Temple Times Online Edition
    FEBRUARY 17, 2005
NewsEventsArchivesPhotosStaffLinksTemple Home

Temple historians to appear in new World War II TV series


Temple students and staff who tune in to “The Last Days of World War II,” The History Channel’s new series premiering Friday night, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m., will see some familiar faces — and we’re not talking about Patton and MacArthur.

Two faculty members and one graduate student in Temple’s history department played important roles in the making of the 26-episode show, which counts down the war’s conclusion on its 60th anniversary.

Professors Gregory J.W. Urwin and Jay B. Lockenour appear throughout the series, providing in-depth commentary.

Urwin, an expert on the history of the armed forces of the United States and the author of Facing Fearful Odds: The Siege of Wake Island, is a frequent voice in episodes covering the war in the Pacific. He will be the first scholarly commentator to appear in tomorrow’s premiere, which begins with the bloody battle for Iwo Jima.

Lockenour, a social and military historian who has studied the German officer corps, appears in many of the episodes describing the final days of the war in Europe. He will make his debut in the second episode on Friday, Feb. 25.

For Lockenour, being a “talking head” was more challenging than he expected.


“They filmed me for two hours in a hotel room in Center City that they had converted into a set with lights,” he said. “It was daunting, even though they give you questions in advance and time to prepare. The hardest part is learning the art of rephrasing the question in your answer, because they don’t want viewers to hear the interviewer’s questions in the final show.”

Although he doesn’t appear on camera, doctoral candidate David J. Ulbrich had a critical role in the production of “Last Days.” Credited as a researcher, Ulbrich reviewed scripts for each of the one-hour shows for accuracy, checking facts by comparing them to primary sources and the professional literature.

“My job is quality control,” said Ulbrich, who is working with Urwin on a dissertation on Thomas Holcomb, commandant of the Marine Corps from 1936 to 1943. “Each script is about 20 to 30 pages long, with about 60 to 80 facts to check, from the amount of water an American soldier’s canteen could hold to the number of casualties suffered by Americans in the war.”

Ulbrich’s continuing contributions (more than half of the episodes have yet to be scripted) are essential to the success of “Last Days,” the show’s producers said.

“We’re trying to present ourselves as an authority,” said Tom Kaniewski, the series’ managing producer. “If we get the facts wrong, people will speak up.”

Ulbrich, who is currently an instructor at Ball State University in Indiana, said the work had rewards he hadn’t expected.

“It was challenging to absorb myself in the minutiae of the war, because I’m a big-picture kind of guy,” he said. “But it’s making me a better teacher. Learning all these details — like how many calories there were in a soldier’s K-ration — will enable me to make my lectures more rich and colorful for my students.”

- By Hillel J. Hoffmann

New face of military history at Temple

History department chair Richard H. Immerman is proud of his colleagues’ contributions to “The Last Days of World War II” (see story above), but he wants people to know that “military history at Temple is more than armaments and battles.”

Immerman is leading a push to broaden the scope of military history at Temple, a longtime area of strength thanks to the leadership of the late professor Russell F. Weigley, by emphasizing what Immerman calls “war and society” — the study of war’s intimate links with all aspects of human society, from politics to gender.


One of his flagship projects is the Sgt. Maj. William F. Berger Endowed Fellowship in War and Society, created in 2003. The history department recently announced the first winner: Kristin Soroka Grueser, a first-year doctoral candidate from California.

Grueser was recruited to Temple from the University of San Diego and the U.S. State Department, where she worked for the President’s Interagency Council on Women and the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. A scholar with interests in history, international relations, gender and culture, Grueser was “the perfect candidate” for the fellowship, Immerman said.

One of her missions as a Berger fellow will be to develop a comprehensive war and society curriculum. The ultimate goal: the creation of a war and society concentration for future Temple history majors.

“The war and society initiative grew out of the understanding that it’s not enough to study troop movements,” said Grueser, who is currently a teaching assistant for professor Rita Krueger’s “War and Society” class. “We need to understand social, cultural, diplomatic, religious and political structures to help understand war.”

The Berger fellowship was created by retired Navy Cmdr. Joseph Eble, who earned a master’s degree in history from Temple in 1997. Now a history instructor at Burlington County College in New Jersey, Eble endowed the Berger fellowship in honor of his father-in-law, who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.

For more information about the Berger fellowship, contact Richard Immerman at richard.immerman@temple.edu.

- By Hillel J. Hoffmann