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PHOTOGRAPH BY: Al Humphreys / Los Angeles Times

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Al Humphreys / Los Angeles Times

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Stan Boyd / Los Angeles Times

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PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

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1944 Army-Navy War Show at Coliseum

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On Jan. 8 and 9, 1944, the U.S. military and Hollywood studios joined forces to recreate a battle on a South Pacific atoll — in the Memorial Coliseum.

A story in the Jan. 9, 1944, Los Angeles Times explains:

America’s mightiest battle guns, America’s thundering warplanes and America’s angry servicemen roared a symphony of victory last night, startling an appreciative audience of 100,000 spectators.

It was the first performance of the Army-Navy War Show, which will be repeated, without charge to the public, at 8 p.m. today in the stadium.

From Washington came commanders of American battle forces to “get on the job and stay on the job” until victory. In an eerie atmosphere – confronting the desolation of a bomb-shattered, shell-riddled, blood-drenched South Pacific island, the Southern California civilians pledged to respond with even greater war production.

In the mock battle–on a coral atoll built with motion-picture sets and scenery contributed by Hollywood studios–the simulated warfare began with a bomb blast. Bombers strafed the island, laid their eggs with deadly accuracy across the field, and the audience shuddered as the horrible realism of the song of death rang full.

Huge eruptions of earth skyrocket into the air. Troops of the 3rd Battalion of the 140th Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. C. N. Jenni, in camouflaged uniforms began taking out across the island.

Snipers from the palm trees began retaliating. Suddenly the crackle of “enemy” machine guns punctuated the strain of waiting. American howitzers, mortars and anti-aircraft guns went into action.

Smoke soon began to envelop the fighters. The uniformed Japanese, retreating slowly under the withering barrage, resorted to the surprise of booby traps, concealed land mines and other secret emplacements reminiscent of Tarawa.

Gigantic green lights from stadium spotlights “washed” the field, while motion-picture wind machines created a tropical hurricane. Americans edged onward.

Bazookas–America’s playfully nicknamed rocket weapons – rocked and ripped Japanese tanks. Dynamite explosions by the hundreds frightened the throng while combat troops fell to the ground, apparently dying.

The battle reached its climax as the American troops approached “enemy” antitank guns. These 37-mm and 57-mm guns belched their fury and many attacking troops fell in deadly payment for the assault. The victorious attackers finally swept over barbed-wire entanglements by running atop the backs of some comrades who bravely threw themselves face down on the biting wire.

One of the most spectacular scenes in the show [was played out by ] Maj. William J. Clasby, chaplain from the Santa Ana Army Air Base, [who] knelt beside the dying after the smoke of battle was clearing and administered solace for their souls.  This brought many a gasp and tear from parents and wives in the stands who had lost sons and husbands in just such battles. …

Port Hueneme Seabees assisted in constructing the sets provided by film studios through arrangements made by Jerry Cook and Jack Tait, working with the Motion Pictures Producers Association. …

Lt. Comdr. Robert Montgomery, Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy, Bob Hope and Frances Langford, who have entertained servicemen overseas, asked even more civilian support for the military forces.

After “taps” was sounded, Mrs. Ruth Brown, an aircraft worker at Lockheed, was introduced at the microphone and told how one of her sons was reported missing in action at Manila two years ago. A few months ago another son received his “wings” in the Air Forces. Now he is missing. Mrs. Brown, a grandmother at 45, won the audience’s unanimous support when she asked for a dramatic pledge for the War Show’s theme — “stay on the job and finish the job.” …

Censors may have restricted photography and filming at these shows. Other than a few tickets and programs, my online searches have found nothing – except two pages of photos published in the Jan. 24, 1944, Life magazine. The Life images are mostly exteriors of the Coliseum.

Cameras were forbidden at a similar September 1943 Times-Army Ordnance in Action Show at the Coliseum and Exposition Park. A Sep. 12, 1943, Los Angeles Times brief stated “Cameras are taboo at the Times-Army in Action Show today because of the military restrictions against photographing installations and equipment–so leave your camera at home. Sentries will impound any cameras on the grounds or in the Coliseum.”

This photo gallery consists of five images I’ve located so far in the Los Angeles Times archives.

1 Comment

  1. August 20, 2016, 6:18 pm

    I found one of those tickets today tucked in an old book at a used book sale. The ticket I found was for the Berkeley Memorial Stadium, December 8, 1944. Thank you for this article! I had never heard of these shows.

    By: jschooleyandsphotographyons

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