Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Celebrating Veterans Day With YouTube Wartime Memories
© 2008 by Bohdan O. Szuprowicz

For many years I searched for a recording of “Sailor’s Tango”, a haunting tune, I first heard during World War II in Scotland. It was written to honor the Polish Navy fighting against the Germans alongside the Allied Forces. I had no luck whatsoever until recently when I reluctantly explored YouTube, the video-sharing Web site operated by Google.

YouTube is sometimes known as the “10 Minutes To Fame” opportunity, primarily used by teenagers who dream of being noticed by Hollywood and making it big in a hurry. But at the start of 2008 nearly 79,000,000 users were viewing its extensive repertoire, which is growing by leaps and bounds every day. Now you can watch over 6,000,000 videos on a 24/7 basis, uploaded to YouTube by over 500,000 registered users. While about half of those are teenagers, the oldest uploader is believed to be an 80-year-old UK veteran narrating memories of World War II.

Indeed there are numerous videos uploaded by many veterans of all armies covering both world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf wars and lesser conflicts all over the world. There are military intelligence veterans who claim they cannot talk about questionable events that took place in wartime. There are accounts of air raids and dog fights by airmen of several countries illustrated with seldom seen photographs and many movie clips from newsreels of the time. Wartime propaganda films are there for the asking. A number of real spy stories are also documented in form of film clips and interviews. Not to mention hate material and other unsavory videos, not for the timid and sensitive among us.

But where YouTube really shines for the veteran is in a huge collection of professional videos in many categories including wartime songs and military marches from all over the world that bring back the most cherished memories. These include photographs and video clips of singers from movies, theaters, cabarets and military bands going all the way back to the Civil War. All you need to enjoy this fantastic selection, completely free of charge, is a computer with a broadband Internet connection.

Not only did I find the “Sailor’s Tango” on YouTube but a wealth of familiar wartime songs dating all the way back to World War I. Inevitably George Cohan’s “Over There” is available in several versions sung by American and European singers. There are numerous recordings of “It’s a Long Way To Tiperrary” with British and American lyrics, which speak of “Goodby Staten Island, Farewell to Times Square”. Ah! But have you ever heard it sung by the Red Russian Army Choir? It is truly a treat.

There are also many versions of other popular songs of that period like “Roses of Picardy”, “Till We Meet Again”, or “Keep the Home Fires Burning” and “Mademoiselle from Armentieres”. The French song “La Madelon” is beautifully performed in a concert hall setting by Spanish singer Sara Montiel. All those recordings are illustrated with photographs, movie clips, posters and scenes from that War to end all Wars.

Songs of World War II are another matter and it’s impossible to mention them all. Perhaps the most popular on YouTube is “Lili Marlene”, originally broadcast by the Germans from Belgrade in occupied Yugoslavia, for their forces fighting on all fronts. Rommel’s Afrika Korps fell in love with it. So did the British in North Africa who translated it into English. Marlena Dietrich, who often consorted with general Patton in those days, popularized it for the allies throughout the war. You can also hear it in German and English sung by Vera Lynn in wartime England. A German Panzer division recorded one of the most exciting renderings of “Lili Marlene”. Other versions on YouTube are in Czech, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish languages. Even the Russians gave it a try but their own “Dark Eyes”, “Kalinka” and “Katiusha” are something else again.

All the wartime love song videos are there in several versions each. These include “I’ll Be Seeing You”, “We’ll Meet Again”, “The White Cliffs of Dover”, and “As Time Goes By”, made famous by the movie “Casablanca”. There are also more sentimental hits like “You Belong to My Heart”, “Amapola”, “Sleepy Lagoon”, “Moonlight Becomes You”, and “White Christmas”, all of which share the same wartime vintage. More robust hits include Andrew Sisters clips of “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”, “Roll Out the Barrel”, and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. “This Is the Army” of Irving Berlin and many other songs of this type are also there to be found should you so desire

Of course if you’re in the mood you must look at the original Glenn Miller Big Band Orchestra recording of what else but “In The Mood”. Not the Glenn Miller Story movie version but the real McCoy in black and white. I must also mention videos like “Deep in the Heart of Texas”, “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy” and other songs of that type. It is up to you and your memory to make the best of YouTube. Just type and let your imagination run wild.

This free service is an incredible treasury of memories for any veteran and is simple to use. Current technology allows you to download a selection of those tunes into a notebook computer and project the videos onto a wall-sized screen with loudspeakers at your local meeting place. You can create a cabaret atmosphere and dance to your favorite tunes in front of full size images of the orchestras and singers from that era. You can also E-mail specific video-clips to your wartime buddies, lovers, kids and relatives and whoever has a broadband Internet connection.