In their ongoing documentation of the history of the United States, Ken Burns and his team created The War, a seven-part, approximately 15-hour miniseries about World War II that aired on PBS in 2007. More than 16 million American men and women would serve in uniform during the war, each one with a story to tell, so the focus had to be narrowed. As stated in titles, “The Second World War was fought in thousands of places, too many for any one accounting. This is the story of four American towns and how their citizens experienced that war.” While others take part, it is people from Luverne, Minnesota; Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; and Waterbury, Connecticut whose memories and reflections provide the documentary's main narrative. It's this approach that makes these well-known, oft-told events so engrossing and enlightening because the big stories we know are augmented by the smaller stories most of us don't.
For example, the story of Glenn Downing Frazier from Mobile begins during the summer of 1941 when he was just 16. One night he tore up a bar because of a broken heart. Embarrassed by his actions, he signed up for the army, volunteering for the Philippines because he thought it would be safe since the Germans were fighting throughout Europe. He soon learned how wrong that decision was after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The archival films and photography of the attack on Pearl Harbor still resonate with great power, and it is made personal by the eyewitness account of Senator Daniel Inouye, who was 17 at the time. Frazier would later suffer through the Bataan Death March and said if he had known what he was going to suffer through he would have chosen death. His description of what was endured is truly stunning as he recounts the depth of depravity encountered.
The documentary states that "by the end of 1942, after a year in the war, more than 35,000 American in uniform had died," but they weren't the only ones who the war exacted a serve toll. Those they left behind also paid a steep price. Olga Ciarlo reads a letter sent to her brother on his 21st birthday. Twenty-two days later, the family got telegram, stating that he likely died eight days before that momentous birthday. Olga is still pained by his loss over 60 years later.