Upper School historians and other members of the Parker community had the special opportunity to listen to avid history enthusiast Michael Grant ’62 speak about one of his specialties, World War II. Bonded by a shared enthusiasm for and interest in this topic, those who attended this extracurricular enrichment opportunity learned more about events that “foretold how the war would unfold,” tactics, equipment, heroes, villains, maps and more. While students have studied WWII in class, History Department Chair Andrew Bigelow and Grant offered this presentation for those who wanted a deeper dive.
Armed with a bevy of references, maps and other visual aids, Grant explained that WWII was the most catastrophic event on the globe, with more than 20 million military causalities and more than 48 million civilian casualties. Fought by those whom NBC’s Tom Brokaw minted “The Greatest Generation,” WWII was a time of great deeds and, during the war, horrendous deeds. Grant discussed events like the Japanese invasion into Siberia in the summer of 1939, the Spanish Civil War, the death of Walther Wever and the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, which laid the foundations and also foretold the ways events would play out during WWII.
After speaking on these “precursor” events, Grant talked about tactics and equipment used in the war, including the Blitzkrieg, which had its foundations in the lessons from the “slaughterhouse” that was World War I. He described the advantages and disadvantages to both sides from technology like the German HE 111 two-engine bomber, the enigma machines, Panzer IV tanks, British Spitfire planes and Russian T-34 tanks.
Next, Grant highlighted important moments during the war: the precarious situation of the British and Winston S. Churchill’s role in holding everyone together and motivating them forward through his oration and force of personality; the deliverance of the British at Dunkirk; the expansion of the war into West Africa; the United States’ entry into the war; the Germans’ disastrous invasion into Russia; and, finally, D-Day.
D-Day was especially important for Grant, as he was present on the beaches at the anniversary of this invasion three years ago and spoke to vets who participated in the effort. “This is the most interesting part, the human part,” Grant told the audience when talking about the conversations he had with a 94-year-old bomber pilot and a Canadian paratrooper. He spent time discussing the events that led to D-Day, the uncertainty of those involved in this action’s success and the distribution of troops at the five invasion beaches and beyond. Grant provided interesting anecdotes, like the integral role the toy cricket clickers played and the bravery of soldiers like Theodore Roosevelt Jr. or the 250 rangers who ascended the 100-foot cliff through enemy fire at Pointe Du Hoc.
When speaking on this event, Bigelow offered, “Michael is truly a passionate historian in the War in Europe and Asia. His expertise, research and many experiences in these historic sights sets a great example for our kids to become passionate about our past and to embrace our history.”
Grant’s presentation was rife with information and packed full of interesting visuals that aided the audience’s understanding of the discussion topics. All those in attendance left with a better understanding of this war and its reverberations across the globe.