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The War: The Ghost Front

Airs Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Soldiers in line for food, Belgium, January 1945.

THE WAR, a seven-part documentary series directed and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, explores the history and horror of the Second World War from an American perspective by following the fortunes of so-called ordinary men and women who become caught up in one of the greatest cataclysms in human history.

Six years in the making, this epic 15-hour film focuses on the stories of citizens from four geographically distributed American towns — Waterbury, Connecticut; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and the tiny farming town of Luverne, Minnesota. These four communities stand in for — and could represent — any town in the United States that went through the war's four devastating years.

Witnesses from the Home Front

The power of THE WAR comes from the intimate, personal stories of dozens of American citizens who lived through the war. They moved to booming “war towns,” worked in defense industries, made the best of life in internment camps, contributed to the war effort, met servicemen and fell in love, and worried about the boys they knew who were overseas. Select a name to see a biography and a list of video interviews, photographs and objects related to that witness.

A soldier walks down a road lined by tall trees, Belgium, December 1944.
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Above: A soldier walks down a road lined by tall trees, Belgium, December 1944.

Two soldiers in Geich, Germany, pause for a cigarette behind a tank on December 11, 1944.
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Above: Two soldiers in Geich, Germany, pause for a cigarette behind a tank on December 11, 1944.

The Veterans History Project

PBS and Florentine Films have partnered with the Veterans History Project (VHP) in a massive effort to capture the stories of men and women who experienced the war first-hand before the generation that witnessed World War II has passed. The Veterans History Project is part of the Library of Congress and honors American war veterans and civilian workers who supported them by preserving stories of their service to our country. VHP collects and archives the one-of-a-kind stories that represent the diversity of the veterans who served our country — veterans from all conflicts, from all branches of the military, all ranks, all races and ethnicities.

Individuals from each community take the viewer through their own personal and quite often harrowing journeys into war, painting vivid portraits of how the war dramatically altered their lives and those of their neighbors, as well as the country they helped to save for generations to come. Winner of three Primetime Emmys.

"The Ghost Front" (Part Six) - By December 1944, Americans have become weary of the war. In the Pacific, American progress has been slow and costly, with each island more fiercely defended than the last.

In Europe, no one is prepared for the massive counterattack Hitler launches on December 16 in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium and Luxemburg. Tom Galloway of Mobile, Burnett Miller of Sacramento and Ray Leopold of Waterbury are among the Americans caught up in the Battle of the Bulge.

Back home, Katharine Phillips of Mobile and Burt Wilson of Sacramento are shocked to see newspaper headlines showing the Germans on the offensive and wonder, "Are we losing now that we're this close?"

Meanwhile, at Santo Tomas Camp in Manila, thousands of internees, including Sascha Weinzheimer of Sacramento, are starving, desperately trying to hold on to life long enough to be liberated.

At Yalta, Allied leaders agree on a plan that includes massive bombing raids aimed at German oil facilities, defense factories, roads, railways and cities. In March alone, Allied warplanes drop 163,864 tons of bombs on Germany - almost as many as they have dropped in the preceding three years combined.

In the Pacific, Allied bombers are ready to batter Japan as well — but first, the air strip on Iwo Jima, an inhospitable volcanic island halfway between Allied air bases on Tinian and the Japanese home islands, needs to be taken.

There the Marines, including Ray Pittman of Mobile, face 21,000 determined Japanese defenders who have been ordered to kill as many Americans as possible before being killed themselves.

After almost a month of desperate fighting, the island is secured and American bombers are free to begin their full-fledged air assault on Japan. In the coming months, Allied bombings will set the cities of Japan ablaze, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving millions homeless.

By the middle of March 1945, the end of the war in Europe seems imminent. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are crossing the Rhine and driving into the heart of Germany, while the Russians are within 50 miles of Berlin.

Still, back in Luverne, Al McIntosh warns his readers to keep their heads down and keep working "until there is no doubt of victory any more" because "lots of our best boys have been lost in victory drives before."

Up Next: The final episode will follow on August 8th at 9 p.m., 2012 on KPBS TV.

Video

Extended Preview: The War

Above: THE WAR, a seven-part series directed and produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, tells the story of the Second World War through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four quintessentially American towns.

Video

The War: Near Execution

Above: After surviving the "Bataan Death March," Mobile's Glenn Frazier recounts a near-death experience from a Japanese prison camp.

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The War: Maurice Bell Watches Tarawa

Above: Mobile's Maurice Bell recounts the landing at Tarawa, a tiny Pacific island, as he observed it from the deck of the U.S.S. Indianapolis.

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The War: "Killed Men"

Above: Quentin Aanenson, a fighter pilot from Luverne, MN, explains what it was like to find the enemy in his gun sights -- and pulling the trigger for the first time.

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The War: Sidney Phillips: "Lapse into bad language"

Above: Sidney Phillips worries that his colorful wartime vocabulary might follow him home to Mobile, Alabama.

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The War: "Bulge broke right there"

Above: Mobile's Tom Galloway finds himself on the frozen front lines as the shells start falling in The Battle of The Bulge.

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