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The War: A Necessary War

Airs Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: A soldier, Saipan, 1944.

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.

Waterbury, Connecticut
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Above: Waterbury, Connecticut

Mobile, Alabama
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Above: Mobile, Alabama

Sacramento, California, Capitol dome.
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Above: Sacramento, California, Capitol dome.

Luverne, Minnesota
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Above: Luverne, Minnesota

Japanese-American evacuees; San Francisco, April 6, 1942.
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Above: Japanese-American evacuees; San Francisco, April 6, 1942.

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.

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.

"A Necessary War" (Part One) - After an overview of the Second World War, which engulfed the world from 1939 to 1945 and cost at least 50 million lives, inhabitants of four towns — Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Luverne, Minnesota — recall their communities on the eve of the conflict. For them, the events overseas seem far away.

Their tranquil lives are shattered by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and America is thrust into the great cataclysm. Along with millions of other young men, Sid Phillips and Willie Rushton of Mobile, Ray Leopold of Waterbury and Walter Thompson and Burnett Miller of Sacramento enter the armed forces.

In the Philippines, two Americans, Corporal Glenn Frazier and Sascha Weinzheimer (who was eight years old in 1941), are caught up in the Japanese onslaught there, as American and Filipino forces retreat onto Bataan while thousands of civilians are rounded up and imprisoned in Manila.

Back home, 110,000 Japanese Americans along the West Coast are forcibly relocated by the government to internment camps. On the East Coast, German U-boats menace Allied shipping offshore. The United States seems unprepared for this kind of total war.

Witnessing all of this is Katharine Phillips of Mobile and Al McIntosh, editor of the Rock County Star Herald in Luverne, who chronicles the travails of every family in town.

In June 1942, the Navy manages a victory over the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. In August, American land forces, including Sid Phillips of Mobile, face the Japanese army for the first time at Guadalcanal.

Abandoned by their fleet with no sea or air support, the men are under constant attack. After six months, the Americans finally prevail and, in the process, stop Japan's expansion in the Pacific.

Up Next: The next six episodes will follow on August 1st at 9 p.m., 2nd at 10 p.m., 5th at 9 p.m., 6th at 9 p.m., 7th at 9 p.m., 8th at 9 p.m., 2012 on KPBS Television.

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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.

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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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