WWI 1st Division Photo Identification, Robert B. Alexander – Portage, Wisconsin Veteran


After a long hiatus I’ve decided to come out of obscurity and begin posting to the blog again! A recent Facebook purchase from a WWI collecting colleague has proved to be a classic PortraitsofWar photo for interpretation. The photo depicts two US soldiers posed in a German studio during the postwar occupation of Germany in 1919. The soldier at right is shown with three overseas (OS) stripes on his left cuff denoting 1 1/2 years of overseas service as well as a French-style cap. Both soldiers are wearing 3rd Army patches on their left shoulders, which would have been worn during the postwar occupation period. The seated doughboy is sporting two wound stripes as well as two OS stripes and a Wisconsin collar disc on his cap. The reverse of the photo lists one of the soldiers in the photo as Robert B. Alexander of 914 Adams Street, Portage, WI. Given that the seated soldier is wearing a Wisconsin disc on his cap, it is presumable that the identification on the reverse is leaning towards the sitter at left.

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Pvt. Robert B. Alexander (seated), Co. F 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division

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Reverse Identification of Pvt. Alexander

Some quick research revealed that that Pvt. Alexander was born on April 20th, 1892 in the town of Portage, Wisconsin to Robert M. and Mary Alexander. He lived much of his teen years at 913 and 914 Adams Street in Portage and was listed as working as a switchman with the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad as of 1917 before he enlisted in August of that year.

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Railroad Switchman, Ca. 1940

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914 Adams Street

Attempts to find a photograph of Robert Alexander using traditional research methods failed, but I was able to track down a yearbook photo of Robert’s youngest son. Claire Alexander sat for a yearbook photo in 1944; a side-by-side comparison leaves no doubt in my mind that Claire is a progeny of the seated doughboy.

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Pvt. Alexander

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Claire L. Alexander in 1944

 

Wartime Service

Research into Alexander’s wartime service has revealed that Robert was involved in heavy combat in September of 1918 only months before the end of the war on November 11th, 1918. His accolades are laid out in an unlikely document:

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Veteran Headstone Document

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Reverse of Above Document

This document confirms that Robert served with Company F of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division. He was wounded at least once and received the Purple Heart (After 1932) and also the Silver Star. Details about his wounding and SS are still pending… stay tuned.

Private Alexander’s 1956 headstone was made by the Acme Bronze Company of Maple Park, IL and was delivered to the family on November 6th, 1956 following Robert’s death on October 23rd, 1956.

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Mr. Alexander’s Headstone (Courtesy of Findagrave.com)

Research into living members of the Alexander family have proven fruitful…stay tuned for details related to the reunion of this photo with a great-granddaughter!

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Wisconsin Collar Disc on Cap

 

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Wisconsin Collar Disc (Worthpoint Photo)

 

 

 

WWI German Trench Life – May of 1917


The main focus of this blog is to highlight individual photographs from WWI and WWII veterans whose photos have made their way to the secondary market; eBay and flea markets are a good way to find these photographs, and the typical image comes with little-to-no context. Today’s photograph shows a typical German trench in the spring of 1917 with a pair of handmade signs.

I collect WWI German trench signs and shots like this are a good way to identify the style and construction techniques of a period trench-made sign.

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Villa Margarete – Fernsprechen (Telephone)

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Translation Below

Thanks to a Reddit user I was able to translate the writing on the reverse side of the postcard:

In the dwelling trench by the phone dugout.

NCO Biernacki, me, NCO Schwabacher, ?? Puppchen of the artillery observers.

May 1917.

The trench signs that are shown in the image are as follows: Villa Margarete and Fernsprechen (Telephone)

 

WWI Portrait Photo – An AEF Soldier and a French Puppy, a Tribute to Violet


One of my closely held collecting secrets is that I love WWII and WWI photographs of soldiers holding or interacting with their dogs. My recently dearly departed furry companion Violet originally led me to start collecting shots of soldiers with their canine friends nearly eight years ago. Without her I would’ve never thought twice to bid on a dog photograph.

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Violet at the Hilton Portland, ME

I dedicate this post to her. In this particular case, I bid on and won (eBay) a photograph of a US soldier holding a young puppy during wartime in France. Typically, shots of US soldiers holding dogs or other mascots were taken (at least that I’ve found) in the post-war era following the 11/11/18 Armistice. This studio photograph was taken on September 10th, 1918 and shows Thomas (Tom) Gray Jr. posing in a French studio with a puppy cradled in his left arm while sporting a custom knit necktie.

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Thomas Gray Jr. and a cute puppy!

The photo was taken in September of 1918 and the writing on the back (see below) notes that Thomas had been overseas for ten months at this point. Additionally, he addresses the postcard photo to his mother, Mrs. Thomas Gray of 329 North Pearl Street, Bridgeton, NJ. After my normal run of extensive research it appears that his father and brothers worked, at some point, for a local glass factory as glass and bottle blowers. This company was likely the Cumberland Glass Works which was located not far from their duplex home. Additionally, the factory could’ve been the More-Jones factory that appears in a series of Lewis Hine photographs depicting child labor. In fact, Thomas appears in the New Jersey State Census of 1905 and is listed a “Snapper Boy” in the occupation column. So, at age 14 Thomas was working in a glass factory… Could he be one of the young boys captured by Hine?

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Lewis Hine Photograph Taken in Bridgeton, NJ Ca. 1909

 

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Reverse side of the postcard

As far as I can tell, Thomas served with Company B, 501st Engineers and shipped out in November of 1917 and served until mid 1919 when he eventually went home to New Jersey with no mention of a companion. I wish I could learn more about the dog in his hand and about his service in this obscure unit, but I can only do so much research before moving on. I hope that a relative finds this post at some point and can help fill in the gaps. Crazier things have happened on this blog.

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329 North Pearl Street, Bridgeton,NJ in 2018

WWI “Just Got Back” card deciphered – Railway Engineer from Minnesota


One of my favorite pieces of WWI ephemera to research is the pre-printed postcard that was handed out to soldiers intended to be sent to loved ones from the decks/bunks of the multitude of transport ships that brought doughboys back from Europe in the years following the war. In tonight’s case, I purchased this card on eBay without any prior research. The date of 9/11 caught me as particularly interesting given the 2001 connotation, so I made a quick bid and won the postcard. My research process can be followed below:

Step 1: Purchase the card

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Only $9.89+0.99 shipping!

 

Step 2: Receive the card in the mail

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Front side of the postcard

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Back side of the postcard

Step 3: What the heck is going on?

The first actual step in the interpretation and research of a WWI postcard is to figure out when it was made, when it was sent and who sent it. This one should be pretty easy.

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Copyright date of 1919

Most WWI postcards don’t usually come with a Copyright date and/or an artist’s signature. This one comes with both. I don’t have time to delve into the identity of the artist, but I can say that the card was copyrighted in 1919.

So, the written portion is from September 11th, 1919 at the very earliest.

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September 11th

Step 4: Who the heck sent this thing?

Whenever I attempt to identify a soldier-sent postcard, I always try to research the recipient first. Normally, we have the name of well established member of a community as well as a normal mailing address and town name intended as the recipient. Assuming most postcards are sent to a mother or father, it doesn’t take much effort to track down the 1910 census record for that family using Ancestry.com. This is exactly what I did in this case. The first Maroney to appear in the Eyota, MN 1910 census was a Patrick C. Maroney… Bingo.

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1910 Census record

From here I researched the children of Patrick and Emma Maroney (the card says “Dear Ma”) and found that they had a son named Charles E. Maroney who was born on September 22nd, 1895 and passed away on September 5th, 1934.

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Charles’ September 11th, 1919 return to the USA

Charles singed in aboard the U.S.S. Montpelier after his time in France on August 28th, 1919 and landed back in the US on September 11th. It was at this time that he was most likely given the above card to fill out and ship to his parents back in Minnesota. His wartime record puts him with an engineering unit that was focused on railway work during the war and this tombstone identifies him as a Private with the 69th Engineers . This doesn’t exactly jive with his US Headstone Application or the US Army Transport records seen above. According to records, his grave should’ve listed him as being with the 144th Transportation Corps. Please note that his mother was also the recipient of his body after he passed away in 1934. 😦

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US Headstone Application

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Charles E. Maroney’s resting place

WWI Portrait of Pvt. Louis Alterici of the 1st Gas and Flame Regiment in WWI


Pvt. Louis Alterici

I apologize for not posting more frequently, but I’ve been focusing on preparing presentations and talks for local historical societies here in my home state of Vermont. Tonight’s post is the first that focuses around a recently-purchased portrait photo. A dealer from the Philadelphia area has been selling off what appears to be an entire collection of WWI portraits from a Charleroi, Pennsylvania photo studio. Of the several dozen portraits sold by this seller in the past two months, I’ve been lucky enough to pick up two photos. The best of the two is the image photograph presented below:

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Louis Alterici of Charleroi, PA

At first glance, this photograph clearly presents evidence of damage in the hands of an ink-wielding enemy. Who knows how this was damaged, but it didn’t seem to impact the final value of the photograph, which sold for a healthy $68.00. The particularly interesting elements of the photograph are presented here:

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English Style Cap and Engineer Collar Disc

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French Croix de Guerre medal w/ silver star and 1st Army patch variant

 

After a bit of research into the sitter above, it quickly became clear that he was an engineer with the 1st Gas and Flame Regiment, previously the 30th Engineer Regiment. As a Private with the regiment, he would’ve been involved in the maintenance and mobilization of Livens gas projectors during the last several months of the war.

Born on April 21st of 1897 in Naples Italy, Louis emigrated to the United States on May 26th, 1910 in hopes of linking up with family members in Pennsylvania. He gained his citizenship when he was naturalized in May of 1928 due to his service for the U.S. during the war.

The men of the 1st Gas and Flame would be charged with maintaining, resupplying and moving the Liven’s projectors during the tail end of the war. What did this involve?

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Levin’s Projector schematic

 

Louis is sporting a wound chevron in the portrait photo above – he was gassed on November 1st, 1918 only ten days before the Armistice of November 11th.

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Note wound chevron (stripe) on right hand sleeve

 

It’s unclear through the records on how he received his gas wounds, but it’s highly probable that his gassing took place during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, when the 1st Gas Regiment was actively moving forward during the “third-phase” of the offensive. The attack in which Louis was wounded began at 5:30 on the morning of the 1st of November. Sadly, the gas mortars that were projected that morning were done so under less-than-ideal conditions and it appears that shifting wind blew toxic gas back towards the 1st Gas Regiment. All those who were gassed during this event were brought off the line to Sommerance, France where they were treated. All of this information can be found in the unit history of the 1st Gas Regiment, which is hyperlinked here.

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Louis’ War Record (Note gassing date)

What Louis achieved after the war is unknown to me, but I hope that he lived a full and rewarding life. His war record and portrait will remain a part of my website, but I hope to pass the photo along to a relative one day.

The Last Living Witness to Lincoln’s Assassination


I really enjoy meeting with elderly citizens who can remember local events of historic significance and always make an effort to ask them where they were during critical national or international turning points in history.  But in the case of the man below, I’m not sure I could top his story. At the time this TV show was filmed in 1956, Mr. Samuel J. Seymour (1860-1856) had already lived through the Civil War, the financial depressions of the late 1800s, the Spanish American War, the invention of the automobile, the invention of flight, WWI (he was in his 50s when that happened), the jazz era, the Great Depression, WWII, the nuclear era, the beginning Korean War and McCarthyism. This guy had seen it all!

Although the contestants figured out his story pretty quickly, the story of his traveling to the show and his determination to tell his story are remarkable. Encounters with people who witnessed history like this are examples of what drives me to continue to take the time to chat with WWII veterans when I encounter them. With so few left, it’s important to just… talk to people. Mr. Seymour passed away only 63 days after his filming of the episode shown below. Enjoy.

WWI 1st Division DSC Recipient RPPC Photo


eBay can be a fun way to research WWI soldiers in a way that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. With the emerging databases of WWI soldier roster information and the ever-expanding capacity of Ancestry.com for genealogical data, WWI veterans are becoming easier and easier to research. In this case, I purchased a photo of two US officers posing in a French studio in March of 1919. The signature on the front and the inscription on the back give roughly enough information to make a positive identification. The standing officer is 2nd Lt. William H. Barry of Langley, Washington. He served with F. Co of the 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division during the American involvement in WWI. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his bravery and extraordinary heroism in the breakthrough of the Hindenburg Line. A large percentage of his company became casualties and he assumed command after the CO was wounded. He reorganized the company and completed their objective under the rain of German machine fun fire.

 

To think, this photograph was obtained on an internet auction site for less than the price of a tank of gasoline and had been sitting in a pile of postcards for years before it was posted. I’m glad to provide this information – I hope a family member can find this post and learn a little about their ancestor!

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Lt. William H. Barry (Standing)

 

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Lt. Barry’s March 1919 Signature

 

BARRY, WILLIAM H.
Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army
28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, A.E.F.
Date of Action: October 5, 1918
Citation:
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to William H. Barry, Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Exermont, France, October 5, 1918. Assuming command of his company after his company commander and a major portion of the company became casualties, Second Lieutenant Barry reorganized his company and personally led it forward in the attack, successfully attaining his objective in the face of intense machine-gun and artillery fire. He constantly exposed himself to enemy fire in order to encourage and insure the protection of his men.
General Orders No. 103, W.D., 1919
Home Town: Langley, WA

 

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WWI – 57th Field Artillery Brigade Soldiers Pose in French Studio


A recent purchase just arrived in my mailbox and I’ve been researching the details in hopes of identifying something interesting to write about. Well, this photo has a few good details that will hopefully help future collectors with identifying their WWI photographs!

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57th Field Artillery Brigade

The first details that pop out are the accessories that these doughboys decided to wear into the studio. These small nuances of WWI photos really help researchers, reenactors and collectors understand that uniform and insignia regulations in 1918 were at time blurry, and interesting one-off uniform presentations did exist. In this case we see a handful of elements that are not typically found in photos of the period.

Leg Covering

One soldier (far left) is wearing M1910 canvas gaiters, while the other two are sporting wool puttees.

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Cap Insignia

All three doughboys are wearing French lettering on their caps denoting their specific unit affiliation. In this case, they are wearing the number 57 with a letter A. In any other scenario I would assume that this would place them within the 57th Infantry Regiment, Company A, or possibly 57th Pioneer Regiment, Company A. In this case, the next detail down drives the unit ID home. These letters and numbers are often seen on French collars.

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French Cap Numbering

 

Officer’s Field Artillery Insignia

The soldier at the far right is wearing an officer collar insignia for a Field Artillery Regiment. An odd thing on an enlisted man, and especially odd at the center of the chest. Who knows?

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Watches

All three are wearing watches! The first on the left has a pocket watch with fob and chain clipped to his shirt. The other two are wearing “trench watches” with kitchener straps. Interestingly, they both do not currently have crystal guards AKA “shrapnel guards” on the watch face to protect from wartime damage. These were popular amongst watch-wearing soldiers of WWI.

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Field Artillery Ring

One detail that I always look for is the presence of a ring on WWI soldiers. The soldier at the far left is wearing a sterling silver Field Artillery ring – another clue that supports the 57th Field Artillery ID for this photo.

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Oval Sterling Field Artillery Ring

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In summary, the tiny details of a photo can actually make an unidentified WWI photo incredibly interesting and fun to dissect. These little nuances of wartime accessory can, at time make the difference between a $5.00 photo and a $50.00 photo to the discerning collector. It also helps expand knowledge into unknown areas of military material culture collecting. Pull out your magnifying glass and look through your collection!