Thank you to the many readers and media outlets supporting the book and its discoveries of the overlooked people, places and great events that made possible the survival of civilization. As of spring 2023, the book, now in three forms, continues to sell four years since publication. Why is the book still of interest? One reason over all; positive reader referral accounts for the continuing 96% positive ratings on Amazon and 100% professional reviewer approval.
All posts by Jerome O'Connor
THANK YOU READERS FOR THE BEST SALES IN 2022
Once America entered the war over 1,400 Chicago-area companies converted almost overnight in a once in history achievement resulting in the placing of the entirety of America’s manufacturing abilities into producing the weapons, foods, medicines, aircraft, ships, and producing a previously territorial army into an unstoppable force of 16.2 men, including 325,000 non-combatant women. Except for Detroit, no city produced a greater variety of the needed supplies than Chicago. The locales included among hundreds of others, B-24 and B-29 engine manufacturing and assembly plants, torpedo assembly, portable radio factories, shell-casing manufacturing, even penicillin and other medicines. But the valiant efforts of the men at war would not have succeeded without the support and total war production from millions on the Home Front. Every man, woman, boy and girl did something.
FACTS OF INTEREST 80-YEARS LATER THE ‘WONDER DRUG’ The first widespread use of Penicillin took place on D-DAY, June 6, 1944, the most important 24 hours of the 20th Century. Every American, British, and Canadian soldier who landed on the five beaches was also armed with units of Penicillin.
SCRAP DRIVES AND VICTORY GARDENS In every vacant lot (called ‘prairies’ in Chicago) in every American city, town, and village, so many vegetables were grown – over 40% of what was needed – that the excess was canned and sent to Europe to feed allies and soldiers. Every city and town had numerous scrap drives, resulting in millions of tons converted into everything from tanks to ships. Everyone did their share and did it enthusiastically.
WOMEN IN THE WORK FORCE Before the war women ‘had their place,’ and it wasn’t doing ‘men’s work.’ The war changed that and proved that women not only had the same skills as men but had equivalent muscle power to do the jobs previously given only to men. Unfortunately they were not paid the same wages, but today’s women in the military do the same jobs as men and all are better because of equality.
THE BOOK CONTINUES TO SELL – BUT NOW BY REFERRAL AFTER 45 MONTHS The author took 40 years of procrastination, dithering, excuses, and even good reasons until finally writing in 2019 his first book with an entirely different perspective on the war that saved mankind. It took years of repeated trips, first-person interviews, photography, and deep research, but the book’s 22 chapters indeed enter the real, existing, and, in most instances, the unchanged places that changed the outcome of the war. That is a first.
Although a professional journalist with a distinct style, for Jerome M. O’Connor, it was a labor of love and an opportunity to thank those of the ‘greatest generation’ who are still with us that their service was not in vain and that what they accomplished indeed resulted in saving humanity from entering a new dark age. The book’s epilogue ends with these two words: honor them.
Now in three forms, hardback, Kindle, and, since February 2022, in paperback, the work continues to sell. After nearly four years since publication, there can be only one reason for continued sales: REFERRAL. The author humbly thanks those who recommended the book to others, and to the 100% professional reviewer recommendation, and also to the 96% of Amazon readers who gave it thumbs-up. Available on Amazon at special prices.
LATEST DETAILS – SPIELBERG/HANKS AND “MASTERS OF THE AIR” FILMING ON LOCATION IN ENGLAND
IN STOCK ON AMAZON – THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II AND TIMELY NEWS BELOW DESCRIBING THE UNDERWAY PRODUCTION OF MASTERS OF THE AIR DIRECTED BY STEVEN SPIELBERG WITH TOM HANKS AS CONSULTANT
SPRING 2023 UPDATE – AWAITING DATES The wait continues for the much anticipated Spielberg/Hanks release of, some call it, ‘Band of Brothers three.’ Having visited and described the same bases in THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II, the author awaits with millions of others the Apple TV release of the mini-series. Five chapters in the author’s highly praised book explore from then to now the same bases featured in the series. No reason to wait. Press the button below to order your copy now in hardbound, Kindle, or paperback.
A London Blitz survivor: ” The best book I have ever read about the Second World War.” An Amazon book reviewer: “I wanted to put it down but couldn’t.”
Retelling the heroic epic of the Eighth Air Force in Europe, the much anticipated sequel to Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and The Pacific, has been underway almost as long as World War 1 and II combined. It will be worth the wait as the ten episode mini-series resumed shooting in March 2021 in London and at the same bases where up to 350,000 U.S. airmen launched thousands of missions against Germany.
“MASTERS OF THE AIR UPDATE – TAKING FLIGHT: UK Sources confirm that MASTERS OF THE AIR (Formerly The Mighty Eighth) is underway in several villages in East Anglia, the location of numerous Eighth Air Force bases. Director Steven Spielberg, uniformed extras, vintage vehicles and equipment are filming in Chalfont St. Giles and other villages, some of which barely changed since the war. Already, neighbors are complaining about the sounds made by the vintage aircraft disturbing garden parties. The series will be largely based on the real-life saga of the 100th Bomb Group based at Thorpe Abbots, located four miles east of Diss, population 605, in Norfolk, England. The former base has a museum dedicated to the 100th BG. Called the “bloody 100th” as a sign of respect, the group lost 177 B-17s and 785 crew killed in action, a casualty rate of 77% in 22 operational months.
Based on the permit application to the village no actual flying will take place in the 10 part series. Shown are wartime crew members and their B-17. The other photos are of a replica B-17 on the set to be used only for taxiing and interiors. CGI (computer generated imagery) will portray the missions and harrowing air combat.
(Referring to the 100th Bomb Group in text from THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II) : “Only four of the original thirty-eight co-pilots survived. No complete crew of ten finished intact. At least 450 complete replacement crews served with the 100th BG. Appalling as were the 100th BG losses, they were exceeded by the 91st BG stationed at Bassingbourn. In 340 missions, the 91st lost 197 B-17s, with the entire group of seventy-two bombers replaced an extraordinary four times, including damaged aircraft…they were eagles all.” (Highly recommended are THE WAR LOVER and the much-admired TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH with Gregory Peck.)
Spielberg assigned relative unknowns to the roles of flight and ground crews, but several have already been cast in other films to be released well before MASTERS OF THE AIR. American, Austin Butler, will be seen in Elvis, with Tom Hanks portraying Col. Tom Parker. Co-star, British actor Callum Turner stars in The Last Letter from your Lover on Netflix. Briton, Josh O’Connor (no kin), will co-star in the series, which is certain to have both love interests, perhaps competitive, and well-deserved participation by the RAF. Can’t wait? Watch the top-rated season three of The Crown. O’Connor expertly portrays the increasingly confident, but at first immature, Charles, son of Queen Elizabeth, and heir to the British throne. His uncertain relationship and subsequent marriage to Diana is significant.
To bring authenticity to the mini-series, a $7 million airfield including support buildings such as Nissan Huts, was built as a stand-in for the scores of bases once populating the region. Small change indeed compared to the $200 million record budget for the 10-episodes. In comparison, the celebrated Band of Brothers cost $125 million. Based on the filming time of Band of Brothers, the shoot is expected to finish by the end of 2021 for release sometime in 2022. Directing the first 3 episodes is Cary Fukunaga, highly praised for True Detective (2014-16). It is reliably reported that one or more episodes will be in a recreated POW camp in Germany.
Based on release dates of Spielberg productions such as Saving Private Ryan (1998), Band of Brothers (2001), and the immortal Schindler’s List (1993) Masters of the Air may not begin on Apple TV until late 2022. These additional photos from behind the scenes of the British set, show vintage vehicles and town scenes.
NO NEED TO WAIT – FIVE CHAPTERS OF THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II ARE SET AT THE SAME BASES AS PORTRAYED IN MASTERS OF THE AIR.
(L) Chalfont St. Giles today, one of the settings for MASTERS OF THE AIR. The Eighth Air Force had half the war casualties of the entire USAAF, with 17 aviators given the Medal of Honor, 220 awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, and 850 given the Silver Star. The mighty eighth had 261 aces (5 or more enemy downed) and 305 enlisted gunners became aces. As described with numerous never-seen photos in THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II, numerous base remains and memorials await the time traveler. Five chapters of the 340-page book describe the same bases where, as an example, the 91st Bomb Group at Bassingbourn lost 197 B-17s in 340 missions, with the entire group of seventy-two bombers replaced an extraordinary four times.
Over 26,000 U.S. dead made it the costliest for America as well, with the Eighth Air Force having ten times the casualties of ground forces. RAF Bomber Command suffered even more with almost 40,000 killed. A Google search will locate the thrilling U-tube trailer for the series made in 2014 when it was titled THE MIGHTY EIGHTH.
No reason to wait because author, Jerome M. O’Connor’s widely praised first book brings readers to the remains of the same East Anglia, England bases, with vivid then to now descriptions , never-seen photos, and interviews. O’Connor located the same buildings where the First, Second, and Third air divisions were headquartered. Included are photos of scrawled initials, bicycle tire tracks and size 9 footprints by an airman trailing into eternity in curing concrete at Rackheath. One chapter describes the relationship between an English boy of ten and the crew of a B-24 who made him their mascot and greeter after each mission. Jimmy Stewart has a well-deserved chapter set at both of his British bases.
Other chapters go into the nearly intact U-boat bunker bases in France, or to the mansion and the same plywood wall map viewed by General Eisenhower in making the most important decision of the 20th Century. Visit a London mansion owned by the Sassoon family where 59 captured Nazi generals were housed in luxurious conditions, including plated meals, their own pub, and private rooms – but for a reason. Photos show the same rooms on the last day it was open before conversion into condos.
In 1978, seven years before opening as one of London’s most visited museum’s, the author (L) at Churchill’s seat in the Cabinet War Rooms ), was the first to reveal in the Chicago Tribune the intact existence of Churchill’s War Cabinet headquarters. His several cover features were the first to reveal Bletchley Park, where the Enigma cypher device was broken.
Holiday gift giving: An oversize paperback edition will be released February 1, 2022. Pre-order now on Amazon.
For O’Connor, it’s about connecting the past with the present by locating and documenting the existing places and unknown events of history’s greatest war.
The left photo below shows Jimmy Stewart with his air and ground crew as part of the 445BG, 703 squadron, in front of B-24 Tenovus at Tibenham. Jimmy is in the top row, fourth from left wearing a trench coat. Of five chapters describing the epic missions of the USAAF, an entire chapter covers Stewart’s desire to fly even as a movie star, and his understated heroics as one of the greatest of his storied generation.
“THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II” CONTENTS SUMMARY
BACK IN STOCK ON AMAZON – THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II
A London Blitz survivor: ” The best book I have ever read about the Second World War.” An Amazon book reviewer: “I wanted to put it down but couldn’t.”
(L) TRENT PARK – The posh London mansion where 59 captured German generals had nearly open access with every word spoken secretly recorded.
WESTERN APPROACHES COMMAND CENTER (R) in Liverpool, the overlooked two-level, concrete-encased, bunker from where convoys entering or departing Liverpool and UK ports were controlled. With scores of photos, many never before seen, the 88,000 – word book will reveal overlooked places and events that will challenge the knowledge of even the most avid enthusiast. A first look at the chapters:
INTRODUCTION – The last days of peace. Germany, once again ready. Britain, unwilling and unable. America divided by isolationism. PROLOGUE – THE HOUR OF DESTINY. War declared, Britain alone, nears defeat. Churchill prepares to fight alone while America remains sidelined – or so it seems.
CHAPTER ONE – THE FALL OF FRANCE- BLOOD, TOIL, TEARS AND SWEAT – Appeasement fails. Churchill rushes to Paris. Catastrophic news. Britain will pay a price.
CHAPTER TWO – WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 1940 – A CABINET MEETING IN THE BUNKER. Churchill enters his war headquarters, an easy target for German attack.
CHAPTER THREE – LIVERPOOL AND THE WESTERN APPROACHES COMMAND CENTER. The rarely seen underground headquarters that controlled entry and departure of the wartime convoys supplying Britain. (Photo above)
CHAPTER FOUR – FDR’s UNDECLARED WAR. Overlooked for decades are the facts from declassified files revealing FDR’s secret aid to Britain before America’s entry.
CHAPTER FIVE– SECRET MISSION TO SINGAPORE. The least-known US Navy mission discloses how and why FDR approved the pre-war loan of five US transports to take an entire British division to beleaguered Singapore in its last dying days.
CHAPTER SIX – FALL OF “THE GIBRALTAR OF THE EAST.” Japanese bombs drop as American transports disembark British troops in Singapore, with death or imprisonment ahead for the 16th Division. Britain’s biggest war loss in history.
CHAPTER SEVEN – FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA – THE UNKNOWN ODYSSEY OF THE SS AMERICA/USS WEST POINT. Beginning with a still unknown pre-war secret mission, the pride of America’s merchant fleet becomes a troop-ship and sails to glory.
CHAPTER EIGHT – BLETCHLEY PARK: THE SECRET WAR. First disclosed by the author, a tattered collection of temporary buildings in the British countryside where the Nazi Enigma cypher was broken. Along with the Atomic Bomb, the war’s major secret.
CHAPTER NINE – U-BOAT SANCTUARY. Intact after seven decades, the U-boat bases are the largest remains of the European war. A must-see for any World War II enthusiast.
CHAPTER TEN – INSIDE THE LIONS DEN. In a rare exclusive with exclusive photos, view the former headquarters from where Admiral Karl Doenitz commanded the U-boat fleet that almost won the war for Nazi Germany.
CHAPTER ELEVEN – LAUNCHING THE INVASION. SOUTHWICK HOUSE AND D-DAY. That the invasion took place is known everywhere, but not the unchanged place where the decision was made, still in its original appearance. See the same floor to ceiling map.
CHAPTER TWELVE – THE BAND OF BROTHERS. The famed “Easy Company” from D-Day to Hitler’s mountain hideaway.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN – AIR FORCE PILOT, HERO, AND MOVIE STUART: JIMMY STEWART AND THE NEED TO FLY. Too tall, too thin, too old, a famous star – one of America’s unsung heroes – and the same base in England from where he flew B-24s to bomb Germany.
CHAPTER FOURTEEN – THE US ARMY AIR FORCE IN EUROPE. With ten times the casualties of the infantry, they still flew against the odds and into history.
CHAPTER FIFTEEN – “LITTLE AMERICA:” PATRIOTISM AND PRODUCTION BUILT THE BASES. Funded by the US, British contractors built scores of fully-functioning bases in an area the size of New Jersey. See the surprisingly intact remains decades later.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN – ATTACKING THE HEART OF GERMANY. How the airmen adapted to ever-improving German tactics but still lost 28,000 killed in fierce air combat.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN – LIVING THE HISTORY/THE BASES WHERE IT BEGAN. Walk the perimeter tracks and runways and view control towers and remaining parts of the bases, including the ghostly footprints and initials left for history.
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN – A BOY ON THE FENCE. Decades after the war, the author is told how a ten-year old boy became the mascot for a B-24 and its crew, later to have a tragic ending. Decades later, learn about it from the same person.
CHAPTER NINETEEN – THE NORDEN BOMBSITE AND THE MYTH OF STRATEGIC BOMBING. Manufactured in great secrecy, the little-known story of how the famous precision bomb-sight became one of the war’s major failures.
CHAPTER TWENTY – TRENT PARK TATTLETALES. How and why 59 captured German generals were maintained in a posh London mansion in near luxury, unaware that every word was being secretly recorded. Enter the mansion on its last day before conversion into apartments.
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE – THE ARSENAL OF DEMOCRACY. The war could not have been won without American involvement. A salute to the US Home Front. Then and now appearance and use of the same factories where the war goods were made.
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO – REMAINS OF THE REICH: INTACT TRACES IN UNEXPECTED PLACES With photos, descriptions, and present-day views of Nazi remains proving that the “Thousand Year Reich” was no fantasy. EPILOGUE – What the GI’s saw in Germany validated why they fought and what they saw in New York harbor confirmed their commitment to freedom.
Includes numerous photos – most never-before seen. The 340-page hard-cover book or Kindle version is available on Amazon, and select bookstores.
AIR FORCE PILOT, HERO AND MOVIE STAR – JIMMY STEWART AND THE NEED TO FLY
(Excerpt from the book)
Not long after his 1908 birth in Indiana, Pennsylvania, already nearing the end of its coal-mining prosperity, Jim Stewart knew that he had to fly. Something about the open environment in the sky suited his nature. Inherently reticent and modest as boy and man, a distinct speech pattern of part stutter and part slight pause showed both strength and vulnerability, an unexpected advantage during his years of success in movies.
Soon after the century’s first great war ended in 1918, barnstormers and flying circuses offered rides at a flat farm field in town to anyone with $10 for ten minutes or $15 for fifteen minutes. The pilots flew in the war for the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, and now demonstrated to an eager public a new way of warfare, and, soon, mass transportation. The shows had wing-walkers, stunt parachutists, mid-air wing to wing plane transfers, performers, and the daring pilots themselves who did barrel rolls, breath-taking spins and dives, even top-speed hurtles through open barns, although not always with a safe landing. The Curtiss JN-3 “Jenny” bi-planes they trained-on during the war cost the government $8,100 each, but were eagerly bought by the same pilots, now civilians, for as low as $1,000 each.
Taking time off from flying model airplanes on the roof of the family home, and building crystal radios with cereal boxes and wires, the reliable Jenny became not only the first aircraft that Jim saw, but the first he flew in as a pre-teen rear seat passenger. He saved for the first of four rides from wages earned at J. M. Stewart & Co, the hardware store owned by his father, Alexander. Alex served in both the Spanish-American and the Great War repairing ordnance equipment. Service to country ran in Alex’s family. His father, uncle, and father-in-law all fought in close combat for the Union in the Civil War.
In his bedroom Jim mapped every rapturous report describing Charles Lindbergh’s historic 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic, never imagining that thirty years later he would be type-cast as the shy and reserved “Slim” Lindbergh in the Spirit of St. Louis. Years later he described the freedom that he found in the air: “It was the ultimate feeling of being in control…and being alone. I’ve always been a loner…I enjoy being on my own.”
DISTANT SOUNDS OF WAR
After graduating from Princeton in 1932, Jim did summer stock with a Cape Cod theatrical company and became close friends with Henry Fonda, another aspiring actor. Along with Fonda and Joshua Logan – to become a celebrated stage and film director – and with periodic residency by actor Burgess Meredith, he rented a small apartment on Manhattan’s then scruffy West 63rd Street. By January 30, 1933, the day Hitler became Chancellor, Jim made his professional debut on Broadway in “Goodbye Again,” appearing 216 times as a chauffeur, to speak only two forgettable lines. By taking other secondary parts on Broadway he built a solid resume, leading to a 1935 screen test with MGM in New York. Metro signed Jim to a three-month contract at a very respectable $350 per week and he headed for Hollywood, to become established in 1937 in a series of secondary parts in B films.
Also by the end of 1937, a continent and two oceans away from Hollywood, Hitler had fully committed Germany to prepare for all-out war. That year Buchenwald opened, the first concentration camp in Germany. It later became an extermination site for anyone who disagreed with the goals of the Nazi revolution. The captive dissidents included actors, doctors, political prisoners, homosexuals, and, especially, Jews in any profession or occupation. By the end of 1938 Jim had appeared in 18 films, including the breakthrough Frank Capra directed, You Can’t Take It With You, which won 2 Oscars with 5 nominations.
In 1939, now an A list screen star, Jim made another Frank Capra film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, earning him the New York Film Critics award for Best Actor, with 11 Oscar nominations for the film. Britain’s second month of its six-year war of survival with Nazi Germany had scant notice at the movie’s October 7, 1939 premiere at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.
(The book’s narrative then describes Jim’s continuing success as a movie star, his flying lessons and certification as a commercial pilot, induction into the U.S. Army on March 21, 1941, re-assignment to the Army Air Force, two years training on B-17s and B-24s, passage to England on the Queen Mary, posting to newly opened Tibenham Army Air Force base near Norwich, England (L), leading to his first combat mission as command pilot on December 13, 1943.)
MANY MISSIONS, LITTLE REST, MAJOR LOSSES
On November 24, 1943, the day the 445th and its four squadrons arrived in Tibenham, the runways Jim and the crew saw from above resembled a triangular ‘A’ frame, as did most of the scores of Eighth Air Force bases under feverish construction. With three converging concrete runways positioned for the prevailing winds, the main runway, or the bottom of the ‘A’, extended 6,000 feet, with two intersecting 4,200 ft. auxiliary runways. A 50ft. wide concrete perimeter track with 36 open “frying pan”, or at other bases, looping “spectacle” hardstands for two bombers, were dispersed along the perimeter to minimize damage from German attacks.
The 445th settled into their new surroundings for more classroom instruction in tactics and practice missions over East Anglia. They learned how to recognize the difference and locations of the navigational Buncher beacons at each base, and the numbered Splasher beacons along the coast. In a pinch, visual landmarks near Tibenham included an adjacent rail line and the bell tower of the 13th Century All Saints Church near the end of the main runway
Off duty, it didn’t take long to learn the easiest route on foot or bicycle, of which there were hundreds on base, to the Greyhound Pub and its two bars and log fireplaces. Since its opening in 1713, the solid brick building, always with an abundance of empty kegs near the entrance, had seen many young men off to war.
On December 13, 1943, three weeks after landing at Tibenham, Jim’s 703rd and other squadrons in the 445th BG squeezed on to narrow benches in the Ops shack for a pre-dawn briefing. After overnight servicing and arming by ground crews, trucks stood-by to bring crews to their aircraft. One of four simultaneous “maximum effort” missions this day, it would be the first major attack of the European air war and the first time that over 600 bombers would simultaneously hit multiple targets. As another milestone, it would also be the first mission shared by both B-17s and B-24s. For Captain Jimmy Stewart and the 445th, it would also mark the first time they flew in combat, and it wouldn’t be a “milk run.”
When the curtains opened in the blacked-out ops room, the lines extending from Tibenham on the big map showed that both the P-47 and P-51 fighters, the much appreciated “little friends,” would escort the bombers but only as far as the P-47s two internal fuel tanks and the P-51’s 255 gallon capacity would allow. The Mustang had longer range, more agility in climb and maneuver and had a streamlined look the Thunderbolt’s lacked, but the pilots who flew the heavy “Jugs” preferred their durability in a dogfight.
With 30 seconds between takeoff’s and about an hour to form-up, the group flew a twisting S to reach altitude, and then a racetrack pattern to await the others. Then they saw their assigned “Zebra,” a garishly decorated B-24, one of several stripped-down bombers serving as assembly points for different groups. After “joining-up” and now a combat wing, they flew as one formation for about 15 miles to the North Sea and across the tip of occupied Holland to cross the northern top of Germany. Some of the groups would hit the port of Bremen, while others, including Stewart’s 445th, would bomb the Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) shipyard, and U-boat works and their pen shelters in Kiel. The U-Boat factories, bases, and aircraft assembly plants were the most heavily defended in the Reich and everyone knew it. Early in the war Hitler had correctly concluded that only by severing the convoy lifeline connecting Britain and North America, would he have any chance of winning the war. U-boats were essential to that goal.
With ten 500-pound general-purpose bombs racked on each Liberator for the long-range missions, the crews could only guess why the U-boat bases remained undamaged mission after mission, although from 25,000 feet they could see for themselves the lack of results even from direct hits. They couldn’t know that a kinetic weight of only 500 pounds exploding against the multi-layered reinforced concrete roofs of the U-boat armored shelters, had an effect akin to fragments being chipped from a pottery container. (Author photos present-day former Lorient, France U-boat base)
(The chapter narrative continues with a description of Jim Stewart’s missions, the horrifying losses of up to 88% returning from a mission, and Jim’s post-war resumption of his “wonderful life.” Rising 11 ranks from Private to Brigadier General after the war, James Maitland, “Jimmy” Stewart, movie star and war hero played his greatest role in the defense of his country.)
Return for additional periodic insertions of chapters from THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II, to be published by Lyons Press, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group in March 2019, in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in 2020.
LAUNCHING THE INVASION – SOUTHWICK HOUSE AND D-DAY – FIRST LOOK AT THE BOOK
THANK YOU READERS AND Lyons Press FOR MAKING POSSIBLE THE PAPERBACK VERSION NOW AT SELECTED BOOK OUTLETS AND ON AMAZON
Each of 22-chapters examines overlooked aspects of the war. At 87,000 words and 355 pages, the work results from decades of investigation and includes never seen author photos comparing the appearance of the same locales from then to now.
(FOLLOWING IS AN EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 11 – LAUNCHING THE INVASION – SOUTHWICK HOUSE AND D-DAY)
“HISTORY DOES NOT LONG ENTRUST THE CARE OF FREEDOM TO THE WEAK OR THE TIMID” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
0500 SUNDAY 4 JUNE 1944 DELAY AND DISAPPOINTMENT
Shortly after a 415am weather briefing on June 4, General Eisenhower stepped-out for another smoke under the portico with the eight Doric columns of the immense 1841 three-story mansion near Portsmouth on England’s southeast coast. Into the first of up to four daily packs of Camels and fifteen cups of coffee, before dawn he and his subordinate commanders had already completed the first of two daily weather briefings with British meteorologist, Group Captain J. M. Stagg. Within the elegant interior, Stagg and his staff had just recommended a delay to the start of Operation Overlord, the liberation of the European continent from Nazi oppression. Ike had immediate major decisions to make.
Throughout the mansion’s spacious gardens were scattered numerous half-cylindered corrugated steel structures named after their inventor, Peter Nissen. Tents of various sizes and temporary housing extended from the surrounding woods almost to the mansion’s entry. For a brief time the ancestral home of the Thistlewaite family, Operation Overlord’s pre-assault naval communication center, would be the most important place on earth.
From where the stately home resided in the low hills above Portsmouth Harbor, Ike could almost see the water and part of the vast armada containing every type of naval vessel afloat. In addition to Portsmouth, eleven other British ports were equally laden with so many ships that it was almost possible to walk with dry feet from one vessel to the other, so closely were they moored. The supreme commander of history’s mightiest invasion force knew that every man from general and admiral to mechanic and rifleman, all 156,000 of them and millions more behind, awaited his command to instantly move from camps to landing vessels, or from the ships to the beaches. But it wouldn’t come that day and it wouldn’t come the next.
The first met report that June 4 – the second weather update would be at 645pm – painted a discouraging picture of high winds, low clouds, and reduced visibility predicted for June 5, the date of the invasion. Any one of the expected weather disturbances would hinder accurate naval gunfire and make certain the swamping of LCVP landing craft – the Higgins Boats – at the moment of dropping their bow ramps on the beach, if they even made it that far. Without fair visibility, erroneously dropping 300 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Pathfinder teams, could fatally divert the 23,000 jumpers in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions to follow. Any expectation of air cover over the beaches on June 5, Ike had been bluntly told, would be “impossible.” The ceiling would be under 1,000 feet. Yet, on June 4 major elements of the naval forces were already at sea, and, as Churchill would later write, “the movement was as impossible to stop as an avalanche.”
…As Eisenhower asked around the room for opinions, General Bernard Montgomery told Ike of his keenness to go, but none of the others were as hopeful. Each had a reasoned objection to explain why his part of the invasion force faced operational hurdles if not defeat. On that June 4, 1944 pre-dawn, weather made the decision: the invasion planned for June 5 stood-down as a no go. While a disappointment, it was not yet a setback. At least two, perhaps three days remained within the window of ideal low tide and bright lunar conditions needed to launch the invasion. But if the elements continued sour, the next time the moon and tides aligned wouldn’t come until June 19.
Waiting another two weeks came with the potential of defeat at the water’s edge. Keeping men already at sea or fenced-in at temporary camps another fortnight risked discovery and a loss of the vital edge needed for soldiers approaching sudden combat. Fresh troops rotating into the camps expected to be vacated by the invading soldiers would have nowhere to go. Miles of pre-positioned equipment on roads and at supply depots throughout England would need to be re-situated, presenting a logistical muddle on the narrow roads.
Some of the 6,939 vessels of all types, including 59 convoys stretching over 100 miles, would need re-fueling or re-positioning. By then, German spies or overhead reconnaissance might have concluded from the evidence of masses of troops at scores or camps, and lurking ships in all the harbors, that the invasion wouldn’t happen at the Pas de Calais as expected. Maybe, the German high command could have concluded, maybe the invasion would begin at an obscure location not as well fortified. Maybe it would begin in Normandy.
With the storm lashing the mansion, Ike returns to Southwick House in the pre-dawn hours of June 5 to make the most consequential decision of the 20th century.
“THE HIDDEN PLACES OF WORLD WAR II” – NOW IN QUALITY PAPERBACK
Less than a mile from one of the D-Day embarkation ports in Portsmouth, England, unchanged Southwick House where General Eisenhower made the decision of the century – approval to invade the European continent. It is one of 22 chapters in a book which reveals – often for the first time – the little-known or even fully ignored but essential people, places, and great events of civilization’s greatest war. Including scores of original, never-seen photos, the book will bring readers into the existing places essential to the conduct of the war and its outcome. It will connect the past with the present by bringing readers to the same places that time forgot. Reserve your copy on Amazon.com or specialized book-sellers.
Return here for periodic insights, including portions of book chapters, with vintage and current photos by the author taken at the same locales where history was made. Regular previews on these pages will include the considerable remains of the Eighth Air Force bases in England, from where thousands of attacks against occupied France and Nazi Germany were conducted. (The Eighth AAF had ten times the losses incurred by the U.S infantry.) The rarely-visited and virtually unknown remains of scores of bases are scattered throughout the East Anglia regions of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Each chapter includes deeply researched historical insights and vivid then and now photos of the locales that changed the history of our time. (Most of the book’s never-seen photos, including at Southwick House, were taken by the author.)
BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS – THE GRAND PLAN FOR THE MIDWAY AFTER THE 1893 CHICAGO WORLD’S FAIR
(ANOTHER VERSION OF THIS COVER FEATURE, MY FIRST ARTICLE,ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE CHICAGO SUNDAY TRIBUNE MAGAZINE, OCTOBER 24, 1965. THIS IS THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY REPRINT )
The Midway, along with Jackson and Washington parks, comprise Chicago’s most enduring reminder of the 640 acre fair that placed the dynamic young city on the world map, attracting 45% of America’s entire population to the glittering “white city.” But it didn’t start with the great fair. Almost 23 years before the April 1, 1893 opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Frederic Law Olmstead, dean of American landscape architects, had already proposed a system of parks and boulevards to cover the prairies and marshes 7 miles from downtown Chicago. At the invitation of the South Park commissioners, Olmstead designed (L) two large parks of almost the same size, one extending along Lake Michigan and the other parallel to the first but one mile to the west and connected by a 700 ft. wide grassy esplanade Olmstead platted as the “Midway Plaisance,” because it was situated between the two parks. The lakeside area became Jackson Park, later to become the location for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, and the other park was named for George Washington. Although the massive exhibition buildings drew millions, it was the connecting strip with its 26-floor rotating wheel, the first ever, that drew the greatest attention. (L) Located in the center of the Midway and visible for miles, engineer George Washington Ferris, a last-minute entrant in the competition to propose an attraction comparable to the 1889 Eiffel Tower, presented a radical design to skeptical officials that would immortalize both his name and the daring of his plan. The Midway and the 264 ft. rotating bridge – the world’s first Ferris Wheel – would become part of American and world culture.
After the fair, the eminent Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft, envisioned a dramatic re-use of the now famous but empty Midway (L). All of it would be transformed into a mile-long canal surmounted by three Parisian-like ornamented bridges. Along the canal’s tiered sides, statuary groupings would represent civilization’s great thinkers and artists. To view and be astonished by the display, passengers on electric boats or hand-made Venetian gondolas would traverse along the canal’s entire length from near the Illinois Central tracks on the east to Cottage Grove on the west. The new attraction had an additional benefit of unifying two separate parks into one enormous green space. At the time of Olmstead’s death in 1903, excavations for the canal had already hollowed-out the entire center of the Midway end to end, as Taft completed the most audacious part of the plan to be the first of its type anywhere. Each end of the re-purposed Midway would be crowned with two immense and powerfully dramatic fountains, one portraying a realization of creation based on the classic myth of Deucalion, the Noah of Greek legend, who with his wife Pyrrah, were the only mortals saved by Zeus from the great flood. At the west end, the Fountain of Time would represent man’s passage through life as viewed by the inscrutable figure of time itself. In its breath-taking totality and grandeur, the Fountains of Creation and Time would enclose the canal, its bridges and statuary and its awed visitors in a mystical embrace of life and eternity.
Beginning in 1910 from his airy Ingelside Ave studio (L) adjacent to the Midway, Taft first produced in plaster a quarter-sized scale model of each work, from which the full size monuments would be cast from hundreds of individual forms, all produced from life poses in the studio. Interrupted by World War One, it would take another five years to complete and install a full-size plaster model of the Fountain of Time near Cottage Grove. After approval by the South Park Commissioners, Taft unexpectedly decided on an enhancement for the finished work. It would be clad with a previously untried concrete aggregate mixed with quartz-like pebbles from the Potomac River. The finished fountain would then glow invitingly day and night, or so it was thought.
But Taft’s plan was now delivered a near fatal setback. The Belle Epoque art era was over and funding nearly ended. The canal, already partially completed, would never be filled with water from the Washington Park lagoon. The great bridges would never inspire future generations, and the Fountain of Creation would never occupy the east end of the Midway or anywhere. But the Fountain of Time. the most important of the two monumental works, was approved with construction taking-on a new urgency; finish it before it was also canceled. The slurry mix was hurriedly shaped over the full-size hollow forms, now presenting as ghostly entities on the muddy Midway’s west end, perhaps causing speculation from university students as to its final appearance. Little did Taft or anyone know that time itself and Chicago weather would later take their toll, but that was in the future. Now it was 1922 and the vast work (below) was finally in place, dedicated, and revealed to the city and the world.
Taft’s allegorical portrayal of humanity, his sermon in stone, began with the appearance of a single figure emerging from a wave, suggesting the water origins that gave birth to all. The figure then evolved into a loving couple (L), then to family groupings, children at play, and other individual figures, all journeying as if in lock-step across the monument’s entire 125 feet in front and equally across the rear. Its scores of moving figures had separate beginnings, but all were destined for an identical and inevitable conclusion.
As Taft visualized it: “I saw before me the mighty crag-like figure of Time…watching the endless march of humanity surging in a wide circle around the form of the lone sentinel, and made up of the shapes of hurrying men and women in endless procession ever impelled by the winds of destiny in the inexorable lock step of the ages.” As new waves and new figures joined the procession, a kind of uniformity or collective purpose became clear. Both as individuals and as members of a group, all were on the same journey. Taft’s homily to humanity had a clear message: while life has meaning and purpose, it also has a conclusion that all share equally. Thus, in the rear, Lorado Taft, head bowed but resolute,(L) hand in hand with his Italian assistant, became part of the same ensemble of movement and conclusion. Finally, at the end of the progression, the final figures, aged, lame and fearful, their arms outstretched in contemplation of achievements or failures, now faced another certainty.
While Taft’s magnum opus affirmed the belief that life should be well and truly lived, he also inserted another dominating, all-seeing presence somewhat apart from the main grouping, but one that perceived every action. Its invincibility represented another type of certainty and it could never be vanquished or refuted. It was forever. It was Time itself.
Ironically, the passage of time, the very continuum whose spiritual values he molded in stone, finally defeated Taft’s effort to reshape the Midway into an unsurpassed expanse of art and grandness. The neglected and decaying masterwork then endured decades of deterioration resulting from the imperfect process of its construction and scant public attention. (TWO IMAGES BELOW)
Now, nearly a century later, walk the Midway and imagine what it almost became. Stand at the base of the statue to Jan Masaryk at the east end where the Fountain of creation was to spill its waters into the canal and look down its long green expanse. The sunken center of the Midway is still there, while the location where George Ferris’s great wheel once stood is now a seasonal ice rink. Then, at the edge of the Midway, in shabby magnificence, appears Taft’s great Fountain of Time, now alone, out of place and forgotten. It stands in review before the inscrutable figure of its mentor, Time. Cars hurry around its expansive base, the occupants unknowing of its purpose. Are they curious about why such an immense work is on the Midway? The dream awaits fulfillment.
AUTHOR’S FIFTY YEAR ANNIVERSARY RETROSPECTIVE
It was my first article and it showed; I’ve gotten better since, and for this anniversary reprint, I also re-edited some of my less than soaring 1965 rhetoric. But there is also the good fortune of having determination and the right idea at the right time as factors.
The cover lede and four inside color pages at a time when people actually read newspapers resonated with many of the Chicago Tribune million plus Sunday readers and, most especially, with the Chicago Park District. They were the nominal but unknowing landlords of Lorado Taft’s greatest work, which also includes the Fountain of the Great Lakes in the south garden of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Not long after the feature’s publication in the then high-quality Tribune Sunday Magazine, I was contacted by the Chicago Park District administration and asked to address its Board of Directors at their Christmas Eve annual meeting in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. I vigorously pleaded for restoration of the great fountain, then in a severely deteriorating condition. (2 images above before restoration). After the conclusion of the three-minute presentation I was approached by a board-member, a short, rather undistinguished appearing elderly man. “We will appropriate money to restore the fountain,” he said, “and it will start in the spring.” He added something else; “Young man, you should be in politics and in the Democratic party. Call me.” It was Col. Jacob “Jake” Arvey, the decades-long national, state, and local political kingmaker, and a favorite of then Mayor Richard J. Daley. I never accepted Arvey’s meeting invitation to follow a political path and never regretted it either, But looking-back decades later the possibilities make for interesting speculation.
Only a year later the Fountain of Time was indeed stabilized and rededicated, this time with the Chicago Fire Department Band, Mayor Richard J. Daley, and Sen. Paul Douglas making the dedicatory remarks, with myself also in attendance and rather astonished by it all. It was the first of several restoration’s that included much-needed floodlighting and repair of the water-filled basin.
Although I have no journalism training, that first article served as the impetus for many more to come, resulting in being awarded the year 2000 U.S. Naval Institute “Author of the Year.” It continues to the present day as adjunct instructor in adult continuing education at 3 Chicago area colleges, and forty-three years as a Chicago tour guide. Also unchanged is a continuing quest to locate and report on the still-existing places that changed or made history, and that are essential to a decades later re-examination of the living history of our times. Invariably, these places have been overlooked by other historians or considered as no longer existing. As the features on this site demonstrate, the places that time forgot are very real indeed. Jerome M. O’Connor.
THE I & M CANAL AND THE ORIGINS OF CHICAGO
For many of the fifty million plus annual visitors to Chicago,the city’s origin could be assumed as being at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. It’s understandable; diagonal bronze lines in the pavement show that Fort Dearborn stood at that very location. It could thus be concluded that the city to-be began from there,but it didn’t. The fort was established in 1803 to be a sentinel against encroachment by foreign powers into the interior from the Chicago River. The I&M Canal, the waterway that connected the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico thru Chicago, wouldn’t begin construction until 1836 – thirty-three years later. It started from the Bridgeport neighborhood, about 5 miles from downtown Chicago. When it was finished in 1846 the canal would intersect a portage traveled by Marquette and Joliet in 1673, and that 173 years later would connect Chicago via the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, Chicago was born with the building of the I & M Canal, and for decades it would be the fastest growing city in the world.
Although the North American continent had been partially explored and settled by French, English and Spanish explorers and settlers, until Marquette & Joliet’s Voyage of Discovery no one had explored the great river the Indians called ‘Missipi’ from the Great Lakes.
Finding the “father of waters” would establish the long sought connection from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico through the Great Lakes. Starting from present-day Green Bay WI, the two explorers voyaged the Fox and Wisconsin rivers to Prairie du Chien, and were then carried downstream on the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas River. On the return journey, anxious to report their findings to the governor of New France at Quebec, they were told of an easier way back to Lake Michigan by paddling along the Illinois and DesPlaines rivers (see map), encountering only a two-mile portage, over which they carried the canoes. (En-route, they also discovered a mini continental divide where the waters of the Des Plaines and Illinois rivers flowed back to the Mississippi.)
They then entered the Chicago River, passing along its south branch to the river’s single leg at Wolf Point, and along what is now downtown Chicago to nearby Lake Michigan and back to Quebec. Although the voyage of over 2,500 miles was a major success, it would take another 163 years for the Illinois and Michigan Canal to make the connection that would also create a dynamic city from a frontier town. Marquette returned to the Chicago area in 1674 to winter in the bleakness of a region so desolate even the Indians avoided it, thus becoming the first European to reside in Chicago. When the I&M Canal began construction in 1836, mostly built by Irish immigrant laborers, Chicago had a population of 400. Fifty years later it would be over 1 million with Chicago now connected by water – the most economical and fastest means of travel – with the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico and all that lay beyond. With the opening of the canal, grains, corn, soybeans, lumber and agriculture would flow westward from Chicago, while sugar, molasses, salt, tobacco and oranges would travel from the south. In 1854, Chicago received an additional boost from the start of the railroad era, soon to establish the rapidly expanding city as America’s rail center. As shown in the images below, Bridgeport, where it all began, transitioned from Irish to Polish to Hispanic and Asian, while maintaining its blue-collar roots. Bubbly Creek (the West Fork of the South Branch of the Chicago River, a few hundred feet from where the canal began,) forms the west boundary of today’s Bridgeport, about 5 miles from downtown Chicago.
The first of what would become 15 lift locks became the reason for starting a new town 35 miles from the canal’s Chicago origins, and appropriately named after the lock itself, Lockport, IL. Calling itself with some justification, “the town that made Chicago famous,” Lockport thrived on the now rapidly developing canal traffic that had 288 boats by 1864, and would move one million tons of cargo in 1882, its busiest year. The 1837 (L) Gaylord Building, an imposing structure that many believe was the canal administration headquarters, actually served mostly as a warehouse for parts and materials used in constructing the canal, but has survived to the present day as an example of what a young country could accomplish, even though most of the country’s interior had yet to be explored or made a part of the United States. Extending 96 miles from Chicago, where it joined the Illinois River at La Salle and continued to the Mississippi, the I & M Canal also had 5 aqueducts and 4 hydraulic power basins, many of which can be viewed today. As seen in this early photo and a current image, the same rings used to tie the canal boats to the Gaylord Building are still in place. But even with the canal now fully paid by tolls and land sales, and with new towns sprouting along its path, its fate had already been sealed by the coming of the railroad just 6 years after the canal had fully opened from Chicago to the Mississippi. Today, as Metra, the once Chicago & Rock Island railroad still operates from the same tracks known as the Heritage Corridor.
Although rarely visited, a tattered ten-room white-frame building from 1837 served as the canal headquarters. The mostly uncatalogued clutter of thousands of records, faded legal documents and dusty artifacts, all contribute to the little-known saga of the town and canal that made Chicago famous.
THE ART IN ARCHITECTURE
ARCHITECTURE THEN TO NOW – THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE Viewed as an expression of structure, form and content, architecture may seem to be a rigid profession, bound by rules, science, and technology, and generally lacking in vision and idealism. For the majority of early architects who used available materials and rushed to build the great American cities, being a visionary was not a part of their architectural vocabulary. What was needed was to build a structure with a limited budget, and do it quickly. But for the handful of great architects from then to now, their craft was anything but a dogmatic and unyielding job; for them architecture was a calling. Consider Jeanne Gang’s 2010 Aqua (R above), as a contemporary example, and (above) the 1895 Chicago School exterior and lobby of the Holabird and Roche Marquette Building, both in Chicago.
The greatest of America’s late 19th and early 20th century architects were unafraid to take risks, to become adventurers and boldly explore all that the science and technology of the era would allow. Also consider Frank Lloyd Wright’s little known Florida Southern College campus (L). By disregarding the comfort of endlessly repeating classical styles, they embraced an uncertain future, but they also knew that America as a new nation also needed to express its own architecture, just as did earlier civilizations.
By imagining what their work would give to the future, they became visionaries in setting themselves apart from the conformity and classical repetition so characteristic of late 19th century architecture. Thus, they were also pioneers, never fully certain where the new direction would take them, their clients, or the environment they designed. In creating the new movement, to be called the Chicago School of Architecture, the early architects became adventurers, of whom none had more influence on the future than Louis Henri Sullivan. (L & above)1893 Chicago Stock Exchange and 1899-1904 Carson Pirie Scott).
TWO OVERLOOKED MASTERPIECES After Carson Pirie Scott, Adler & Sullivan received few major commissions, caused by a combination of a change in styles, disagreements between the partners, and Sullivan’s continuing emotional problems and alcoholism. After the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, most of Sullivan’s commissions consisted of nine small but powerfully expressed banks in small Midwestern towns built between 1908-20 – his “jewel box” banks, and one final work of greatness in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. Although mostly re-purposed, all of the one-time banks still stand, as does a final work of daring and inspiration, Krause Music store. The banks and the award-winning former music store validate the kinship between art and architecture.