Famous Bougainville Signal Corps Photo Unraveled – 754th Tank Battalion

From time to time, a certain photo in my collection will call to me from beneath a dusty pile of books and other ephemera; pulling me away from other nocturnal pursuits, I will spend hours slipping down the rabbit hole of internet research.  In tonight’s post I dissect an image I picked up in a large photo grouping from an unidentified Pacific Theater of Operations U.S Army soldier whose estate was broken up on eBay.


This photo has taken me months to research, with new avenues of potential insight popping up at every twist and turn.  “My” version of the photo includes the portions of the negative’s border which, once deciphered, indicate the photographic unit responsible for the image.  These borders are typically not present on post-war copies of the photo, so this points towards a wartime first-generation version of the photo likely printed overseas. Additionally, later prints of the photo include inclusions and negative abrasions not present in earlier versions.


What does the negative bar tell us?  For one, it gives us the number of the photographic unit responsible for the image.  The first number corresponds to the ID # for the 161st Signal Photographic Company. The 161st, as anticipated, shot still and moving images in the Pacific in WWII, working in tough weather conditions not conducive to normal photographic processing.  Through my exhaustive research, I’ve uncovered additional information about the photo not commonly known on the internet.


Commonly ascribed to Guadalcanal, New Guinea and other remote locations, the photo was actually taken in April (hence the 4-44 label on the negative) of 1944 on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea during the Bougainville Campaign.  Again, commonly ascribed to a Marine unit, the soldiers in the photo are actually of the Company F, 129th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Infantry Division.


Insignia of the 161st Photo Co.


The details of the photo are crisp, clear and perfectly printed with little great use of light, shadows and other atmospheric conditions in the heat of battle.  Bayonets affixed, the solders are scrambling for cover, firing and advancing behind a Sherman tank of the 754th Tank Battalion as it progresses forward through the dense jungle.  The tank at the forefront of the shot is “Lucky Legs II”, clearly a later iteration of a previously destroyed or abandoned armored vehicle. Tank and plane names were commonly derived from hometown sweethearts, pinup magazine, popular songs and movies, or unique creations.


Notice the play of light….

What isn’t immediately clear is the reason why the star is only partially visible on the turret. Using the power of the internet, I was able to track down a military forum with some information to help……


Lucky Legs II in action (note star)

Apparently, the tanks were covered in oiled tar to protect from rust during overseas transport.  This includes the stars, which, in this case, was still partially covered in goop during the first counterattack after receiving the M4 mediums in March of 1944.  The above forum post provides a delicious detail, one that would be almost impossible to posit, without the help of a guy who “was there.”

754th TB ($75)

754th Tank Battalion Patch


According to research, tanks of this new delivery were equipped with armor plate protecting the driver from shots off the starboard and port sides of the tank.  This raised area was used by tankers of the 754th to paint the tank moniker.  Another example from the same group includes the “Wild Boar.”



Further distinguising insignia found on the tank include the 3 within a triangle, denoting that the tank was the Platoon Sergeant’s tank; the II adjacent to the triangle in the photo likely indicate that the tank is of the Second Platoon.


Rear Painted Details

So, we have a tank commanded by the Platoon Sergeant of the 2nd Platoon of a an unknown company of the 754th Tank Battalion.  I can narrow this down only a bit more, but future research and reader commentary should elucidate some of the murky details.


Back to the previous image of the internet post regarding an angry response by a tanker who fought in Lucky Legs II:

“I said just from the inside of that turret.  That’s my tank, and probably my steel helmet hanging on the back. Because Tony Benardo, and Gus, had theirs inside with them.. I think.”

The same forum post refers to a US Signal Corps film that depicts the tank in question….. I think I found it…..

And if that wasn’t enough… I found more shots from the same photographic series




30 thoughts on “Famous Bougainville Signal Corps Photo Unraveled – 754th Tank Battalion

  1. Often in the Pacific, due to weather conditions, mud could distort the insignia and and make it appear like the enemy. Rather than risk ‘friendly fire’ many insignia were removed altogether.

  2. Erm, are these the troops that moved up after the Australians that had done most of the fighting were ordered off the road so Macarthur could get some great publicity?

    • No, Australians moved to Bougainville (September 44?) well after the Big Battle of Bougainville (March 8 – 30) and the Mopping-up which was led by the 1st and 3rd Battalions, Fiji Infantry Regiment alongside 129th.

  3. Some additional background on the 161st Signal Photo Co. The unit participated in unit maneuvers at Fort Benning, GA in April 1942. Officer in charge was Lt. Ned R. Morehouse, who would go on to command the 163rd Signal Photo Co. and the 196th Signal Photo Co. in the Italian Campaign. Morehouse is depicted in a group photo I have with Sgt. Walter Emrich, who would later receive a field commission, Pvt. Beverly Grunart, who remained with the 161st and covered the aftermath of the A-bomb of Japan and Pvt. Frank Takahashi. Some enlisted members of the 161st were reassigned to other U.S. Army Signal Corps photo companies including the 162nd. I can send you the photo I have.

  4. Arguably one of the greatest American war photo-journalists of 20th century David Douglas Duncan spent time in Bougainville. He died this year aged 102 years. He spent time with 450 Fiji Guerillas high above the Crown Prince ranges -jungle, 20 miles outside the Allied defensive perimeter and 10 miles from 20,000 Japanese HQ.
    His time with Fijis was published in The National Geographic Magazine 1945, The Saturday Evening Post and others.

  5. I am excited to see this photo again, as it was taken by my great uncle, 1st Lt. Robert E. “Bob” Field, a WW2 combat photographer with the Army’s 161st Signal Photographic Corps. He was KIA on 19 Mar 1945 in Panay, Philippines after sustaining injuries due to photographing a Japanese pillbox. I grew up with this photo on the wall and this and a few others were featured in either Life Magazine or Time Magazine. I need to look for my copy.

    • Wow! I spent days trying to find out who shot the photo with no luck. Would you be willing to share photos of him? I would love to edit the post and add in the information you just provided so his work will be remembered. I’m so happy you commented on this!

  6. The side plates are too far back to protect the driver or bow machinegunner. They are over the sponson ammo storage bays. Shermans of that model carried ammo on each side on the sponsons over the treads. Sherman 75 ammo also had a tendency to brew up when hit. Bad news for tank and crew. Read about this in a book written by a fellow who salvaged tanks and diagnosed what killed the tanks in WWII. Can’t remember the name.

  7. I have just discovered my late uncle’s personal affects in my parents’ attic, which indicate that he was a sergeant in the 754th Company A. Mixed in with some papers was a note from a war buddy ‘Tony’ written on stationary of the Henry Clay Hotel in Louisville KY. saying “…it’s been great knowing you and I hope we see each other soon and I want you to write to me the first possible chance you get…”. My guess is that this was written after they got back from the war. My uncle’s name was Gus P. Panarites. My question is, what are the chances it’s the same Gus and Tony that were in the tank in the photo as suggested by the angry tanker’s internet post??? Any info would be greatly appreciated . My uncle died with no children and I am trying to piece together his war history for the benefit of future generations. Thank you for posting this wonderful picture.

      • I have the following: A Pine Camp sweatshirt; a small metal plaque that lists his name, battalion and company and all the places he served during the war; his discharge papers; his army vehicle operators permit; 8 or 9 photos of him and others all the way from boot camp to the jungles of Bougainville (I assume it’s bougainville because of the jungle – or it may be Guadalcanal); the note from his buddy Tony. Interestingly there are a couple of photos of a religious ceremony for the soldiers in the jungle.

        But I think I have found a further clue that may support that Uncle Gus was in fact in Lucky Legs. A Facebook page (WW2 Colourised Photos) exhibits a colorized version of the photo with a caption under it that makes mention of Company A third platoon (754th) and its retaking of a ridge in the Bougainville Counterattack. So if Lucky Legs was in fact in Company A then we are a step closer.

      • One more clue. My father (now 92) has long claimed that Uncle Gus was actually a “sergeant of sergeants”, I assume implying either a staff or platoon sergeant. If true this is consistent with the “3” marking on the tank. While I am as of yet unable to verify this (I do know that he was at least a sergeant from an old photo of him), it is yet a further coincidence, particularly considering that I understood he was a “sergeant of sergeants” long before I had ever heard of Lucky Legs II or Bougainville or the 754th . Sorry for taking over the comments, but it would be amazing if we could build on the story of this photo.

    • Hello,
      My father was the tank mechanic for the 754th. I know those guys had many reunions around the country. That stationary you referenced may very well been from the hotel they stayed at in Louisville for a reunion. I know they had a reunion there and dedicated a 754th monument at the base there at the Gen Patton’s museum . Please feel free to contact me re: any further information.

    • My Dad was a TSGT in the 754th also he was in headquarters co then went to co C. He was the tank mechanic. He would salvage Tank that as he said, “were taken out” he’s told my stories of being pinned down under fire from ” jap pillboxes” with his only protection under the tank he was trying to retrieve with a tank retriever.
      Did your uncle go to the yearly reunions the 754th had around the country?

    • This letter may have also been written on the stationary from that hotel after a reunion of the guys from the 754th.
      My dad went to most of the reunions around the country, which were held yearly. I recall they attended a large reunion in Louisville near the Gen. Patton museum where the men from the 754th dedicated an obelisk from their battalion in an area on the grounds of that Base.
      Does your family live near central NY?

      • Thank you for the replies. My guess is that you are probably correct about the note on the Louisville stationary, and that it was probably from a reunion.

        Uncle Gus lived in Herkimer before the war, and Peabody Ma. after the war. He and my aunt used to visit us in Northern Ontario every summer for a couple of weeks. I was in my teens at the time and did not have much interest in the war and sadly was not inclined to ask any of the questions that I would ask him now (in my fifties) if he were alive. At one point he gave me a framed Australian dollar note, which according to him was the last dollar to his name, left after taking his men out on the town when they were on leave. He was the oldest of six brothers and two sisters born in Greece, and was the first to emigrate to the United states in the late 1920s or early 1930s. The rest of the family were in Greece during the war living through the German occupation and fighting in the subsequent Greek civil war. My father, the youngest in the family and the last surviving member at age 94, emigrated to Canada in the late 1950s.

  8. My father is in the picture of the Wild Boar he is Cpl. Jack Larry he is on the right. He was the cannoner. There is another picture out the with all 3 on the top of the tank.

    • I have a picture with the I think I read Sgt Smith on the back of picture. He was the one on the left. The picture I have he has his arm around my dad.


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