By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
On November 2, 1947 the Hughes H-4 Hercules drifted out of its hanger in Long Beach Harbor at the end of a tow rope pulled by a small boat. The authorities had cleared the water so the massive flying boat could do some taxi tests. Hughes, taking a break from congressional testimony over his government contracts (including the $18 million one for the H-4), decided it was time to get the massive plane out and see how she handled on the water. He invited the press and even the members of the committee he was testifying in front of. The politicos didn’t show, but the press did. The first run was a leisurely 40 knots, the second a much more brisk 90 knots. The plane lined up for a third run; Howard Hughes himself at the controls. The eight propellers spun up to speed. The plane lurched forward. Speed increased, and increased, and increased, and then it happened. The eight story tall Hercules took to the air.
To understand what a momentous event this was you need to understand three factors; the times, the plane, and the man.
The early days of America’s involvement in the Second World War were costly, and America hadn’t even declared itself at war. Tons of ships and materials were being sent to the bottom of the Atlantic every month by German U-boats. We needed a way to move a lot of cargo weight a great distance, and to do it quickly. While the ship building industry began to ramp up production to an unequaled pace, some people looked to the skies to transport more. Seaplanes were used far more prevalently than they are now and were far from being a primarily private aviation phenomenon. Military and commercial carriers had sizable seaplanes, carrying upwards of seventy people.
Howard Hughes was a man who thought big. He was brash and arrogant, but also pioneering and adventurous. He was born into privilege, but longed for meaning. He sought that in everything from business, to engineering, to Hollywood to flight. He had the arms of the most beautiful women in the world and the envy of the masses, but he longed for the respect of the powerful.
At the intersection of America’s need and Hughes’ ego was the Hercules. The largest seaplane ever built. A wooden gamble for the Hughes Aircraft Company. A five year project that cost millions of dollars, personal relationships, and congressional intervention.
The call for a new seaplane went out and amongst the bidders was an audacious project. A plane that could carry multiple tanks, hundreds of troops or huge amounts of supplies. It was so crazy it took Hughes himself to sell the project. By this time it was 1942 and the United States was no longer a sideline player in World War Two. This new design of Hughes’s could revolutionize troop deployment and materiel transport. Best of all, it would be easy on the precious commodities of metal and rubber. The Hughes H-4 Hercules would be made of wood. The press thought it was a huge mistake. The Flying Lumberyard and The Spruce Goose were the mocking names the media gave to what they saw as a colossal waste of money and time. Hughes hated the derisive nicknames, especially the Spruce Goose (especially because it was made mostly of birch).
It wasn’t actually Hughes’s brainchild alone. Henry J. Kaiser, a builder of Liberty Ships, came up with the initial idea of a flying cargo ship. Kaiser knew very well that he knew more about hydrodynamics than aerodynamics and that to pull off his enormous plan he would need to get an aircraft builder to help. Hughes was just the man. The problems began to pile up almost immediately. Building a plane mostly from wood solved some of the problem but there were still restrictions on strategic wartime materials like aluminum. The other problem was the partnership. Kaiser was from an industry that ran its production up to unheard of levels during the war. Hughes insisted on perfection over punctuality. The frustrations caused Kaiser to pull his support from the project and caused a rift between the two men from then on. It took sixteen months to go from approval to production start.
Five years after the initial approval, in 1947, Hughes still hadn’t gotten his magnum opus off the ground. The Senate Investigating Committee was looking into the project with a very skeptical eye. The war it was supposed to have helped fight had been over for more than two years. Hughes vowed to the committee that he would prove the plane was not a failure or he would “probably leave this country and never come back.” He left the hearings during a recess, went home and flew the plane on what was supposed to have been a taxi test. It reaches an altitude of seventy feet and was aloft for a single mile. This was all Hughes needed to feel that he had vindicated himself. The plane was moved back to its hanger, kept air ready by a crew of 300 employees, then cut to 50 in 1962 and finally just left in its hanger in 1976 after Hughes died.
The plane remains. You could go and see it in Long Beach, California for many years as it passed from one hand to the next several years until it was finally moved to its current home at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon. It’s on display for all to come and marvel at the folly and the genius and the audacity of one man’s need to be better than everybody else, and it still has the largest wingspan ever created.
- Biplanes, Triplanes and Seaplanes, Sharpe, Michael YA 629.13334 SHA
- Flight 100 Years of Aviation, Grant, R.G. 629.13009 GRA
- Howard Hughes His Life and Madness, Bartlett, Donald and Steele, James B Hughes
- Howard Hughes The Secret Life, Higham, Charles B Hughes
- Jane’s Encylopedia of Aviation, Taylor, Michael J. H. ed., R 629.13 JAN
- The Timechart History of Aviation, Lowe & B. Hould Publishers, 629.13009 TIM
- Time Magazine (Vol. 50 No. 19) November 10 1947 p27
- Hughes H-4 Hercules (Spruce Goose) at Military Factory https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=349#specs
This year Williamson County Public Library is having a program on Saturday, August 15 in conjunction with Spirit of ’45 to commemorate the end of World War II and the soldiers who fought, served, returned or died during the war.
Why August 15th? The Greatest Generation, as Tom Brokaw so eloquently named them, would know immediately. Japan surrendered on august 14, and August 15 immediately began to be celebrated as V-J Day (as June 6th was V – E Day.) 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. As those who served in World War II and those who lived during it pass away, many people began to realize that as they pass away, so does our connection to World War II and remembering the cost and sorrow of the war.
Led by Susan Collins, Senator from Maine, supported by Senators Daniel Inouye and Frank Lautenberg, who co-sponsored this resolution, Congress in 2010 voted unanimously to create a national day to preserve and honor those who served in World War II. Spirit of ’45 Day is observed on the second Friday of August this year, aligning with August 14, 1945, when spontaneous celebrations broke out across America at the news that the most destructive war in history was over. The purpose of Spirit of ’45 Day is to renew the sense of community, national unity, shared sacrifice and “can do” attitude that were the hallmarks of the generation that endured the difficult times of the Great Depression, fought to defend democracy in the largest mobilization of manpower since the building of the pyramids, and led an unprecedented effort to assure a better future for their children and their children’s children, for both former ally and foe alike.
Spirit of ’45 Day has been steadily gaining traction each year, and is now being celebrated throughout the country with events and activities organized by museums and community history associations, WWII heritage groups, senior living communities and care providers, veterans’ organizations, youth leadership organizations, and others. This year, Scarlett Johansson and Elton John both are stepping up in a big way to help commemorate this generation. John’s mother manned an anti-aircraft gun during the Battle of Britain, and Johansson’s great uncle was the last soldier to die in combat on August 15, 1945.
WWII in Images: Remembrance and Reflection
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Library
Music and movies were two of the best and least expensive forms of entertainment during World War II. Ballrooms were packed as people got together to listen to music, dance, and forget about the Depression and the War for a while. Music pulled communities and nations together, and could be used symbolically to remind everyone what the soldiers and armies were fighting for.
Remember, there was no television yet, only radio, and people gathered around their radios to listen to news and radio programs, and the music they loved. Sometimes groups of people danced in living rooms, “cutting a rug,” others danced at school dances, in ballrooms and clubs. The famous Savoy Ballroom opened in 1926; it had a huge dance floor and a raised bandstand and was an immediate hit—that’s where the song “Stompin’ at the Savoy” came from. Prices were low; everyone was doing what they could to contribute to the war effort. It was a release to have fun and dance.
Many in Europe used Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as a secret code to show support for the Allies. The first five notes of the symphony are exactly the same at V (for victory) in Morse code – dit dit dit dah. Even though Beethoven was a German, he was known to have stood up for individual rights and was against Napoleon’s empire-building, which was enough for many Europeans. The Germans, under the leadership of Hitler, were big fans of Wagner, which made Wagner’s comeback after World War II take much longer than normal.
World War I vets had fallen in love with Paris, and the “Lost Generation “of the 1920s followed suit. Many soldiers had fond memories of Paris and wanted to remember France in better days. Starting with “As Time Goes By” (by Max Steiner) in Casablanca to “The Last Time I Saw Paris” (by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein) showed that men fighting abroad and other Allied countries mourned the Nazi occupation of France.
As for popular music, Hitler was rumored to detest jazz – perhaps because it was played (written and sung) by non-Aryans? The response to this belief was definitely to listen to more jazz, jive and swing music. Big bands and swing music were popular before World War II, and continued to be popular throughout the war. It was a nice diversion from thinking about the war and worrying if your special someone would be coming back. This was the time of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Bennie Goodman and their orchestras. Also included in this popular craze were Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw and Woody Herman. “Swing, Swing, Swing, Swing” was a popular song, instrumental with lots of brass. “Deep Purple” (not to be confused with the band that came later!–guitarist Richie Blackmore named the band after the song because it was his grandmother’s favorite) was such a popular piano piece that words were quickly written for the song. Other popular swing music songs were “Begin the Beguine”, “In the Mood”, “It Don’t Mean a Thing”, “Sentimental Journey”, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, “Midnight Serenade”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, and “Stompin’ at the Savoy”.
Big bands became less and less big as there were fewer and fewer men to play the instruments. Glenn Miller was rumored to have been a spy for the United States. He was flying over the English Channel when his plane went down in bad weather in December 1944. No one on the plane was ever found. So we’ll never know if he was a spy or just a musician going to another USO gig to remind the GIs of home. The music of the 1930s and 40s will always be remembered as a background to war, and a time when all people of the Greatest Generation were connected by music and patriotism. The fact that swing keeps coming back is a testament to its beat, its popularity and a true sense of nostalgia. Read the rest of this entry
Meet Molly Ayer, a 17 year old Goth foster kid who needs to fulfill community service hours or risk going to juvenile hall. Next meet Vivian, a wealthy widow who agrees to fulfill Molly’s community service requirement by having her clean out her attic. Their relationship grows as they work together in the attic and deepens when Molly’s teacher assigns a project where she has to interview someone about their life’s journey. She chooses Vivian. Vivian takes Molly on the journey of being an orphan emigrating from Ireland to Ellis Island, NY, at the age of 9, through her adoption, childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in Minnesota. Vivian’s answers tell a powerful story.
Kline uses alternating chapters to tell the women’s stories, with parallels becoming more evident throughout the novel. Throughout the story, we alternate between present day Maine in Molly’s story, to the 1920’s-1940’s with Vivian’s story taking the reader through the midst of the Great Depression and World War II in Minnesota. Orphan Train is a wonderful novel that parallels the lives of orphans in the Depression era to those in present-day.
By Liz Arrambide, Children’s Department
In the Children’s Section in Franklin, whenever we are asked (and it’s often) “Do you have more fiction books about World War II?”, usually the class has been reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. So here are some great reads that feature different aspects of World War II:
- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (JF LOW in the Newbery Medal Collection)
- In 1943, during the German occupation of Denmark, ten-year-old Annemarie learns how to be brave and courageous when she helps shelter her Jewish friend from the Nazis.
- Is it Night or Day? By Fern Schumer Chapman (JF CHA)
- In 1938, Edith Westerfeld, a young German Jew, is sent by her parents to Chicago, Illinois, where she lives with an aunt and uncle and tries to assimilate into American culture, while worrying about her parents and mourning the loss of everything she has ever known. Based on the author’s mother’s experience, includes an afterword about a little-known program that brought twelve hundred Jewish children to safety during World War II.
- The Romeo and Juliet Code by Phoebe Stone (JF STONE)
- During World War II, eleven-year-old Felicity is sent from London to Bottlebay, Maine, to live with her grandmother, aunt, uncle, and a reclusive boy who helps her decode mysterious letters that contain the truth about her missing parents.
- Romeo Blue by Phoebe Stone (JF STONE)
- During World War II, Felicity Bathburn is living in Bottlebay, Maine, with her eccentric relatives and their foster child Derek, whom she has grown to love, but when a man claiming to be Derek’s true father arrives and starts asking all sorts of strange questions Felicity becomes suspicious of his motives.
- I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor by Laura Tarshis (JF TAU)
- Sand flew up into Danny’s eyes. And then from behind him, a huge explosion seemed to shatter the world. The force lifted Danny off his feet and threw him onto the ground. And then Danny couldn’t hear anything at all.
- Blue by Joyce Hostetter (JF HOSTETTER)
- When teenager Ann Fay takes over as “man of the house” for her absent soldier father, she struggles to keep the family and herself together in the face of personal tragedy and the 1940s polio epidemic in North Carolina.
- Ted & Me by Dan Gutman (JF GUMAN)
- When Stosh travels back in time to 1941 in hopes of preventing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II, he meets Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. Includes notes about Williams’ life and career.
- Jump into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall (JF PEARSALL)
- In 1945, thirteen-year-old Levi is sent to find the father he has not seen in three years, going from Chicago, to segregated North Carolina, and finally to Pendleton, Oregon, where he learns that his father’s unit, the all-Black 555th paratrooper battalion, will never see combat but finally has a mission. Includes historical notes.
- The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss (J 940.5315 REI)
- A Dutch Jewish girl describes the two-and-one-half years she spent in hiding in the upstairs bedroom of a farmer’s house during World War II.
- I survived the Nazi invasion, 1944 by Laura Tarshis (JF TARSHIS)
- In one of the darkest periods in history, one boy struggles to survive. In this gripping new addition to the bestselling I SURVIVED series, a young Jewish boy escapes the ghetto and finds a group of resistance fighters in the forests of Poland. Does he have what it takes to survive the Nazis — and fight back?
- A boy at war : a novel of Pearl Harbor by Harry Mazer (J F MAZ)
- While fishing with his friends off Honolulu on December 7, 1941, teenaged Adam is caught in the midst of the Japanese attack and through the chaos of the subsequent days tries to find his father, a naval officer who was serving on the U.S.S. Arizona when the bombs fell.
- Courage has no color : the true story of the Triple Nickles : America’s first Black paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone (J 940.541273 STO)
- Examines the role of African-Americans in the military through the history of the Triple Nickles, America’s first black paratroopers, who fought against attacks perpetrated on the American West by the Japanese during World War II.
- The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the impossible became possible on Schlinder’s List by Leon Leyson (J 92 LEYSON)
- This is an amazing story of a young boy who lived in Poland when the German Nazis invaded. The Nazies rounded up all the Jewish people and only let them live in certain areas of the cities. Leon and his father evemtually worked for a man named Schlinder. Leon was ten years old and the youngest person on the now famous Schlinder’s list. This is his true story.