USA 50th Anniversary of World War II Commemoration Committee

By Phipps-Barnes, Phyllis E. | Negro History Bulletin, December 1993 | Go to article overview

USA 50th Anniversary of World War II Commemoration Committee


Phipps-Barnes, Phyllis E., Negro History Bulletin


Although the Secretary of Defense was asked to establish a 50th Anniversary of World War II Commemoration Committee in 1989, the Committee actually took shape with personnel and funding in mid-1991. In October 1992, the Committee became the United States of America 50th Anniversary of World War II Commemoration Committee, following a change in Congressional language. This change allowed the Committee much more freedom in supporting activities outside the Department of Defense.

As the first members who were assigned to the Committee began preparing for the commemoration period 1991 through 1995, they were shocked to learn how little Americans today know about World War II. In 1985, after the 40th anniversary of the Second World War, Life magazine conducted a survey which revealed that three out of five Americans had no knowledge of World War II. Sixty percent of today's population was born after that war, and has little or no understanding of how or why the most catastrophic and destructive event in history began, or how it has affected our lives today. In 1990, after the 45th anniversary of World War II, a special education edition of Newsweek magazine reported that nearly one-third of America's seventeen-year-olds could not identify which countries the United States fought against or which countries had been its allies.

The Committee developed a two-fold purpose: to honor the veterans, their families, and those who served on the home front; and to encourage the study of the history of this period, so that this knowledge can be reinvested in making a safer and better world for our children and generations to come. Many veterans have expressed that the best way to honor them is to educate the American population--particularly the younger generations--of their contributions and sacrifices.

Recognizing Minority Contributions

Sadly, not only do young Americans know virtually nothing about a war that many historians consider the central event of the 20th century, they know even less about the contributions and sacrifices of the women and minorities who helped the United States unite, in combat and on the home front, to win an extraordinary victory with its Allies.

The Committee's executive director, retired Army Lieutenant General Claude M. Kicklighter, detemined early on that the contributions of women and minorities were to be one of the Committee's priorities.

To ensure the full inclusion of the experiences and contributions of women and minorities in educational and commemorative resources and products, the Education Directorate began collecting photographs, background information, and the names and numbers of minority veterans who were willing to be interviewed or serve as speakers. Photographs were enlarged and included in the Committee's traveling exhibits. Fact sheets were developed on women, African Americans, Hispanics, and Native and Asian Americans. Television public service announcements were to feature minorities whenever possible.

Then the Committee experienced a "windfall": two programs, one through the Office of the Secretary of Defense and another through the U.S. Army, hired college professors from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) to work for the government during the summer of 1993. The Committee was offered, and quickly accepted, three professors to help accomplish the mission. Two professors, African Americans, teach in east coast institutions; the third, a Hispanic professor, teaches on the west coast.

A minority outreach program that included material about minorities for the general population, and other more in-depth materials to be especially used when teaching minority students was developed. The plan includes:

* Developing a slide/talk kit on African Americans in WW II;

* Continuing to develop a pictorial essay and fact sheets on women and minorities;

* Presenting briefings and materials at prominent women and minority conferences;

* Conducting workshops for educational groups on women and minorities;

* Producing a video documentary, "African Americans in World War II. …

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