Have you heard the popular retort from the 1940s, “Don’t you know there’s a war going on?”
During the Second World War, naval commandants wrote diary entries about major events in their commands. The subordinate officers submitted reports to their commandants who typed up “war diaries” for the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations. The War Diaries were official U.S. Navy records, to be examined post-war as a source for histories of the various Navy commands.
But whose decided what was important enough to write down?
The answer, of course, was everybody. And everybody had a different view of the same experience. So the entries in War Diaries varied from one commanding officer to the next, and from one command to the next. A hand-written desk diary kept by the Commandants of the U.S. Naval Training Station at Great Lakes shows how different people viewed the exact same place and experience in vastly different ways.
According to one diary writer, “… nothing of historical importance has occurred at the Naval Training Center during June 1944.”
Ditto that judgment for July 1944.
We can only guess that the commandant was too busy during summer 1944. Don’t you know there’s a war going on?
But another writer in the same diary had a vastly differing view just fourteen months earlier, in April 1943. In fact, so much was happening that he had to record the times within each day:
These entries contain subtle hints about historical changes happening in the Navy and in American society.
If you were at this naval training station in April 1943, would you attend the “National Barn Dance” performance, the “Musical Happy Hour” concert by Griff Williams and his band, or the Brazilian soprano singer’s concert?
Or would you have been a new recruit in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service)?
Maybe you have been aboard the submarine USS Pompon (SS-267) as it mysteriously surfaced along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Where did a submarine on Lake Michigan come from, and where was it headed?
Where one observer left us copious information about the sounds and sights of the place, ranging from popular music to diplomatic visits by Allied nations, another saw almost nothing noteworthy. Don’t you know there’s a war going on?