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  • Ryan Wittler

A Glimpse Into the Mindset of American Soldiers During World War II

Joe Rosenthal/Associated Press

“I have been through the whole…campaign as yet I haven’t been hurt, but…day by day I see my buddies being wounded or killed. My luck cannot hold out forever.”

Those are the chilling words written by a soldier in the thick of the fighting in Italy during World War II. He wasn’t venting in a letter sent home, he was responding to an official military survey of soldiers’ views on the war.

The handwritten response is part of a new project called “The American Soldier in World War II” from historians at Virginia Tech University. The project presents 65,000 pages of service members’ uncensored handwritten responses to dozens of surveys administered during the war, touching on topics including race, women in service, sex, and combat.

In all, about 500,000 service members were surveyed (results from about 300,000 survive), providing a glimpse into the mindset of the Americans fighting in what would become the deadliest conflict in human history.

Black soldiers questioned how white ones could hate them so much, despite the frequent “patriotic speeches” heaved at them. A gay soldier questioned why he was even sent there, left to only “try not to get caught,” and dozens of men voiced their opinion that women shouldn’t have anything to do with military service at all.

You can explore the fascinating project at its website here. It includes 86 studies administered during the war, 139 datasets, and dozens of other resources.

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