Directed and Produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. A production of Florentine Films and WETA Washington, DC.
In this seven-part, 15-hour series, six years in the making, director Ken Burns traces America's experience in World War II through four towns: Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Luverne, Minnesota; and Sacramento, California. Blending new interviews and rare wartime photographs and footage, the project tells the stories of those who went to war, from Guadalcanal to the skies over Europe—and of the sweeping changes at home. Through its intimate portraits of everyday Americans, the film pursues a central insight: "in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.”
Excerpt One, from Episode One, A Necessary War
Introduction and The Four Towns
As Ken Burns has noted, the Second World War “was fought in thousands of places, too many for any one accounting.” In the United States, Americans in every part of the country were touched by World War Two. In addition to the draft and enlistment, communication, family life, work, and civil rights were all affected. This clip includes the prologue to The War and introduces us to the four towns and their residents.
Excerpt Two, from Episode One, A Necessary War
Daniel Inouye and others on the ground at Pearl Harbor the day of the Japanese attack on the U.S. air base share their personal stories of how the attack immediately changed their lives. We also hear from citizens of the four towns about how news of the attack was received, including in Sacramento, home to a large Japanese American community.
Excerpt Three, from Episode One, A Necessary War
Glenn Frazier, who trained on the Philippine Island of Luzon, shares his inner struggle with and experience learning to kill.
Excerpt Four, from Episode One, A Necessary War
Early in the war, U.S. servicemen come to terms with the human cost of war.
Episode Four, Pride of Our Nation
(June 1944-August 1944)
June 6, 1944 – D-Day – a million and a half Allied troops embark on one of the greatest invasions in history: the invasion of France. It is the bloodiest day in American history since the Civil War, with nearly 2,500 Americans losing their lives. But the Allies succeed in tearing a 45-mile gap in Hitler’s vaunted Atlantic Wall, and by day’s end more than 150,000 men have landed on French soil. They quickly find themselves bogged down in the Norman hedgerows, facing German troops determined to make them pay for every inch of territory they gain. For months, the Allies must measure their progress in yards, and they suffer far greater casualties than anyone expected.
In the Pacific, the long climb from island to island toward the Japanese homeland is well underway, but the enemy seems increasingly determined to defend to the death every piece of territory they hold.
Back at home, Americans do their best to go about their normal lives, but on doorsteps all across the country, dreaded telegrams from the War Department begin arriving at a rate inconceivable just one year earlier.
In late July, Allied forces break out of the hedgerows in Normandy, and by mid-August, the Germans are in full retreat out of France. On August 25, after four years of Nazi occupation, Paris is liberated — and the end of the war in Europe seems only a few weeks away.
For educators: visit EDSITEment! for related lessons and an interactive map:
Victory in Europe 1944-1945
Normandy Invasion and Campaign