My dad never talked about World War II. The only reasons I even knew he'd served were the bent-edged black-and-white photos of him in his Navy uniform, with the flared legs many years before bellbottoms were cool. He was young, even younger than his sign-up papers said; he lied about his age to serve his country. He was stationed in the Philippines on an aircraft carrier. I didn't understand what that meant until he died and we found a scrapbook he'd kept. The photos showed him on the ship's deck holding a piece of wing from a Japanese kamikaze plane, another carrier sinking into the ocean and more gruesome things he never discussed. It was the scrapbook of a person I'd never met.
Thousands of photos like these exist from World War II, snapshots from England, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, America, everywhere the fighting happened or where its effects were felt. Even when the faces are anonymous, the impact registers through weary eyes, shells of buildings, gun-smoked landscapes. Some of the greatest photographs from this era--including Joe Rosenthal's of American soldiers raising the U.S. flag over Iwo Jima--were collected for Memories of World War II, an exhibit of pictures selected from the The Associated Press' archives. Memories was organized in Washington, D.C., in honor of the dedication of the National World War II Memorial, and its first tour stop is the Dallas Historical Society's Hall of State during the run of the State Fair of Texas. The photos range from soldiers taking communion on the battlefield to families fleeing their homes, all their possessions piled on a cart. There are happy moments, too: victory celebrations, people crowding the streets, flags waving as they rejoice. They're stories some people never got to tell but all of us should hear.