The 5th Platoon of K Company was assigned to the 394th Infantry Regiment of the 99th Division, making the African-American men of the platoon the first integrated combat soldiers since the Revolutionary War. Of the nearly 1,000,000 African-Americans to serve in WWII, only a small handful were put in front line combat duty, and even fewer fought shoulder to shoulder with White comrades.
A recent eBay find turned into an interesting research piece for me. I had no idea black soldiers fought in the 99th Division, and the Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge present in the photo are indicators of a battle-hardened veteran of combat. All we know about his identity is that the photo was taken in November of 1945 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Maybe someone knows a way to narrow down the list of K Company men and discover his identity?
Want to read more about this topic? Check out the following sites for a slew of interested articles and photos:
Amateur combat snapshots are nearly impossible to find. I only have a handful in my personal collection, and have only seen them for sale on rare occasions. In this photo, a veteran named Earl Reese snaps a photo while his squad is attacking through a forest on April 13th, 1945 while in the “Ruhr Pocket”. I have a collection of Reese’s photos and personal memoirs that were saved from the trash bin at an estate sale in California. Imagine images like these rotting away in a landfill?
Is that a ricochet dent on the M1 helmet?
Snapshots taken during combat situations are the Holy Grail for WWII photo collectors. In this case, a soldier in the 395th Infantry Regiment of the 99th Division snapped a photo during a firefight with Germans near a dike in Neustadt, Germany. A great action shot! To make this shot even more amazing, I found an original film shot shortly after the same episode in the exact same postion. This time the dike has been fortified with sandbags and pontoon boats. Look for the 0:39 second mark.
Snapped by a man named Earl Reese, a member of the 395th Infantry Regiment of the 99th Division.
Earl Denzil Reese
I recently purchased a mystery grouping of WWII photos off my favorite internet auction site and stumbled across the wonderful story of Earl Reese and his wartime experiences while with the 99th “Checkerboard” Division during WWII. The full story starts out on a sad note, but I hope to honor Earl and his life achievements by publishing his story here on PortraitsofWar.
Earl Reese ca.1980
After purchasing a grouping of 50+ images from an eBay dealer back in April, I became interested in the details pertaining to the man who took the photos. He had a knack for writing blurbs on the back of photos, something not many soldiers did at the time. The content was first rate; the unknown soldier seemed to be in a front line unit that saw a good amount of action. I contacted the seller in hopes of finding some additional information to help me piece together the identity of the unknown GI. I’ve done this in the past with varying amounts of success. Most of the time the seller knows nothing about the photos, or maybe only a first name or general geographical area the fellow was from. In this case, the seller had a small treasure trove of information about the soldier.
Earl in 1945
After attending an estate sale in Santa Barbara the friendly eBay seller was rummaging around through some paper bins outside and found the life memoirs and photos of Mr.Reese. Some family member or estate executor threw away the entire life work and memories of Earl! He generously sent me the complete memoir manuscript and photo collection as a gift. I plan on digitizing the wartime section of the memoirs, which constitute three or four chapters of the 30+ volume.
Crossing the DanubeCombat!
Earl Rides an M8 Greyhound
Germans Surrender on Motorcycles
Ruhr Pocket Battle Rest
In the Ruhr Pocket
Earl Denzil Reese
April 13th, 1945 – A combat engineer snapped this series of photos while riding on back of a truck during the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket. A member of the 395th Infantry Regiment , the photographer captured an amazing scene through the lens of this camera in these images. A group of German soldiers surrenders while riding a motorcycle, waving a white flag in a desperate attempt at self preservation. A cigarette dangles from the hand of sidecar rider.
Over 300,000 German troops were taken prisoner during the March and April battles in the Ruhr Valley of Germany.