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Chris Weber

Donald Goldstein (Tom Altany photo)

War Stories

Reflections on the 60th anniversary of WWII’s end

Donald Goldstein answered the question with vigor, tobacco flakes from an unlit cigar, firmly in hand, strafing the front of his trademark sweater. For “Goldy,” as he is affectionately known, a man who has devoted the bulk of his 73 years to military history, conveying the impact of World War II on the United States—60 years after its conclusion—is an opportunity to educate and reflect.

“People equate September 11th with Pearl Harbor, but there’s no comparison,” says the professor, a popular fixture in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs since the 1970s. “9/11 woke this country up, but Pearl Harbor got us into a war which gave us the Holocaust and the bomb. It affected the whole country.

“People who’d never been outside of Pittsburgh were thrown together with guys from all over. It changed the role of women who used to stay home but went to work in factories. It gave us the GI Bill, which changed education. It changed medicine. It changed weaponry. It changed the U.S. from an isolated power to the world’s Number One power. It changed business. It changed technology. Radios, telephones, television, computers. I could go on and on.”

A native of Hampton, Va., Goldstein was a place-kicker and track athlete at the University of Maryland who went from sitting in the back row of a history class with WWII veterans in 1950 to the back seat of an F-4 Phantom while serving in the air force for 22 years. In between, Gordon Prange, a Maryland professor and former chief historian for famed General Douglas MacArthur, lured Goldstein front and center, cultivating his interest in WWII into a passion for teaching, publishing, and research.

“If I had never met him, I probably would have been a nobody,” says Goldstein, who collaborated with Prange on more than 25 books on warfare and espionage, including At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor, a New York Times best-seller published in 1981.

Next fall, Goldstein will lend his smooth Virginia drawl as lead speaker to “Soldiers, Sailors and Steel,” an educational symposium covering more than 40 topics on WWII presented by The Soldiers & Sailors Foundation at Soldiers & Sailors National Military Museum & Memorial Hall in Oakland.

For the man who has acquired more than 17,000 WWII photos, soon to be donated to the Pitt archives, there is an important lesson to be learned from that war—and beyond: “If we’re not prepared, bad things can happen.”

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