From THE WAR Episode 1 (Read by Tom Hanks):
VOICE: Luverne, Minnesota, August, 1941. Miss Aagot Rylund, who is
in town visiting her brother, knows what it is to see vast sections
of a city ripped to ruin by German bombs and she remembers the nights
that London burned— how she could read a letter by the unbelievable
glare of the far off flames. She knows what it is to have high
explosive bombs blast their big craters right outside the doorway of
the shelter in which she was sleeping. She has had her best friends
Looking out at the peaceful countryside from the Thompson porch she
said it was hard to believe that the rest of the world was at war.
Rock County Star
NARRATOR: Much of the world was already at war in the fall of 1941, but for most Americans, finally beginning to recover from the Great Depression, events overseas seemed impossibly far away.
In Luverne, Minnesota, the biggest town in Rock County in the state’s southwestern corner, the autumn harvest was only a memory and its 3,000 citizens had begun the long winter wait until they could sow their fields again. Al McIntosh, the editor of the Rock County Star, lived at 517 North Kniss Avenue. He was a newcomer from North Dakota who had turned down big city jobs to run his own small town paper. He would soon find himself trying to explain the unexplainable to his new neighbors. Six year-old Jim Sherman lived with his family at 503 North Estey Street.
JIM SHERMAN: I think it was pretty close-knit community. There was a saying that if you don’t want people to know about it, you don’t do it -- sort of thing. And, everybody knew pretty much everybody else in town.
MUSIC: Luverne B, Wynton Marsalis
NARRATOR: Four miles south of town near the Rock River was the 120 acre farm of the Aanenson family. There they raised cows and grew barley, oats and corn. Their middle son, who would face the most fearful odds in the skies over France, was named Quentin.
QUENTIN AANENSON: And, literally, sometimes I would be on a piece of farm machinery plowing corn, and a lonely airplane would fly over and I would look up and my spirit would soar. That’s where I want to be sometime. I want to live that way. I want to do those things.
MUSIC: Sacramento A, Wynton Marsalis
NARRATOR: In Sacramento, California, the state capital, “Okies” – refugees from the dust bowl – still camped on the edge of town and worked the fields and orchards and vineyards of the surrounding Sacramento Valley. The city had been the gateway to the California Gold Rush and the western anchor of the transcontinental railroad. Although it was home to some 106,000 people, Sacramento still seemed like a small town. Tom and Earl Burke, who would be asked to sacrifice everything for their country, lived with their parents at 3240 Lassen Way just north of town.
EARL BURKE: It was a tremendous town. Everybody knew each other, all ethnic groups. It was just perfect. I mean, there was, you could go out on the streets at night at 11 or 12 o’clock at night and, you know, you could walk home in the dark. Nobody would lock the doors. Nobody even thought of it. It was a nice clean, little town.
BURNETT MILLER: The lower end of town was rather colorful to us. There were lots of whorehouses. As you got up towards the nicer part of town, towards 10th Street, the houses of prostitution were quite fancy. And as kids we used to run down there and run through the places, raising hell.
NARRATOR: 18 year-old Burnett Miller lived with his family in a comfortable neighborhood at 3643 West Lincoln Avenue. He would discover in the last days of the war why it had to be fought.
MUSIC: Sacramento B, Wynton Marsalis
NARRATOR: Almost 7,000 Japanese-Americans also lived in Sacramento and the surrounding county – doctors, lawyers, teachers, and shop-owners, as well as some of the most productive farmers in America. Susumu Satow and his family grew strawberries, grapes and raspberries on their 20-acre farm east of the city.
SUSUMU SATOW: My mother didn’t speak English. My father spoke broken English. As a youngster, at the age of about eight, nine, I guess, I used to walk down the railroad track to a place called Mills. And Mills had a semi-pro baseball team. And so I grew up in a sort of a baseball environment, I guess.
MUSIC: Waterbury, Wynton Marsalis
NARRATOR: In Waterbury, Connecticut, on the banks of the Naugatuck River, a skilled work force, mostly immigrants and immigrants’ children, turned out screws and washers and buttons, showerheads and alarm clocks, toy airplanes and lipstick holders and cocktail shakers. Since the 19th Century, its citizens had proudly called their town “Brass City.” Ray Leopold, the son of a Jewish immigrant from Latvia, lived on Route 8 on the southern edge of the city.
RAY LEOPOLD: Waterbury was a center for high quality craft. There were individuals there who could do one-ten thousandth of an inch on anything, and if there was zero tolerance required, they could do that, too.
OLGA CIARLO: Well, Waterbury, where we lived, there were a lot of Italian people. They had made a good business for themselves and were very well liked. We had a wonderful neighborhood. We had parties every single Sunday. Every Sunday was a picnic for us.
NARRATOR: The Ciarlo family lived at 1032 North Main Street in the Italian section of town. Their father had recently died; his loss would be only the beginning of their troubles.
MUSIC: American Anthem, Wynton Marsalis
NARRATOR: And in Mobile, Alabama, population 112,000, the only real industry was shipbuilding, as it had been since the Great War a generation earlier. Once a center of cotton and slave trading, Mobile was best known for its annual azalea festival and its leisurely southern air. John Gray and his family lived on the south side of town near the L & N railroad tracks at 407 Royal Street. He would soon be asked to fight a war for freedom – though his own country’s definition of freedom did not include him.
John Gray: Whites and blacks got along pretty good as long as you had the status quo. But you could not eat at the counter at Woolworth’s. You’d have to go down to the end and order your sandwich and take it out. Out to eat.
NARRATOR: Across town, Katharine Phillips and her family lived at 1555 Monterey Place.
MUSIC: American Anthem, Jacqueline Schwab
KATHARINE PHILLIPS: Daddy said Mobile made its living by taking in each other’s wash. And it was absolutely true. The pace of life was slow. On a hot summer evening, of course there was no air conditioning, so daddy would load us in the car and we’d drive downtown to Brown’s Ice Cream and he’d buy us an ice cream cone and then we’d drive out to Arlington and park out by the bay. And all sit there and enjoy the sea breeze. And when we’d cooled down enough, he’d bring us home and everybody could go to bed and go to sleep. Or we sat on our porch in the evening and the children played in the yard. It was a wonderful way to grow up. And we were completely away from the rest of the world down in Mobile.
MUSIC: Cello Concerto 1. / II. Largo , Alfred Schnittke
NARRATOR: No one in Mobile, Waterbury, Sacramento, Luverne -- or anywhere else in America -- was prepared for what was about to happen to them and their country.