Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation—and they were. They lived through the greatest changes a generation has ever seen, from horse-and-buggy days to men on the moon. As children, they struggled through the Great Depression. In their teens and 20s, more than 16 million of them marched off to war in Europe and the Pacific to save the world from fascism.
Some 400,000 were killed in action. Today, World War II veterans are in their ’80s and ’90s.
Nearly a 1,000 a day are dying, and they are taking their memories with them. Most of them never really talked much about the war. Having grown up in a military family, and having never really understood what my dad did in WWII or Vietnam, I have always been intrigued reading other soldiers’ stories. Thus, when I learned of a group of WWII papers available at a local estate sale, I jumped at the opportunity to purchase them.
Finding my way to the sale was an arduous task in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. Twisted roads and limited signage, and I was running several hours late. I did manage to get to the sale and was amazed that most of the items I was interested in were still there and priced quite reasonably.
It was a sale that you shake your head at and question the pricing logic as many of the better WWII items were priced fairly and some of the Korean- and Vietnam-era items were priced way too high, as the sellers assumed all of the late officer’s items dated to WWII. In such a sale, there is no chance to keep the collection together unless you overpay.
I also found it fascinating that a Lt. Reichard, to whom the items had belonged, rose to the rank of captain in the war and later became a flourishing artist in Atlanta. He obviously was interested in photography, as I found his photographic work throughout the house.
Coincidentally, at the time I bought his diaries, I discovered what looked like some of his photos of the 1944 Mt. Vesuvius eruption, which ended up unattributed in a National Geographic article. I attribute the connecting of the dots on this to fate as I never read the magazine. (I never even knew I had a subscription.) Something made me pick up and look at a copy my older son had left on our kitchen counter. It opened right to the page where they showed a picture of a WWII army bomber trying to fly around the ash cloud that was eerily similar to one in Reichard’s dairy. I went on to read his diary entry for that day in which he writes vividly about the experience.
Other questions that I have may never be answered, as this was an estate sale, with the former owner of the goods being deceased. Although Reichard left us a detailed record of these years, many questions screamed at me, including:
- How did he end up going from being a Dartmouth grad to the lieutenant of a motor pool?
- Why wasn’t his family interested in the items, and who are the remaining relatives?
- Another soldier’s gripping postwar diaries were with his. These discussed the return to civilian life and praying to God that he is not wiped out by floods or crop disease as a farmer with consistent bad luck. How were these men related?
Lt. Reichard began writing in his diary on January 1, 1943. In February, he bought a camera and began taking some photos. For the next three years, he wrote almost every day. When I started reading his diary, I thought it should be shared and that perhaps WorthPoint’s community of collectors, people like me who are intrigued by the past, might find the diary as fascinating as I did.
So we decided to have the diary transcribed. Kathleen Long, a producer from Los Angeles, is transcribing the diary. Our Peabody award-winning editor, Alison Harder, is working with teacher Jeremy Goldson and the students in Mountain Vista High School’s Theatre Department in Colorado to record the first few weeks of the diary. She is also editing the readings and the transcribed entries to create short videos for each day.
On January 1, we’ll begin posting Lt. Reichard’s diary, one day at a time. In February, if there is still interest in the diary, we’ll begin adding his photos. Our newsletter editor, Greg Watkins, will soon begin posting a few lines each day about what was happening in the world in 1943. We’d like to find a high-school history class or a group of veterans that would be interested in taking on that aspect of this project. If you are interested, contact Mary Brenneman at firstname.lastname@example.org, and put Lt. Reichard in the subject line.
If you are a veteran, a member of the Greatest Generation, or just interested in history, drop us a note, and let us know what you think of Lt. Reichard’s diary and our project. We are fairly sure we’re not the only ones interested in what one soldier was thinking 65 years ago when the entire world seemed in turmoil, and our young men and women marched off to war to save the world for future generations.
This project is our way of acknowledging our debt, appreciating our freedom and saying thank you to the men and women who fought on the battlefield and also to those who stayed home and helped save the world by supporting the war effort.
Read the January 6, 1943 entry here.