a Wild West phase, resorts styled to look and feel like a frontier town before moving on to the post-War modernist. Innovations were made, such as placing a pool by the casino for leisurely lounging, only to be followed by leisurely gaming in the pool (as was the case at the Sands casino’s floating craps table). This transition was punctuated by the “Big Switch”, the multi-million dollar renovation of the Last Frontier resort into the New Frontier resort. The cowboy image was now in the rear view mirror and the space race was on.

Following this era of change the country, in a frenzy of atomic fever, leapt at the opportunity to partake in mushroom cloud-gazing. Las Vegas was in the right place for the public to make their pilgrimage for a chance to see atomic testing and the city did not waste that opportunity. Providing atomic cocktails and lunch menus, the resorts catered to their clientele. In the 1960s The Strip really started to gain height, with new casinos being built taller and taller. If there was any doubt that the frontier image of the dessert city was dead, this would certainly be it.

Building on the growth of the previous decades, the 1980s saw expansion into hyper-thematic resorts. Treasure Island, Excalibur, and the Luxor were all constructed during this “theme park”-like era. And from the extremes of giant castles and pirate ships, the strip pushed back toward the center focusing on equally enticing flights-of-fancy such as fake beaches, Venetian canals, and world landmarks. Taking the reader into present day, Al talks of the “star-chitect” trend. Recent casinos and resorts have relied on the name recognition of famous architects to bring notoriety and traffic to their destinations.

This book is a great read for anyone interested in American architecture, entertainment, or modern American history.

Find it at the Memorial Library or reserve it here

Check out some of our other recent book reviews here:

Unforgotten New York

Hope in the Dark

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Filed under American Culture, American History, American Travel, Books

Uncle Sam’s Roots in Eastern England

By Danielle Prostrollo

9781898015284

East Anglia’s Norfolk connections to America are well documented, and the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library maintains a blog devoted to exactly that. Some of the most famous are facts such as, Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, Heacham’s John Rolfe married Native American Pocahontas, and Abraham Lincoln’s ancestral home is in Hingham. But these are only the start of Colonial America’s reliance on the area for its good… and bad!

In the book Uncle Sam’s Roots in Eastern England: From Colonial Times Onwards by Roger Pugh, many of the lesser-known connections are discussed including the following:

Ancestral home of President Coolidge
Calvin Coolidge’s ancestors John and Mary were from Cottonham, Cambridgeshire. John Coolidge employed an economy of words similar to that which his famous descendant, Calvin, is known for. In the book, Pugh says that John once replied to an invitation: “Dear Gentlemen.  Can’t come. Thank you.” The Coolidges travelled to Massachusetts in 1630.

Harley-Davidson Motorbikes
William S. Harley, one half of the famous motorcycle brand, was born to parents William and Mary of Littleport, Cambridgeshire. So while Milwaukee, Wisconsin lays claim to being the home of Harley-Davidson, it is from Littleport that the Harley family came!

The Girls from Great Yarmouth and the Witches of Salem
Mary and Rebecca Towne, born in Great Yarmouth to William and Joanna Towne, are two of the many women who were tried for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts. Their sister Sarah, also born to William and Joanna, was born in Salem and eventually tried for witchcraft. Mary and Rebecca would be found guilty and eventually executed while Sarah eventually gained her freedom after the guilty verdict.

 

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To find out more about the East Anglia connection to America, check out Roger Pugh’s book at the Memorial Library or visit our (other) blog!

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Filed under American Culture, American History, Books, Memorial Library, Online Resources