Mistakes to be made

Cavalry and Tanks on the move in Louisiana

Cavalry and Tanks on the move in Louisiana

In two years Nazi Germany had occupied Poland, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, France and Belgium, Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Greece. The Axis Powers were pushing into North Africa, White Russia, the Ukraine, and the heart of the Soviet Union. In Europe, Britain stood alone, saved only by a channel of water that Germany’s tanks could not roll over.

In those two years, the United States had lain dormant, save lend lease and troops sent to Iceland, it remained in a state of self imposed hibernation from European affairs. In 1939 America’s Military ranked the seventeenth largest in the world with a standing army of 187,000 men and about 200,000 National Guardsmen . In October 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the first peace time draft in United States history raising the number to 1.6 million men in 1941. As the Axis conquered Europe, America trained its soldiers with World War I rifles, broomsticks labeled “machine guns”, and cars with “tank” written on them.

1941 Maneuvers Medal

1941 Maneuvers Medal

In 1941 General George Marshall decided to try the new Army in real combat conditions. Marshall wanted to see how his commanders adapted to modern warfare and how the soldiers performed through hardship. In September 1941, almost 500,000 troops battled on 3,400 square miles of Louisiana. The Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 were the biggest war games ever seen on American soil. The men were split into two forces, the Blue Army was the invader, with blue armbands and fatigue caps; the Red Army, the defender with Red Armbands and steel helmets. Marshall knew his army would make mistakes. He wanted the mistakes to happen in Louisiana, not in Europe.

Blue and Red Armbands from the Louisiana Maneuvers

Blue and Red Armbands from the Louisiana Maneuvers

Massive battles took place around towns like Shreveport, Nachitoches, and Winnfield. The Maneuvers saw the US Army’s last use of mounted cavalry and its first use of paratroopers. Twenty six men died in the games, most in car accidents or drowning in river crossings. The Blue Army won in both defensive and offensive operations thanks in large part to plans from Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower and the tanks of George S. Patton.

Three months after the maneuvers finished, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on America. The Army of Louisiana took the lessons it learned in the summer of 1941 and prepared to do what it had trained for. Units that had performed well in the games were already in the Philippines or were embarking overseas to prepare to fight in North Africa and New Guinea. When they would enter combat, only gained territory and body counts would tell the score. After Louisiana there would be no more umpires to watch the rules and any mistakes would be fatal.


Animation for Dreams

Seo's Japan

Seo’s Japan

The beginning of 1945 was inauspicious for Japan. The first four months of the New Year saw the Empire lose Rangoon and Mandalay in Burma,  Iwo Jima, and much of the Philippines. In February, the United States Army Air Force started using fire bombs and incinerated 100,000 people in just one raid in March. On April Fool’s day the Americans invaded Okinawa,  four hundred miles from Kyushu, the southern most island of Japan. Okinawa would soon fall, then a country that hadn’t seen invasion since the days of the Kublai Khan would face the might of America on its home soil.

Early 1945 also saw the release of a new film, funded by the Japanese Navy. It had four main characters: a Monkey, a Bear, a Pheasant,  and a Dog. These four animals were the stars of the first feature length animated film in Japan. Their story was a take off on the traditional tale of Momotaro, the Peach Boy. Like the original story, the animals would join Momotaro and travel to the Demon’s Island.  Except  in World War II, the Devil’s Lair was the Celebes Island and the monsters who occupied it were the British.

Mitsuyo Seo 瀬尾 光世

Mitsuyo Seo
瀬尾 光世

The films creator was a thirty-four year old animator named Mitsuyo Seo. Seo was an artist and a socialist, a man allowed to pursue his art only if it was done for a military regime.  By World War II, Seo had his own production company and pioneered the use of the multiplane camera in Japan. His 1945 movie, called Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, was a sequel to his 1943 film, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles also funded by the Navy.


Momotaro’s warriors do what is expected in a propaganda piece. They use the friendly population to build an airstrip, they teach the natives culture and letters as a kindly benefactor. Then, the warriors unite to defeat a cowardly, ridiculous enemy.

The Pheasant receives mail from home

The Pheasant receives mail from home

Seo’s vision was not just of war and victory. By 1945, a Japanese victory was something only attainable in the movies. Its improbability was brought home daily with every bomb that fell, with every soldier that died, and in every Kamikaze pilot that flew his last mission. Seo the man, not the conscripted propagandist, wanted to create something beautiful. In his vision, there were flowing rivers and forests under Mount Fuji. There were rice fields and mountains. Children played and sang and parents welcomed their son home. In his film Seo created a Japan that people would know. A Japan of family and beauty. He hoped what he was making was something people would want not to die for, but to live for.


The movie brought a sixteen year old boy named Tezuka Osamu to tears. He had recognized its message, hidden beneath the layers of propaganda. Osamu decided the day he saw the film to become an animator and would go on to be the “Father” of modern Japanese Animation and Comics, creating works such as Kimba the White Lion and Astro Boy.

The Monkey character

The Monkey character


A few months after Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors was released, two Atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and the War came to a close. Seo’s dreams of peace had arrived, but Post War Japan was not easy for an animator. By the 1950’s Seo had left the animation business and had become an illustrator for children’s books. His wartime work disappeared from public consciousness and became a sense of shame for him, having helped a regime that went so much against his ideals and principles. Seo largely vanished from public view and even his death in 2010 was largely unreported.


The film, like its author, faded into obscurity. It remained unseen until a copy was rediscovered in 1983. Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors was Mitsuyo Seo’s greatest work and his biggest shame. But in it he succeeded in sharing his dreams with  the generation of people that would take Japan from a totalitarian regime to a new, freer society. It would be the precursor and inspiration of the Japanese animation that would eventually captivate the world. Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors  came at a time when young Japanese people needed hope for a future without war; when they had nothing more than film to animate their dreams for tomorrow.


From Monkey poses for a portrait

The Monkey poses for a portrait

For those interested in watching Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei 桃太郎海の神兵in its entirety, you can do so here (Japanese Language only) :http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ne-0e6P4jo

Side Effects


In 1942, as war entered American life, a non-profit, government funded group called the Council on Books in Wartime was created and staffed by some of the largest names in the publishing business. The Council’s aim was to maintain the will to fight through information, printing books about how the war was being won and about the enemy. Books, the council felt were the “Weapons in the War of Ideas”.

For men and women serving overseas boredom was a more persistent enemy than the Germans or the Japanese. The Council on Books in Wartime felt reading was the perfect solution and endeavored to get books to soldiers. Believing in  the patriotic and generous American spirit the council organized book donation drives. Americans responded, donating thousands of books. The drive was a great victory but the victor was the American public.

Emblem of the Council on Books in Wartime

Emblem of the Council on Books in Wartime

Although the Council netted large numbers of books, the majority of tomes would put a strain on a soldier’s attention span. The Council book drives had given the public a chance to pass on volumes no one would want to read while feeling patriotic about doing it. In May of 1943 the Council decided “American soldiers were going to have books, even if the Army had to buy them itself”. A plan was drafted to purchase an initial 50,000 books for the armed forces. But this plan was not a solution.

Even with reading material available, soldiers weighed down with army equipment did not have room to carry a hardbound novel, even paperback books were not pocket sized. The Council decided the best answer to the problem would be to print the books themselves. Using magazine rotary presses thousands of books could be made to give to bored soldiers. From a business standpoint, it gave publishing houses a cheap, easy way to expose a captive new market to reading. The solution seemed obvious but there was one problem—money.

The problem wasn’t finding the cash to print the books or distributing them. The problem was if popular books were given away, who would buy them after the war? Publishing houses would be flooding the market with free books that could be taken home and sold second hand when the boys came home. Companies would be giving away millions of dollars worth of a reusable products, cheating authors and booksellers out of business by a good but unsound patriotic deed. The problem was solved in two ways: one, books for the armed forces would only be available overseas, not competing with the US market. And two, they would be printed on cheap paper that would fall apart with multiple readings.

Actually printing the books proved challenging. The rotary printing presses available were designed to print magazines not books. To navigate around this problem, two separate books were printed as one, magazine size, one on top of the other, then cut in half. Short paged books were printed in Reader’s Digest size and long volumes in pulp magazine size resulting in books measuring 5 1/2 by 3 7/8 inches or 6 1/2 by 4 1/2 inches respectively. The books were sold to the military at cost of about six cents per volume plus ten percent overhead, with authors and publishers receiving a half cent each per book.

Soldier on a troopship reading an Armed Service Edition book.

Soldier on a troopship reading an Armed Service Edition book.

Inside cover of an Armed Service Edition book

Inside cover of an Armed Service Edition book

Armed Service Edition books

Armed Service Edition books

Titles were decided upon by a committee that tried to cater to “all levels of tastes within reasonable limits” and had to be acceptable to both the Army and the Navy. Minor disagreements arose between the committee which wanted to print serious literary works, and the Army that wanted popular best sellers, westerns and mysteries, while the Navy held opinions somewhere in between the other two. Works deemed anti-democratic, offensive to an ally or religious or racial group were excluded.

Starting in September 1943, Armed Service Edition books found their way to the front line in the Pacific as men traveled from island to island before entering the combat zone. In England in June 1944, each soldier boarding an invasion ship for Normandy was given an Armed Service Edition book. Newspapers reported at the time that, although many things were found discarded from soldiers packs before going into D-Day, not a single book was left behind.

From 1943 to 1947 nearly 123 million copies of 1,322 different titles on all subjects were printed and became the only type of book reliably  available to service personnel overseas. Authors received hundreds of letters from people who before the war had never finished reading a single book. Some would meet ex-servicemen years later telling them how they had read their book in a foxhole in France, in some Pacific jungle, or in a frigid Alaskan or Icelandic outpost. The most reprinted book was Webster’s New Handy Dictionary, a book that depression kids with little education wanted to help them understand the new written world given them.

The men and women of World War Two came home with something other than memories of war, they came back with educations in history, the arts, poetry, science and popular fiction, all from little books named Armed Service Editions, a side effect of a war.



The war was almost over. Germany in March 1945 was cold and crisp, with a pale gray tint over the ruined countryside. It was quiet as Lieutenant Hecker’s jeep drove down the road. Europe was a hulk of shattered cities. The Third Reich was in ruins, its soldiers surrendering by the thousands to the American Army, but still Germany fought on. Lieutenant Hecker rode with his men, Private First Class William L. Piper and James Wardley.  They had been together through Northern France, the Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge. Now they drove in the enemies heartland. Hecker knew the end of the war was in sight. He knew all they needed to do was stay alive a little longer. What he didn’t know was his jeep was driving toward a buried land mine.

Norbert A. Hecker

Norbert A. Hecker

Norbert A. Hecker was a not a soldier by trade. He hadn’t planned on knowing things like range, targeting and trajectory. He was a clerk who compiled reports on factory labor costs and production. When  he graduated college he thought he would be behind a desk not leading men into battle. He entered the army in 1942, and was assigned to the 8th Infantry Division’s 28th Field Artillery code named “Gunshot” .

Lieutenant Hecker was a Forward Observer. His mission was to report where artillery strikes landed and find new targets to attack. Forward Observers had a short life span on the front lines.  It wasn’t just the enemy that was dangerous, if the observer made a mistake and the coordinates were wrong, or someone else was careless, the called in artillery could land short, right on him.

When the 28th Field Artillery sent out fire, they radioed “Gunshot on the way!”. “Gunshot on the way” was friendly artillery that stopped the advancing waves of enemy armor and infantry, “Gunshot on the way” took out gun emplacements slaughtering pinned down American GI’s. It was that call that could make the winning difference on the battlefield. It was men like Norbert Hecker who brought the gunshot down on the enemy. He knew men were counting on him, that he must complete his mission at all cost. His radio calls could mean dozens or hundreds more men going home alive. It was men like Norbert Hecker who made small towns all over the United States proud of their boys.

Lieutenant Hecker in Dress Uniform

Lieutenant Hecker in Dress Uniform

In Hecker’s home town of Menasha, Wisconsin, the local paper followed news about its 1,384 residents serving in the World War. The daily paper got the residents atuned to where its boys were fighting and what they were doing. It gave folks the little picture they wanted to see of the big show; the news about the boys they used to see on the streets and in church. The paper spread news of men and women who had been promoted or seen action in big battles. When a local boy got a medal for heroism, the whole town knew. They also heard when a man was wounded, or when a someone’s son would not be coming home.

If Norbert Hecker and his men had been walking, they would have been safe. The mine in their path was a teller mine; a circular, anti-tank device filled with five and a half kilograms of TNT. It had a high pressure fuse and needed a vehicle to set it off.

Hecker’s jeep exploded when it ignited the weapon.  James Wardley, by some miracle, was unhurt. Bill Piper, was wounded but alive. They found Hecker covered in blood with his eardrums blown out. But he was breathing. The three men helped each other up.  Hecker’s helmet had a huge dent on the top from the exploding debris. Their jeep was destroyed and two of them were wounded. Hecker put his helmet back on, looked at his men, and they continued to the front.  The war wasn’t over yet. Until it was finished, Norbert Hecker would see his mission to the end.

Norbert A. Hecker's wartime mementos.

Norbert A. Hecker’s wartime mementos.

The dent on Lt. Hecker's Helmet

The dent on Lt. Hecker’s Helmet

Eating like there’s a War on


On December 11th 1941,  rubber tires were the first item to be rationed in the United States.  By 1943 almost all consumer goods were rationed including typewriters, gasoline, bicycles, footwear, silk, Nylon, fuel oilww1645-33_500, stoves, dairy products, margarine, processed foods, dried fruits, canned milk, firewood and coal.

In 1942, people at home were encouraged to limit themselves to  2.5 pounds of meat per week or 130 pounds a year. By 1943 meat was rationed and became scarce. Beef in particular was in short supply. The law of the markets clashed with government regulations. Military necessity took precedence for supplies, but the civilian market was hampered by poorly conceived Government Price Administration regulations. Beef, for example, was priced too low for meat packers to make a profit. Meat growers had a supply available but could not get it packed for the consumer. Available meat was not worth the effort of packing for the prices allowed.

A black market for meat not inspected by the government appeared. Farmers who slaughtered their own animals also exempt from the rationing quota.

Meat that did reach the consumer was used to get the maximum benefit  from the limited supply. People were reminded not to waste anything. Special wartime recipe books were written to help families cope with the lack of ingredients and smaller available amounts.

For those who would like to try, here are some wartime recipes. (Click on them to enlarge)

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Super Heroes


In 1944 Frederic E. Ray was twenty four years old. As a kid he took up drawing. He collected works of his favorite illustrators, and copied them until his sketches began to look like them. By the time he was twenty he was getting paid $35 dollars a week at Detective Comics (later shortened to its initials DC) working on titles such as Detective Comics, Batman, and Superman .

Fred spent most of his work doing cover art, working with legends like Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, and Jerry Robinson, who made Batman’s nemesis, The Joker. His first work on Superman came with “Superman’s Christmas adventure” in 1940 and Fred Ray’s most conspicuous contribution was to reshape the “S” emblazoned on the Man of Steel.

Fred Ray

Fred Ray

Fred Ray's first Superman cover

Fred Ray’s first Superman cover

In January 1942, the USA faced a challenge on a scale the world had never seen before. People needed heroes, patriotism stirred in Americans and their cartoon characters answered the call. In Superman #14 Fred Ray drew one of the classic covers of the Golden Age of Comics. The cover is black, Superman stands in front of a red,white and blue shield, a vanguard for the tanks and planes that follow. On his calling arm, the eagle of freedom.

In 1942, Comic book heroes left the crime filled American underworld and went overseas to take on the Axis powers. For the duration of the war, they would fight alongside the men in the trenches, in the air and on the seas.  Fred Ray, like so many other young men, served in the armed forces. He took his sketchbook with him, capturing the world around him. Everyday things that photographers weren’t around to see:  Military Police men, soldiers waiting for a train, leather-clad Air Force men chatting with a woman in service while they get their papers. The color of each object labeled so he would know what to paint it later.

When the war ended, Fred Ray came home and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts on the GI Bill. He returned to DC Comics and drew for Tomahawk and other western and historical series. As the war years drifted further into memory, Fred’s style and interest changed. His work left the comics and he wrote books about American history and illustrated for historical periodicals.

For Fred Ray, the war, like his contributions to the Golden Age of comics was only one part of his life. Something for which he didn’t ask or receive much credit for. He didn’t dwell on the past although his life’s work was made of drawing it.

Fred’s wartime sketches, drawn in the present of a young man in his twenties gives us a look into a world away from the Supermen of comics, into the reality of everyday people. People doing ordinary things in extraordinary times, doing what they needed to do, in a world at war.


Shattered Jewels

A boy and his dog

A boy and his dog

Young boys have a fascination with war; a fascination with bravery and glory, with medals and uniforms.  Since Hirohito took the throne, young boys were immersed in the beauty of war. They were taught the greatest glory was to die for the country and for God: the Emperor. They were taught when they fell their spirits would glow as deities in the Yasukuni shrine. It was for the young boys of Japan to fight the “Holy War” to free Asia from its European chains, and place Japan as the rightful leader in the east.

In less than a hundred years, what was once a feudal nation had modernized and joined Europe in the game of Imperialism.  Japan moved from isolation to colonization taking Taiwan, Korea, Manchuria and parts of China. By the twentieth century it established itself as a major power. It was the only non-European nation of the Eight-Nation Alliance to suppress the Chinese Boxer Rebellion. In 1905 it defeated Russia, the first time in modern history for an Asian country to defeat a Caucasian power.

By the 1930’s Japan possessed, arguably one of the most powerful armies and most sophisticated navies in the world. As a nation, Japan moved to an increasingly militaristic stance, crushing any internal voices for peace or freedom.

Girls being trained to use bamboo spears to repel the American invasion

Girls being trained to use bamboo spears to repel the American invasion

In 1937, when Japan’s full scale war started with China, young men of twenty and older were being drafted to fight. The Japanese conscription laws passed in 1873 had many exemptions. It gave first born sons, students and people of wealth a path to buy their way out of servitude, leaving second and third sons of poor farmers to make a large percentage of the rank and file. As the need for manpower grew, boys as young as fifteen were called to active service. By the last year of the war the entire adult male population aged 15-60 and women from 17-40 were given bamboo spears and ordered to resist the coming American invasion.

Like all militaries, soldiers adopted mascots: animals and children being popular. Sometime during the war, a young boy was given a private’s uniform and served as a mascot with his dog. When the mascot was old enough, he would be promoted from a boy to a man and serve not as a good luck charm, but as a soldier, expected to fight to the end with the pure heart of the “100 Million” and die like a “Shattered Jewel”.

The Japanese military perpetrated unspeakable horrors upon the people they subjugated. They in turn suffered heavily. Twenty percent of sailors and one in four soldiers died in the war, around 1.7 to 2 million men in the name of the Emperor.

Starved Japanese soldiers captured on Saipan

Starved Japanese soldiers captured on Saipan

Most of them did not meet the glorious death on the battlefield they were taught to strive for. The majority of Japan’s youth did not die as cherry blossoms falling to earth, sixty percent of the dead met death from disease and starvation; their lives tossed away like petals in the wind. By September of 1945, the war in the Pacific had consumed the lives of thirty five million people.

Homeless Japanese boys after the war (photo credit: Tadahiko Hayashi)

Homeless Japanese boys after the war (photo credit: Tadahiko Hayashi)

Perhaps the young boy in the picture survived the war, or maybe he died a shattered jewel like so many others. Perhaps he was reunited with his family, or became like 123,510 other children in Japan after the war, orphaned and homeless.

The picture offers no clues. It remains a silent reminder of a moment in time; a boy and his dog caught up somewhere in the echoes of war.