Ken Burns has been making films for more than thirty years. Since the Academy Award nominated BROOKLYN BRIDGE in 1981, Ken has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made. Ken has been the recipient of more than twenty-five honorary degrees and has delivered many treasured commencement addresses. He is a sought after public speaker, appearing at colleges, civic organizations and business groups throughout the country. Here you'll find his 1 part documentaries that are not part of a series.
December 1941-December 1942 After a haunting overview of the Second World War, an epoch of killing that engulfed the world from 1939 to 1945 and cost at least 50 million lives, the inhabitants of four towns — Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Luverne, Minnesota — recall their communities on the eve of the conflict. For them, and for most Americans finally beginning to recover from the Great Depression, the events overseas seem impossibly far away. Their tranquil lives are shattered by the shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and America is thrust into the greatest cataclysm in history. 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 and begin to train for war. In the Philippines, two Americans thousands of miles from home, Corporal Glenn Frazier and Sascha Weinzheimer (who was 8 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. Meanwhile, back home, 110,000 Japanese Americans all along the West Coast, including some 7,000 from Sacramento and the surrounding valley, are forced by the government to abandon their homes and businesses and are relocated to inland internment camps. On the East Coast, German U-boats menace Allied shipping just offshore, sending hundreds of ships and millions of tons of materiel to the bottom of the sea. The United States seems utterly unprepared for this kind of total war. Witnessing all of this is Katharine Phillips of Mobile, who remembers sightings of U-boats just outside Mobile Bay, and Al McIntosh, the editor of the Rock County Star Herald in Luverne, who chronicles the travails of every family in town. In June 1942, the Navy manages an improbable victory over the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. In August, American land forces, including Sid Phillips of Mobile, face the vaunted Japanese army for the first time at Guadalcanal, armed with single shot, bolt-action rifles and just 10 days worth of ammunition. Abandoned by their fleet with no support from the sea or the air, the men are strafed and bombed daily and under constant attack from enemy troops hidden in the jungle. After six long months the Americans finally prevail and, in the process, stop Japan’s expansion in the Pacific. At the end of America’s first year of war, more than 35,000 Americans in uniform have died. Before the war can end, 10 times that many will lose their lives.
By January 1943, Americans have been at war for more than a year. The Germans, with their vast war machine, still occupy most of Western Europe, and the Allies have not yet been able to agree on a plan or a timetable to dislodge them. For the time being, they will have to be content to nip at the edges of Hitler’s enormous domain. American troops, including Charles Mann of Luverne, are now ashore in North Africa, ready to test themselves for the first time against the German and Italian armies.
In fall 1943, after almost two years of war, the American public is able to see for the first time the terrible toll the war is taking on its troops when Life publishes a photograph of the bodies of three GIs killed in action at Buna.
By June 1944, there are signs on both sides of the world that the tide of the war is turning. On June 6, 1944 — D-Day — in the European Theater, a million and a half Allied troops embark on one of the greatest invasions in history: the invasion of France. Among them are Dwain Luce of Mobile, who drops behind enemy lines in a glider; Quentin Aanenson of Luverne, who flies his first combat mission over the Normandy coast; and Joseph Vaghi of Waterbury, who manages to survive the disastrous landing on Omaha Beach, where German resistance nearly decimates the American forces
By September 1944, in Europe at least, the Allies seem to be moving steadily toward victory. “Militarily,” General Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff tells the press, “this war is over.” But in the coming months, on both sides of the world, a generation of young men will learn a lesson as old as war itself — that generals make plans, plans go wrong and soldiers die.
By December 1944, Americans have become weary of the war their young men have been fighting for three long years; the stream of newspaper headlines telling of new losses and telegrams bearing bad news from the War Department seem endless and unendurable.
In spring 1945, although the numbers of dead and wounded have more than doubled since D-Day, the people of Mobile, Sacramento, Waterbury and Luverne understand all too well that there will be more bad news from the battlefield before the war can end. That March, when Americans go to the movies, President Franklin Roosevelt warns them in a newsreel that, although the Nazis are on the verge of collapse, the final battle with Japan could stretch on for