World War II is one of the most famous wars in history, and its impact on the United States was huge. However, local history and stories from that era often get forgotten, which is why historian, author and Bridgeport native Melissa Amateis wanted to highlight WWII-era Nebraska stories in her book “World War II Nebraska.”
Amateis’ book discusses everything from Henry Doorly’s scrap campaign — which became a model for the rest of the country — to the 11 air bases established in the state. Amateis called it “an overview of all of the things that happened on the Nebraska Homefront.”
Amateis, who is a WWII historian and previously wrote a book on Nebraska’s POW camps during WWII, said she believed it is important to understand the local stories during major moments in American history, and WWII was one of the most defining events for our country.
“I think it’s just imperative that we know where we come from, and we know the people who came before us, because they shaped who we are today and the places around us,” she said. “WWII was such a huge event, and it just brought about change on so many levels throughout the world. I mean, it got us out of the Great Depression. And, you know, we had the baby boom, and we became this huge economic and military powerhouse after WWII. And it is just a moment in history that just defined us as a nation in so many ways.”
Other aspects of WWII-era Nebraska history that she included in her book are the K-9 war dog trainings at Fort Robinson, the North Platte Canteen and Nebraska’s POW camps, of which two of three were located in the Panhandle, according to Amateis’ book.
Amateis said some of the things she discovered in her research that she was most interested in included the quick build of the air bases near small towns and how that affected the local populations. She thought it was interesting to see the relationships between the troops who came to work on these bases and the locals.
“I also found it interesting how we as Nebraskans dealt with the black troops who came in to work with these air bases or in some of the ordnance plants, too,” she said. “And I wanted to make sure that I did not sugarcoat anything. I wanted to tell the truth about who we were as a people then, and it wasn’t 100% perfect, just like we’re not 100% perfect now. But overall, that we, you know, did an amazing job for the war effort. And we were a warm, welcoming place for the most part.”
Looking ahead, Amateis plans on completing her doctorate degree at the University of Nebraska — Lincoln and is working on her first historical fiction novel, which takes place in Nebraska during WWII. That book is set to be published in August 2021.
With her current book, “World War II Nebraska,” Amateis hopes to bring light to some of the forgotten stories and the impact that the state of Nebraska had in the war effort.
“One of my big things for doing local history is I feel like it gets overshadowed sometimes within the larger context of WWII, or other larger historical events,” she said. “Everybody knows about D-Day, but do they know that the man who made the Higgins Boat was born in Nebraska? You know, everybody knows about these planes that bomb cities in Germany and things, but do they know that a lot of those bombs were made in Nebraska? So, I just think it’s important to know how we fit into the larger picture.”
Amateis’ book, published by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press, is out now and can be purchased online.