This keynote address is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
When the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Nancy Bartlit was in kindergarten in New Jersey. She remembers having to ration food and shoes and hiding under the bed when hearing sirens wail and search lights flashed across the sky looking for German aircraft. She did not know then that when America declared war on the Axis Powers, faraway New Mexico was one of the least populated states. After many family moves and travel since, she learned how that remoteness determined the role of New Mexico in the War in the Pacific.
Participants in this important conference will present the state-of-the-science needed to preserve the physical legacies and memories of World War II and the Cold War. Bartlit will describe her research, beyond books and films, traveling to World War II sites and interviewing persons who experienced the War abroad or at home. Much of her knowledge derives from monuments and memorials already preserving their history, as well as from photographs, artifacts, and stories—as a detective’s search or chance encounter provides.
When collecting material to learn New Mexico’s contributions during the War for her book Silent Voices of World War II, Bartlit interviewed World War II Bataan Death Marchers and Navajo Code Talkers, Manhattan Project scientists, and a Santa Fe Internment Camp internee resettled in California. The following stories demonstrate how language and customs spur misunderstandings.
In the Pacific Theater, the New Mexico National Guardsmen were among the first US troops to fight the Japanese, protecting Clark Air Base north of Manila hours after the Pearl Harbor attack. They resisted for four months before being surrendered for lack of backup. These US Army gunners endured a week-long march without food and water, only to suffer maltreatment for 3-1/2-years in POW camps.
Navajo men, even boys, from western New Mexico and eastern Arizona, volunteered as US Marines, but specialized as radiomen. They created a code used to communicate between ships, beaches, and frontlines. The enemy could not decipher the messages translated within minutes without mistakes. The ingenious code aided the plan of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to secure the Pacific islands from Guadalcanal through the Mariana Islands to Okinawa–ever closer to Japan.
Thousands of immigrants, later America-born, men of Japanese descent principally living along the Western Coast and leaders in their communities, were classified as “Dangerous Enemy Aliens.” From 1942-1946, they were detained or interned in a former CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) camp within Santa Fe city limits.
On a plateau 38 miles northwest of Santa Fe, the Los Alamos Ranch School for young boys from the East was transformed into a scientific laboratory to house civilian scientists and technologists assisted by US Army and US Navy personnel. Their assignment was to research and develop atomic bombs—the biggest secret in World War II. After 28 months the Los Alamos effort was tested at a site near Alamogordo in southern New Mexico.
Hearing the many ironies among these intertwining stories may change a listener’s perspective of wartime.
Nancy Bartlit, WWII historian, author, lecturer, and publisher, earned a BA in History from Smith College and a MA in International Communications from the University of New Mexico after she completed university studies on Japanese industry, technology, and language, including visits to Japanese research labs. She taught English in Sendai, Japan, thirteen years after WWII ended. In 2005, she co-authored Silent Voices of World War II. A past chair of the Los Alamos governing body and former president of the local Historical Society, Bartlit promoted a national park on the Manhattan Project, working with the Atomic Heritage Foundation and elected officials