I would not exist were it not for the very machines the WWII American Experience is preserving and the troops they protected, the bravery they inspired and victories they garnered.

As far as background to that statement, my parents, like millions upon millions of others, were not in control of their destiny during WWII.  In fact, they faced peril and starvation on opposite sides of the world.  

My mom and her family were held hostage by the Nazis in their neighborhood of Den Haag.  If the resistance killed a German soldier, the Nazis would pick out whomever for summary execution from this section of town.  Slave labor launched V1 rockets nearby.  The problem was when the eery whistling sound stopped, that meant another rocket failure and death to those below.  My mom was once in a house with her brother.  She was driven to run out, her brother puzzled, behind, a V1 rocket crashed down and killed the family inside.  My Oom Bert and Oom Marius were in the resistance with Bert ending up in a murderous gestapo camp.  All were said to have been executed at the end of the war yet by some unknown circumstances,  Oom Bert stumbled home a year later, mute of the experience yet forever haunted by it.  

My father was born on a small island off of Java, Indonesia, where my grandfather ran a gold dredging operation.  When the war came, the office telegrammed to hide the gold and good luck from there.  My dad and his family were thrown in Japanese concentration camps where they remained until liberated by the Allied forces 3.5 years later.  In the beginning my grandfather was brought back to his dredging operation.  He was tortured to reveal the location of the hidden gold.  The Japanese already knew where it was, they just wanted to play because they could.  They tried to get him to restart the dredging operation.  But Opa Visser took the opportunity to sabotage the operation which made his captors irate.  He lost his hearing in that particular beating.  

In the end, there were no joyous parades of victorious soldiers.  My father’s captors slinked away into the darkness.  A British paratrooper arrived with a radio and the start of the end of the war began.  Like my mom on the other side of the world, my father was emaciated and lucky to have survived.  My parents met in Marrakesh where my dad was working with the US Corp of Military Engineers building airports.  But that’s another story…

So as mentioned above, I would not exist were it not for the Allied Forces of WWII and for the industrial might that produced the armaments we see gathered here at the WWII American Experience.  We must never forget the deeds of the greatest generation.  They gave so much so folks like you and I could live in a free society.  We are losing many of that era, both victors and the vanquished and those caught in the middle.  We need to document their stories and learn from them or future generations will be saddled with the results.

My mom shared a story a few years back that may bring a smile but also illustrates the immense clash of cultures unleashed by WWII.  We’ve all seen the grainy footage of a US caravan of machines rolling thru a recently liberated town with all sorts of people riding on the tanks crammed on any surface that could hold a body.  What my mom and all her fellow country men saw were these liberators holding up two fingers as they drove by.  To the Dutch this meant “2 more”, as in “We have room for two more”.  And so everyone jumped on board much to the puzzlement and dismay of the weary soldiers.  

30 years later, during the 70’s my mom finally put together that what they really meant was V for Victory… 


Ken Visser

Photographer and grateful son