12 Facts About World War II That Definitely Weren't In Our Textbooks

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Vote up the WWII facts that you definitely didn't learn in school.

Most of us learned about World War II in our history classes. We were taught lessons about the inhumane events that occurred (sometimes quite graphic ones) to remind us to never let such atrocities happen again. However, there is only so much you can cover in a textbook. The heroic stories of individuals were often left out, as were some of the lighter aspects of what got soldiers through the grim daily conditions. 

These WWII facts include details about the war careers of Adolf Hitler's nephew and President Theodore Roosevelt's son (and grandson). We'll explore which dessert cost the US Navy $1 million throughout the war (hint: It wasn't apple pie). We'll also explain what happened to an American who escaped Nazi imprisonment - only to come face-to-face with the Red Army. 

Read on to see which factoids you never learned about WWII, and vote up the ones you think everyone should know. 


  • You could make the argument that Joseph "Jumpin' Joe" Beyrle either had incredibly good luck, or incredibly bad luck. 

    In June 1944, 20-year-old Beyrle parachuted into France. Unfortunately, heavy artillery forced him to land on a church roof in a German-controlled village. Captured shortly after, he proceeded to escape German captivity three separate times. After being caught the first time, he started winning cigarettes from card games and bribed a guard to help him and his friends escape. 

    However, Beyrle and his friends got on the wrong train. Instead of going to Warsaw, they ended up in Berlin. After this failed escape attempt, the Nazis tortured Beyrle, but couldn't break his spirit. 

    Using a garbage disposal crate, he escaped again - this time successfully. He approached some Russian soldiers and tried to explain he was American. Instead of wanting to go home, he wanted to fight the Nazis with the Red Army. They got a translator, heard him out, and granted his request.

    After a month of fighting with the Russians, Beyrle was injured and sent to the American embassy in Moscow. Upon arrival, he learned that the Americans (and all of his family) thought he was deceased, so he had to wait several days while they made sure he wasn't a German spy. 

    Beyrle ended up living a normal life, got married, and had children. In a full-circle moment, his son, John Beyrle, became the US ambassador to Moscow in 2008.

    314 votes
  • Albert Goering, Brother Of Nazi Leader Hermann Goering, May Have Helped Hundreds of Jews Escape
    Photo: War Office official photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    352 VOTES

    Albert Goering, Brother Of Nazi Leader Hermann Goering, May Have Helped Hundreds of Jews Escape

    Goering is a name that has become synonymous with the Nazi regime. Hermann Goering was Hitler’s deputy and chosen successor, and was responsible for the Blitz and countless other atrocities. 

    So, when you hear that his younger brother Albert was likely responsible for the rescue of hundreds of Jews, it's understandably hard to believe. But Albert wasn't brainwashed by the Nazis like his brother was. Instead, he set about helping and standing up for the Jews being persecuted. 

    Ironically, Albert would often go to his big brother for help in approving the release of a prisoner or getting rid of an arrest warrant hanging over his head. Hermann looked out for Albert, time and again, which begs the question: How could he support his brother's cause and Hitler's at the same time?

    352 votes
  • Rodger Young Asked To Be Demoted To Protect His Troops - Then Sacrificed His Life To Save Them
    Photo: US Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    322 VOTES

    Rodger Young Asked To Be Demoted To Protect His Troops - Then Sacrificed His Life To Save Them

    Rodger Young is the epitome of the heroism shown by the "average" soldiers of WWII. Part of a National Guard unit, Sergeant Young was childhood friends with several of the soldiers serving under him. Worried his poor eyesight and hearing would affect his troops, he asked to be demoted to a private. This was granted. 

    This didn't mean he wasn't going to fight, however. In Japan, Private Young found himself and his unit taking heavy fire from the enemy. Despite being shot, he could see the enemy's position, so he continued crawling forward. When his commander ordered him to retreat, Young said

    I’m sorry sir, but you know I don’t hear very well.

    He was shot again as he approached the pillbox where the enemy sat. But before he succumbed to a third fatal wound, he threw hand grenades at the enemy - killing them and saving his unit. 

    322 votes
  • The US Navy Had A $1 Million Barge Dedicated To Delivering Ice Cream To Troops 
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    180 VOTES

    The US Navy Had A $1 Million Barge Dedicated To Delivering Ice Cream To Troops 

    While we know Americans love ice cream, perhaps the greatest example of this came during WWII. 

    During Prohibition, Americans turned to ice cream rather than alcohol to drown their sorrows. In fact, by the late 1920s, Americans were chowing down on more than a million gallons each day. 

    The dessert became a symbol of comfort and home. So, when US troops started heading overseas, the military made sure they had plenty of ice cream to keep their spirits up. 

    And they definitely had plenty! In 1945, the US Navy spent $1 million converting a barge into an ice cream factory. It could hold more than 2,000 gallons of ice cream and churned out 10 gallons every seven minutes, delivering frozen treats to thousands of troops throughout the Pacific.

    180 votes
  • Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Stormed The Beaches Of Normandy And Died Of A Heart Attack A Few Weeks Later
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    President Teddy Roosevelt's oldest son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., had already made a name for himself during WWI after being shot in the leg and gassed so badly he almost went blind. He was extremely well respected among his peers, and was one of the founding members of the American Legion. So when the US entered WWII, he wasn't about to stay home - even though he was in his mid-50s. 

    He didn't sit behind a desk, either. On D-Day, Roosevelt Jr. was the only US general who stormed the beaches in the first wave of the Normandy invasion. The oldest man to take part in the incursion, he was also the only soldier with his son on the beach with him (Capt. Quentin Roosevelt II).

    A little more than a month later, Roosevelt Jr. succumbed to a heart attack. His final resting place was later moved to the Normandy American Cemetery near Omaha Beach.

    285 votes
  • 'The Rats Of Tobruk' Proudly Adopted A Derisive Nickname Just To Spite The Germans
    Photo: No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit, Vanderson WG (Lieut) / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    202 VOTES

    'The Rats Of Tobruk' Proudly Adopted A Derisive Nickname Just To Spite The Germans

    Tobruk was an essential Libyan port on the northern coast of Africa. The Allied and Axis powers both saw the importance of gaining access to the Mediterranean Sea, and they quickly began fighting for its claim.

    Nearly 30,000 troops - half Australian and half British - were stationed to keep Tobruk from falling into Axis hands. As the Germans began their unrelenting air raids, an ex-British citizen, William Joyce, who worked as a propagandist for Germany, made fun of the Allied forces in his radio broadcasts across the continent. He called these defending soldiers the "poor desert rats of Tobruk" - saying that those who live like rats will die like rats.

    The soldiers decided to let Joyce eat his words, so they adopted the name the Rats of Tobruk - even creating their own rat-shaped medals from the scrap metal of a downed German airplane. The plucky rodents ended up pushing back the German troops, clinching a much-needed victory for the Allies. 

    Years after the end of WWII, Joyce was captured and later hanged in Britain.

    202 votes