World War II erupted in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland and ended with Japan’s surrender in September 1945. The US, still recovering from the Great Depression, initially remained in isolation as the war blazed in Western and Eastern Europe and North Africa. The Japanese bombing of the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941 catapulted the US into war against all the Axis powers in Asia, Europe and Africa. Millions of Americans eventually served in the armed forces during the war.

These are the stories of a few of the surviving U.S. servicemen as captured by students in the history classes of Dr. Earl Reitan at Illinois State University (ISU) in Normal, Illinois, in the 1980s. Also included are the stories of a few European soldiers, plus civilians in wartime US and Europe. Each paper is based on an in-person interview between the student and the subject.

Dr. Reitan wrote his 2001 book Riflemen: On the Cutting Edge of World War II based on his own experiences and those of his fellow riflemen while serving in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. It is available in the Museum Library Stacks, call number 940.54 REI 2005.