WWII Sterling Silver ID Bracelet – Walter Ciesla – Southbridge Hometown Hero B-24 Tail Gunner

It’s a rare occasion when I’m able to write about a WWII veteran from my hometown of Southbridge, Massachusetts.  PortraitsofWar (this blog) was started in response to the passing of my grandfather; my interest and dedication to WWII history was fostered during my childhood, when my grandfather would regale me with tales of his experiences as an assistant driver in an M4A3 Sherman Tank as a tanker in the 777th Tank Battalion/69th Infantry Division during WWII.  Without his inspiration, this website would’ve never been created.

This specific post is a long-awaited writeup related to a grouping I purchased last year.   While cruising though an eBay listing, I noticed a last name in a auction heading that caught my eye – Walter Ciesla WWII ID Bracelet and Patches.

Growing up in Southbridge, Massachusetts, I knew a few Ciesalas from my middle school.  I decided to click on the auction link and was amazed to see the ID bracelet’s inscription: WALTER CIESLA – SOUTHBRIDGE MASS.


Sterling Silver ID Bracelet for Walter Ciesla of Southbridge, MA

Upon purchasing the group of items, which included the identification bracelet, a distinguished flying cross medal, an air medal as well as a set of 8th AAF patches, I quickly began researching the grouping.  Given the fact that he was from my hometown, I began my research by tracking down his local address.  At the time of his enlistment, Walter resided at 34 Plimpton Street, Southbridge, MA:


34 Plimpton Street, Southbridge, MA

How close did we live apart? According to Google Earth, we grew up (60 years apart) 0.28 miles from each other.  Walter and I likely hiked the same wooded trails and drove the same way to church and school. Not much has changed since 1940 in terms of roads, schools and churches.


Walter J. Ciesla ca. 1943


Distance between Walter Ciesla and Brennan of PortraitsofWar

Walter was shot down on mission over Yugoslavia in November of 1944 but somehow found a way to evade German observation in the area.  He was wearing the ID bracelet at the time (these were always worn during flights to ensure body identification in case of crashing) and was able to eventually escape to freedom. The stories of his escape are likely lost to history, but we can always hope that a family member from Southbridge will stumble across this humble website and contribute some information to flesh out the story.  It’s happened in the past with similar stories……………. I’m hoping it happens here………….

Walter J. Ciesla was born on August 22nd, 1922 to Joseph and Anna Ciesla (Zabek) in Southbridge, Massachusetts.


Walter J. Ciesla’s Ancestry,com Listing

Walter enlisted and was selected as a member of a B-24 bomber crew.  As a member of the Mason Crew of the 718th Bombardment Squadron, 449th Bomb Group, Walter Ciesla was shot down on November 8th, 1944 and evaded capture by the Germans.   His crew members at the time were Verne J. Pinix, Gordon B. Tolman, Richard J. Slade, George P. Mason (pilot), William J. Williams and Michael J. Nosal.

Walter Ciesla was shot down in


DSC Presentation to Co-Pilot Richard J. Slade


Walter Ciesla – Front Row Second From Left


My Achin’ Back


B-24 AC


Verne J. Pinix – Nose Gunner’s Grave


Gordon B. Tolan

As with all living things, we all come to a point in which we outlive our earthly existance.  Walter J. Ciesla passed away on January 19th, 2000 and was listed in the DESEASED MEMBERS section of the 449th bulletin. Please see below:


Walter J. Ciesla (Tail Gunner – Mason Crew)


WWI University of Vermont 1917 Alumni Navy Veteran – LOST AT SEA – Carroll Goddard Page UPDATE!

PortraitsofWar researched the collegiate times of Carroll Goddard Page back in August of 2011 in hopes of raising interest in the strange loss of the USS Cyclops; the presumed death of this UVM alumni during WWI was also a major focus of our research.  Since then, we’ve looked into various aspects of the University of Vermont during WWI with highlights including panoramic photos taken during the war years as well as photographs of local boys who served in France and Germany in 1917-1921 respectively.

Why an Update?

After seeing a recent eBay auction pass during a common search routine, PortraitsofWar’s author instantly recognized the sitter as Carroll Goddard Page.  What are the chances?  At a reasonable $11.73, we made the purchase in hopes of donating the image to the University of Vermont’s Special Collections unit located in the library.


eBay Purchase Title and Price


2016 eBay Purchase – Carroll Goddard Page


_________________________PREVIOUS POST_____________________________


The 2011 post below was created with scant information based on a visit to the UVM Library Annex (when it was still open to researchers) in hopes of tracking down students who served with distinction in WWI.  Our main focus that day was to research soldiers/sailors/marines/nurses who were wounded in action (WIA) or killed in action (KIA) during their period of service.  Interest was also paid to servicemen/women who died of disease or complications during their time in service.


Page in Washington, D.C – Courtesy of the University of Vermont Special Collections

One of the biggest mysteries of the US NAVY during WWI is the inexplicable loss of the USS Cyclops (AC-4) while transporting 300+ passengers/crew and a load of manganese ore from Brazil to Baltimore in 1918.  Carroll Goddard Page, UVM Class of 1917, was aboard as paymaster when the ship disappeared without a trace on March 4th, 1918.  Although a structural failure in the engine is likely the cause, we may never know the true reasons behind the disappearance.
Carroll was a member of the Class of 1917, originally from Hyde Park, he studied business and banking at UVM.  His nickname was “flunko”, and his ambitions at UVM included “raising a mustache that resembles a cross between the Kaiser’s and a hair-lip.”

1917 Yearbook Entry

Carroll’s UVM Alumni Database Entry


Carroll and Delta Psi in 1916

Special thanks to the University of Vermont Special Collections!

WWII Portraits – Headshots of the 739th Field Artillery Battalion

I’m trying something new with this post…… I recently purchased a large lot of headshots of unnamed members of the 739th Field Artillery Battalion.  All the photos were taken in a single sitting in a German studio by a photographer named Lothar Schilling.  I’m currently in the process of identifying each of the men using a unit history with group shots of each particular battery….. more to come on that…….

The image below was created by taking a cropped view of each photo and adding them together in quick succession.  Each face is rendered as an individual frame to create a soundless film of the entirety of the group.  I thought it was interesting to see the vast differences in each facial expression of the 90+ man group.  Complete photo lots like this are hard to come by, especially with such high image quality.


Portraits of War: A Vermont Veterans Day 2015 Recap

It’s not often that I post material related to living veterans, but I had the distinct pleasure of meeting a group of local Vermont vets on Veterans Day 2015.  One of the events I attended this year was the Community College of Vermont’s Veterans Day interview panel.   I was blown away by the student attendance and the level of excitement in the room; the range of ages in the room varied from early twenties to Jack Goss’ 96. It was a fantastic event, and one that other local schools should promote.

Hell, I even called a few UVM WWII veterans to catch up.  Why can’t larger schools or alumni departments do the same? I digress…



WWII 36th Division Veteran and POW Clyde Cassidy and Myself, Veterans Day 2015. Photo By: Josh Larkin, CCV.

Some of the WWII veterans I was able to shake hands with:

Gordon Osborne, 44th Engineers

Curtis E. Brown, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division, Wounded in Action

Paul Bouchard, USN WWII Minesweeper, USS Signet, USS Tumult

Jack Goss, B-25 Pilot, 310th Bomb Group, Shot down on 40th Mission, POW for three years


At 96 years old, Jack Goss was the oldest of the five veterans to speak at CCV on Veterans Day. Photo By: John Larkin, CCV.

Clyde C. Cassidy Jr., Fox Company, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division, Wounded in Action and POW, Forced march for 70 days before liberated


Calais resident and WWII veteran Clyde Cassidy was force marched for 70 days as a POW. Photo By: Josh Larkin, CCV.

Robert Picher, K Company, 346th Infantry Regiment, 87th Division


WWII veteran Bob Picher spoke at CCV’s 2015 Veterans Day event. Photo By: Josh Larkin, CCV.

Robert L. Coon, G Company, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 101st Infantry Division, Wounded at Bastogne


Bob Coon at his home in St. Albans Town.  Photo By: Josh Larkin, CCV


T/5 Robert Coon, G Company, 502nd PIR, 101st Airborne Division. Note PUC, CIB and campaign ribbon. SOURCE





One story that we didn’t hear at the CCV veterans day ceremony involves the water landing of Jack Goss’ B-25 in the waters off Italy.  The story actually involves one the P-38 pilots who continually circled his aircraft in hopes of aiding in the safe retrieval of the crew.  Sadly, his plane went down….. All the following info is from the US Army’s veteran service site.



P-38 Pilot Robert Smidt

Comments from Website Regarding Downing of Goss
Since creating this profile, I have contacted the P-38 pilot who was leading the P-38’s that were escorting the bombers (he also completed the Missing Air Crew Report) and one of the surviving members of the bomber crew.

The leader of the P-38’s emailed this message:

On August 19 1943, I led a flight of P38s in a 96th Squadron formation on a Bomber Escort mission to lower Italy.


As I did not have a regular flight with the same pilots each time, I don’t remember who was in my flight, but I don’t recall having to back off on any maneuvers because one or more couldn’t keep up.


After the target and crossing the coast of Italy, I saw a B25 land in the water and the crew get into a rubber life raft.  I drank enough water out of my canteen so it would float and dropped it to them  I started circling to keep them in sight while expecting the air rescue plane to show up.  Clayton Tillapagh saw us and flew high cover.  After some time, Clay and I decided the rescue plane was not coming and we each sent our second element to Palermo to gas up and try to get him to come.  Clay and I stayed until we had to leave to get gas and we went to Palermo.


We were able to convince the rescue pilot we could cover him and we went back to where we had left the life raft, but we were not able to find it.  We learned much later the crew had been picked up by an Italian Hospital ship very soon after we left them.  We went back to Palermo and spent the night before returning to Grombalia.  Landing at Palermo in a valley, on a runway that did not have runway lights, on a dark night is something I would rather not do again.


I am assuming Smidt was in my second element and after leaving to get help, I never saw him again nor ever heard why he ended up missing.


In retrospect, it never entered my young mind to ask if everyone knew their way home.
1st Lt Alan R Kennedy

FO Robert (Bobby) Smidt disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea in August 1943.  Bobby was piloting one of the P-38 Lightnings from the 96th fighter Squadron that was escorting B-25 bombers from the 310th Bombardment Group on the way to bomb Salerne, Italy.  One of the bombers went down in the Mediterranean and Bobby was circling over a rubber dingy that the bomber crew was in.  No one knew whether Bobby was low on fuel and left or just crashed in the sea.  Read some of the documents posted for more details.

I talked to SSgt Lamar Rodgers, Aerial Gunner, the bomber crew member on the telephone and he told me that a P-38 had circled them for 4 hours before it left.  One P-38 flew over them at about 40 feet and dropped a water canteen.  He said he remembered that day like it was yesterday.  They had spent the night in the dingy and turned on their emergency radio that transmitted an SOS in the morning.  The Germans were on them within 30 minutes of turning on the radio.  The six crew members spent 21 months in German POW camps and were released at the end of the war.  As of 2-13-2011, there are only two surviving members of the bomber crew; Lamar F Rodgers and the pilot Ralph R Goss.




73 Years Later: The Battle of Tarawa in 35mm Color

Many  followers of PortraitsofWar.wordpress.com know that I have a strange passion for WWII amateur color photography. In this case, I luckily remembered that anniversary of the Battle of Tarawa is upon us and decided to post some of of the material I’ve acquired over the years that directly relate to the Battle of Tarawa.  When the Marines landed on the Tarawa (Gilbert Islands, Micronesia) on November 20th, 1943, a pilot who launched from the USS CHENANGO (CVE-28) snapped a series of 35mm color photos while flying overhead providing fighter support.

Tarawa Flyover 1

Tarawa Flyover 1


And an actual aerial color snapshot taken during the opening hours of the November 20th, 1943 invasion.  The pilot had his 35mm camera with him and snapped dozens of shots during the initial invasion; the following shots are the only known aerial color photos of the Battle of Tarawa!


Tarawa Flyover

Tarawa Flyover


Tarawa Flyover 2

Tarawa Flyover 2



WWII Photo Identification: John Szlyk of Worcester, MA Interviews Downed Airman in Luxembourg

From time to time, I like to go through my collection of historic, identified photography in hopes of making a connection between ID’ed WWII/WWI veterans and their families.  In this case, I zeroed in upon a photo taken on January 29th, 1945 in the Luxembourg town of Boevange.

John Szlyk, 6th AD in Luxembourg

John Szlyk, 6th AD in Luxembourg

The photograph was luckily identified by the 167th Signal Corps photographer, PFC Joseph Lapine.  The typed transcription of his notes can be seen below:

Joseph Lapine Caption

Joseph Lapine Caption

Where does the research start?  First, I carefully inspected the image for identifying marks related to the plane in the background; every US plane during WWII would be profusely marked with serial numbers (S/N) related to it’s production.  In this case, the photo includes two visible locations with reference numbers to aide in the ID of the plane.

S/N Locations

S/N Locations

S/N Location 1

S/N Location 1

Partial S/N Visible

Partial S/N Visible

The information included in Location 1 indicates that the crashed plane is a U.S. Army Model P-47 D-20 RE with an Army Air Forces (AAF) Serial of 42-29176.  Location 2 confirms the last five digits of the S/N.    Strangely, the serial isn’t searchable on the internet, and I’ve come up with nothing………. this is atypical when researching WWII aircraft…….

Plan B

Where do I go from here?


Typically, if I can’t extrapolate research worthy clues from the visual details of the image, I turn to the metadata, or associated information related to the photo.  In this case, I know the photo was taken by a US Signal Corps photographer named Joseph (Joe) Lapine of the 167th (or 166th?) Signal Photographic Company.  More on this later……

Photographers during WWII would typically travel with specific units during times of combat movement and frame shots, take notes, and capture the feel of the war for posterity and the general public back at the homefront.  In this image, Lapine noted the names of the two men in the photo; Lt. John Szlyk of Boston, MA is identified as the pilot, and the helmeted soldiers is ID’ed as Charles A. Klein of Cambed, NJ.

My specialty is identifying specific details of WWII images, researching them, and coming to conclusions based on my  best-guess interpretations.  My background is in anthropology, material culture, history, literature and historic research…..here’s my gut feeling about the photo:

The men in the photo were misidentified by the photographer; the pilot and the 6th armored division names were crossed during the post-photo interview, and Lapine published the image without another thought. My justification is that I cannot, for the life of me, find a Lt. John D. Szlyk of Boston, MA, or a Cpl. Charles A. Klein of Camden, NJ.  They never existed as defined…..

I was, however, able to find a John Szlyk of Worcester, MA (my hometown area!) who was a combat-hardened veteran who served with the 6th Armored Division, having received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters (wounded three times) as well as multiple foreign awards.  Quite the veteran!  His touching obituary can be found here.

Could the photographer have possibly mixed up the names?  I can’t find a Lt. Charles Klein who was a P-47 pilot during the war, but I’m also unable to track down P-47 # 42-29176……

The details from the obituary match up well with the misidentified image…. the 6th AD tanker at right is wearing the exact dust goggles commonly worn by tank commanders during the war.

WWII US Tanker Goggles

WWII US Tanker Goggles

John Szlyk Jr. in WWII?

John Szlyk Jr. in WWII?

One side note from this research piece: I’ve recently discovered that many internet trolls are unhappy with the goggles worn by Brad Pitt in Fury.  They’re clearly of Soviet make and WWII vintage, but cares?  Maybe his character picked them off a dead German soldier?  The opening scene of the film shows Pitt’s character looting a dead German officer.  The interior of the Sherman is littered with German war loot.  My own grandfather (a tank gunner/assistant driver) used a German holster for his M1911 during the war.  Enjoy the film and chill out!

Russian Goggles?

Russian Goggles?

My ultimate goal for this post is to contact living sons of Szlyk….. I know you’re out there!  Check your facebook messages…….

WWI Balloon Company Winch Truck – A French Latil Mystery Story

I paid a pretty penny for a dozen photos from the 20th Balloon Company (WWI, American) specifically for this photograph.  I’m attracted to obscure and strange photography, and this photo is an anomaly for WWI image collectors.  What the heck is going on?

20th Balloon Company Winch Truck

20th Balloon Company Winch Truck

The vehicle/tractor/truck in the image was something I’ve never encountered.  I knew it was related to a balloon company, and the large drum on the back alerted me to the fact that it likely was meant to hold and retract cable wire.  But how could I figure out the make and model of the vehicle?  Balloon Company information is difficult to identify through google searches, but I was able to make some leads by searching in French!

Latil Truck

Latil Truck


My first hit came with a French search for “winch truck” and provided the above image.  I now knew that the Latil Company made heavy 4×4 vehicles for the French army during WWI and provided the American Expeditionary Forces with balloon winches!

I couldn’t quite make out the grill badge in the image I purchased……

Mystery WWI Badge

Mystery WWI Badge

But I was able to figure it out after my French language search…

The Latil trucks/tractors were originally made to tow 155mm guns, but they were retrofitted to accept heavy-duty winches to support the observation balloons used by the 20th Balloon Company.  The Latil company would later be absorbed into Renault….

Lentil Artillery Tow

Latil Artillery Tow

And according to a ca. 1919 publication, only 50 of these trucks were made specifically for the AEF during WWI.  They were outfitted with Cachot power winches (seen in the rear of the head image) to retract the balloons after observation was achieved.



Latil in Action  – Courtesy LOC

Special thanks to the Transport Journal  blog!

Check out this specific post to learn more about the Latil:


And another blog picked up the Latil story: http://justacarguy.blogspot.com.br/2015/11/ww1-observation-blimp-and-tow-truck-i.html

American Civil War Villain: Lewis Powell and the Attempted Assassination of William Seward

Alexander Gardner, famed Scottish photographer of the American Civil War/Lincoln captured the following image in the wake of the infamous assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April of 1865.   Shot in wet plate, the negative numbers of the images can be scrawled into the top portion of the plates.  See the 777 in the first shot, and the 773 of the second?  These descriptors made it easier for the photographer to identify specific images from a large selection of nearly identical plates.

Lewis Payne in Manacles

Lewis Powell in Manacles

Lewis Payne in Manacles Front Facing

Lewis Powell in Manacles Front Facing

Powell is infamous for his attempted kidnapping/assassination of Secretary of State William Seward (of Sewards Folly/purchase of Alaska).  Although details surrounding the event are well known, I will attempt to provide a curtailed version of the them in the following paragraphs.

During the American Civil War/War of Northern Aggression, Powell fought alongside famed Confederate badass, Colonel John Mosby.  One of Mosby’s Rangers, Powell fought in many of the major engagements with the Mosby’s Rangers until he deserted from the Confederate Army in January of 1865.

Fast forward a few months and we see Powell (or Payne, as he later associated) linked with the infamous Lincoln conspirator John Suratt.  Although the history is murky, it’s clear that Powell was captured without killing his intended victim, William Seward.

Given the main focus of PortraitsofWar, we’re going to focus on the photography related to the event discussed.  The aforementioned Alexander Gardener was able to acquire exclusive access to the prisoner(s) on April 27th, 1865. His photographs are some of the best and most detailed images of the Lincoln Conspirators:

Payne in Cuffs

Payne in Cuffs

Lewis Paine Recent in Recent Capture

Lewis Paine Recent in Recent Capture

After many hours of searching the internet, it became incredibly yet strangely clear that Lewis Payne/Powell was the most infamously handsome man of the American Civil War era.

Moving backwards in time (date 11/2015):

Listed on a “Historical Hotties” Website

Payne as a Hottie

Payne as a Hottie

And another reference about Payne from his execution:

Payne Execution Details

Payne Execution Details

And finally, a site dedicated to the feel and expression of the image:

And the final shot of Lewis during his time among the living: