ON SEPTEMBER 1, 1939, NAZI GERMANY
shocked the world when it rained bombs over Poland. Two days later, on what came to be known as Black Sunday, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. In the United States, President Roosevelt pledged that he would make "every effort" to keep America out of the war. At TIME magazine, the editors made a different pledge: To present readers with news of the conflict which they dubbed "World War II
", marking the first use of these words to describe the fighting.
Two years later,after the events at Pearl Harbor, TIME introduced a new department called "The U.S. At War," which first appeared in the December 15, 1941 issue. Calling Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor "brilliant, thorough, audacious," TIME went on to describe how the U.S. reacted during those earliest days of war: "It met them with incredulity and outrage, with a quick, harsh, nationwide outburst that swelled like the catalogue of some profane Whitman. "
Throughout the next four years, Time Inc. had more than 80 correspondents reporting from every frontfrom the Battle of the Coral Sea in the Pacific to the Battle of the Bulge in Europe. John Hersey, who joined TIME in 1937 as a junior writer and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his wartime novel A Bell for Adano, was with the Marines at Guadalcanal and poignantly described the sinking of the carrier Wasp: "She sat there, awkward in profile, still a dowager among ships, but dedicated now to fire, not to aviation."
Hersey went on to report from the hills of Nicosia, Sicily. "Shelling these hills was like shaking lice out of old clothes. Each pounding seemed to bring one or two Germans out to surrender." TIME correspondent and award-winning Australian novelist George Johnston, cabled from the Papuan jungles, "Littered along the railroad tracks is much elaborate gear, for in this war you fight light or you don't fight long." From Tarawa famed war reporter Robert Sherrod told of the hell that he witnessed, "The Jap flared like a piece of celluloid. He died before the bullets in his cartridge belt finished exploding."
Even bullets couldn't keep the TIME correspondents from posting their dispatches. After being shot on the beach of Salerno, Jack Belden wrote, "Something like a baseball bat hammered into my leg. At the same instant there was a loud report and a burst of flame across the yard."
Within hours of the launch of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, a flurry of cables began streaming In to New York with eyewitness accounts from more than 20 TIME & LIFE correspondents out in the field with Ike's forces. Within days the U.S. fighting men overseas were reading the story of the invasion thanks to the additional airmail postage TIME put on their copies.
James Agee, who had joined Time Inc. in 1932 as a writer for FORTUNE, wrote the lead article in the August 20, 1945, issue of TIME under a new department, "Victory." Agee's article, "The Bomb," (which came out the week that World War II ended with the bombing of Hiroshima and the unconditional surrender of Japan) asks a question that still lingers with us to this day: "In an instant, without warning, the present had become the unthinkable future. Was there hope in that future, and if so, where did hope lie?"