World War II came to a close in 1945, and looking back 75 years, it is hard to believe that Americans on the cusp of war in 1940 were as removed from the Civil War as we are from World War II today. Imagine veterans of that war, fought with horses and muskets, still alive to share their memories in the Atomic Age.
Today, we have a dwindling number of World War II veterans, all now well north of 90 years old (unlike the Civil War, there were no 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old drummer boys or powder monkeys). So throughout 2020, we are offering special content on our World War II Tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard on the first Sunday of each month that will focus on different aspects of the human story of the war, utilizing our vast archive or oral histories and other personal stories of life on the home front and on the front lines.
February 2 – Black History Month: World War II both provided new opportunities for African-Americans and underscored the deep segregation that ran through public life, North and South. This tour will highlight the lives of both service members and civilian workers at the Yard and how they struggled with unequal pay and unequal treatment.
March 1 – Manhattan Beach with Jennifer Egan: This novel is an immersive look at life at the Yard in the 1940’s, built upon years of archival research and oral histories with women shipworkers. Jennifer Egan will join us for this special tour for Women’s History Month and share insights into her writing process while we visit sites mentioned in the book and listen to oral histories from the real people that inspired the novel.
April 5 – Supporting the Allied Fleets: The Brooklyn Navy Yard not only supported the US Navy, but military and civilian fleets from across the globe. We will share stories of the British, French, and Canadian ships that visited the Yard, and of the scores of foreign sailors that descended on Brooklyn during the war.
May 3 – Labor Struggles at the Yard: In recognition of May Day, this tour will discuss labor the politics of the Yard before, during, and after the war. The national emergency precluded strikes, but workers found other ways to organize and fight for their rights.
June 7 – Turning Points in the War: Midway and D-Day: June 1942 and June 1944 were major turning points in the war, and though located thousands of miles from the Pacific and European battlefronts, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was pivotal in both battles.
July 5 – The Forgotten Front: War in the Mediterranean: The Brooklyn Navy Yard supported the campaigns in North Africa and Italy, an often forgotten front in the war. We will discuss some of the Yard-built ships that fought in these battles, and the incredible repair jobs done to keep ships in the fight.
August 2 – The US Coast Guard at War: To mark the US Coast Guard’s birthday (August 4), we will give special attention to this oft-overlooked service, which served in combat zones across the globe, and many cutters were built or repaired at the Yard. The first casualties of the war in the Atlantic after Pearl Harbor were Coast Guardsmen aboard the Brooklyn Navy Yard-built USCGC Hamilton.
September 6 – V-J Day: The tour will focus on the Pacific War and how the Yard supported the fight up until the Japanese surrender. We will also discuss the details of the surrender, which took place on September 2, 1945, aboard the Yard-built USS Missouri.
October 4 – New York City Navy Day, 1945: After the end of the war, 48 battle-hardened ships sailed into New York Harbor and threw down their gangways to welcome the public. We will share stories of what some sailors called “The Battle of New York,” as they had to protect their ships against over-zealous souvenir seekers, especially aboard the vaunted USS Missouri.
November 8 – The US Marines at the Yard: For over 160 years, the Yard was home to a large detachment of US Marines. To celebrate the Marine Corps’ birthday (November 10), we will discuss their vital role in the war and hear oral histories from “leathernecks” who worked and served at the Yard.
December 6 – Remembering Pearl Harbor: The Yard has a special connection to Pearl Harbor, as the shipyard the built the USS Arizona as well as seven other ships that were present at the attack. Not only that, but over 1,000 workers from Brooklyn headed to Hawaii to help rebuild the Pacific Fleet, and we will share stories of these workers invaluable contributions to the war effort.