Why is this website important?
Although the digital age has given us the ability to access information far more quickly and efficiently, it seems we are losing something in the process: the desire to search further and for ourselves.
I've always had an insatiable desire to learn, and history has always been my passion. In the second grade I became transfixed with the golden treasures and massive pyramids of Ancient Egypt. In the fifth grade I became enamored with the American Revolution. By high school I was obsessed with the Roman Empire, and by the time I graduated I couldn't get enough of the English Monarchy since William the Conqueror.
Now, I know that is a staggeringly different array of histories, and no, I haven't remembered everything I learned about each of those periods, and I haven't named all of the different historical genres I've become engrossed in; those are just the ones that really stick out. Well, those and WWII.
I've always had a fascination with WWII because I had known my grandfather had been a part of it. As the Texas public education system told it, the Americans swooped in and saved the day after being brutally and unexpectedly attacked by a cruel and vicious enemy.
When digging deeper into the histories, you learn that the U.S. did know an attack was imminent, that they fully expected to enter into the war, and that Americans like to take full credit for everything. Okay, maybe not that last one...completely. But the point is, there is very little truth to those ideas.
My grandfather, I came to find, had a much more balanced view of those times than my textbooks and teachers. I remember telling him what I had learned about the war (usually super patriotic stuff like "America saved the day"), so proud that I could discuss the conflict that he had been a part of, but he almost always would say, "well, that's not the way I remember it."
He was the sobering reality to my patriotic education of WWII. He helped me understand that there is always at least two sides to every story and the truth is almost always somewhere in between. I would later understand why: perceptions.
Perceptions color everything we see, do, and hear, and they are almost always a product of our upbringing. I was in middle school when September 11th happened, and while the gravity of those events took a few weeks to really sink in for me, they helped to color my education of American histories.
The envelope of patriotism that followed that day wrapped me up tight. "America the Great" and "Never Forget" were slogans I would swing around in my head, heart, and mouth until my grandfather passed away. When he died so unexpectedly, I tried to remember everything he told me; about his life, about his experiences, and about learning. But even those were now colored; colored with the pain of losing him before I was ready.
As I went through my undergraduate years, I came out of my shell. I was on my own for the first time, in a different state and a different atmosphere than the one I grew up in. I began to question what I had been taught only through textbooks. I learned the importance of libraries and archives. Most of all, I learned the difference between primary and secondary sources of information.
After graduating, my thirst for knowledge abated for the first time probably since I was born. I was content to wallow in ignorance, spouting off what I heard on the radio, or saw on the television, or read in this one article online.
Now, there is nothing wrong with getting information from these sources, but it should only be as a jumping off point since they are almost always secondary sources. And the problem with secondary sources is that they are colored with the perceptions of those who created them. Omissions, inflections, and half-truths can permeate these sources. The only way to be sure is to see it for yourself.
As I began the journey of graduate school, I had to remember how to learn. I had gotten lazy about learning; not reading but learning. I had not cracked a book of non-fiction in over 4 years, and I had not had to think critically about non-fiction in the same amount of time.
It was a rough first semester, and the second was worse because of a full course load. But my thirst for knowledge slowly came back, along with a feeling of nostalgia for my grandfather. On a whim I searched for new material on my grandfather and his unit, the 362nd Fighter Group. And I found it, my inspiration.
It has been a year and quite a journey to get to this point. There were plenty of times along the way where I wanted to quit because it seemed like an impossible task; there could not be enough primary sources to make this work. My first attempts at searching turned up nothing and the discouragement took months to get over. But then I questioned. First my dad, then the museum, then Ondine, and so on. They knew more than I did, and they helped me learn which directions to turn in my search for primary sources.
So why is this relevent to you? Why is this website important?
It shows the power of searching, questioning, and learning. It shows that while the internet can be a great source of information, it should really be used as a springboard for more, not the final say. Find something that piques your interest, and find out more. Go in search of primary sources, question people who might know more than you, and learn as much as you can before you begin forming the basis of your opinions.
My grandfather was my passion for this project because he helped shape me into who I am today. For that I was and am grateful.
But it also made me curious as to how he became the man I knew, and the man I was trying to know, before he died. How did a 30 year military man become a softie grandfather? And how did a small town Nebraska boy with no interest in leading or flying become a pilot, a commander, and a leader? This project endeavors to find those answers.
So, what do you want to know?