Toward the end of World War II, Germany unleashed a deadly new weapon on Allied forces. The V-2 rocket was the world's first long-range guided ballistic missile and killed thousands of civilians in London, Antwerp and other European cities.
Development of the V-2 rocket also took a terrible toll within Germany and German-occupied territories. The Nazis used slave labor to build the V-2s, and thousands of prisoners died in the process.
In this special report, Amy Shira-Teitel speaks to filmmaker Melinda Hess, who has a unique and personal relationship to the V-2 rocket program -- in particular, the aftermath of the rocket program in the United States.
When Germany fell in 1945, the U.S. and other countries went to great lengths to pursue the technology behind the V-2 rocket. The U.S. military's Operation Paperclip brought more than 100 German engineers and scientists to America, including V-2 project architect Wernher von Braun.
Meanwhile, U.S. Army private Sandy Hess -- a promising young mechanical engineer -- was deployed to Fort Bliss, Texas. In correspondence with his parents back in New York City, Sandy Hess described in vague terms the engineering project he was working on with a team of German scientists who called themselves "prisoners of peace."
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It wasn't until years later than Sandy Hess' daughter Melinda discovered these letters, written before she was even born, and connected the dots.
Her father, who was Jewish, was working directly with the German architects of the wartime V-2 program. Their research would evolve the V-2 technology into Saturn rocket technology that eventually sent the Apollo astronauts to the moon.
The letters that Melinda Hess uncovered provide a fascinating glimpse into a peculiar corner of history, in which American Jews and ex-Nazi scientists collaborated on the core technology that would power the U.S. space program. Hess investigates both family secrets and national secrets in her documentary film, The Letter From Cloudcroft.
"I didn't know very much about my father's time in the military," Hess says. "So I started going through the letters ... and there were various names coming through. As I began to do more research, I was completely blown away by what was revealed."
Check out Amy's video for all the details, or if you want to fast-forward history a little, click on over to this report about the Cold War competition that triggered the Space Race.
-- Glenn McDonald
Daily Mail: Death From Above Without Warning: 70 Years After The First One Fell, Interactive Map Reveals Just Where Hitler's V2 Rockets Killed Thousands Of British Civilians In Final Months Of WW2
History: What Was Operation Paperclip?