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 – 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!

Gene Keessen: A Vietnam War Dentist in 35mm Kodachrome


I recently purchased a series of inexpensive (less than a dollar) 35mm Kodachrome color slides on eBay in hopes of identifying the men and women portrayed in the images. The slides were part of an estate sell out of an unnamed veteran who served with the 219th Medical Detachment during the Vietnam War. All the slides appear to be related to non-critical medical care “in country”.

My favorite slide from the purchase has to be a head-on shot taken of a dentist with the unit identified as Gene Keessen. He’s sporting an incredible blonde English pyramidal mustache (see guide below).

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Guide to basic mustache styles

And here he is in his full glory – I’m guessing this photo was taken ca. 1969.

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I’ve tracked Mr. Keessen down and am making my best attempt to send him/his family these slides. I hope they get a kick out of the mustache!

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Gene with a patient

WWI Portrait Photo – Lt. Carl Wehner, 141st Infantry Regiment, KIA at St. Etienne, France


A recent eBay purchase has lead me down a warren of research avenues that are helping shed light on the American involvement at the bloody fray at St. Etienne during the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge in October of 1918. The photo depicts Lt. Carl Wehner with the following inscription on the verso:

“141st Inf., 36th Div. Lt. Carl Wehner killed Oct. 8, 1918 by a German sniper.”

It was this writing that pushed me to purchase the photo at a reasonable $25.00 in hopes of researching and fleshing out the life of the young Lieutenant and Wisconsin native who was killed in action only days after his 26th birthday.

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Lt. Carl Wehner in France, 1918

This photo was most likely taken a month or so before his death in October, as he is sporting a 6 month overseas service chevron on his left cuff. August or September would roughly be six months after his arrival from stateside officers training. He was selected to be a Lieutenant with Company K of the 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division – a unit comprised mostly of southern boys from Texas and surrounding states. Having been born in Lincoln, Kansas and spending most of his life in Madison, Wisconsin, he originally enlisted with the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division but elected to train to become an officer. At the time of his enlistment, he lived at 925 West Dayton Street in Madison.

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Carl’s WWI Draft Registration Card

And I was able to find a fascinating account of his death while commanding Company K following the death of his Captain (Source – Entry by RavenHawk)

…It was near St. Etienne, as his captain layed dead, Wehner led his unit forward, until he himself was struck in the head, by enemy gunfire, and killed. One account of the battle (perhaps a little exagerated), said: “Lieutenat Wehner died with three machine gun bullets in his forehead and a smile on his lips as he led Company K of the 141st Infantry over the top after his captain was killed by the fire of the enemy.”….In a letter signed by the Marshall Of France, Commander in Chief of the French Armies of the East, Petain, it was written: “Lt. Wehner displayed audacity and disregard of danger during the operations near St. Etienne. At the head of his men, encouraging them with his skill, he largely contributed to the success of the operations which made it possible to capture all objectives. He was killed at his post of combat.” For his bravery, Wehner was awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm for bravery….As for Wehner’s family, they didn’t find out until after Christmas, that Wehner had been killed, in battle…Wehner’s body was returned to Madison in 1921, and reburied at Forest Hill on 10/21/1921.

WWI Portrait Photo – 102nd Ambulance Company, 26th Division


This photograph is a true mystery for me. I can’t identify the sitter of this photograph even though there is so much information to work with:

  1. He’s identified on the print as Pvt. John Illiano of the 102nd Ambulance Company
  2. He’s sporting a 26th Division uniform with at least 1 1/2 years overseas service
  3. He was one of the first 100,000 US soldiers to enlist (conjecture based on star)
  4. He’s most likely from New England at the time of enlistment
  5. Probably Italian-American

I found a digital scan of this photo on War Relics Forum, a site dedicated to WWII artifact research. The OP of this photo, MD Helmets, doesn’t have any additional information but did claim he/she purchased it from Bay State Militaria back in 2013.

What do you guys think? Any leads?

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102nd Ambulance Company “Mystery Sitter”

WWII Aerial Recon Photo: Burning German Convoy During Battle of the Bulge


alvaalegre059In a follow up to the popularity of my last post (see here), I’ve decided to begin scanning my collection of large format 12×12 inch aerial photos taken during the Battle of the Bulge.  In this first post, we see a German motorized transport convoy in ruins following a strafing attack by P-47’s of the XAX Tactical Air Command (TAC) on January 23rd, 1945.  I acquired a large set of these original 12×12 inch prints (complete with pencil notes on the back) on eBay a few years ago directly from the estate of a 9th Air Force photo tech who apparently saved hundreds of original flyovers like this.  He saved duplicates as well!  This is one of those duplicates.

I’ve taken the time to crop the shot for close up views below.  With some luck, followers of this page may be able to track down the exact location of this image!  Good luck guys!

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January 23rd, 1945

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Rare Aerial Photo of Gliders Taken After Operation Varsity, March 1945


Taken on March 25th, 1945, this image was snapped by a low-flying P-38 or P-51 of the 363rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron.  I acquired a large set of these original 12×12 inch prints (complete with pencil notes on the back) on eBay a few years ago directly from the estate of a 9th Air Force photo tech who apparently saved hundreds of original flyovers like this.  He saved duplicates as well!  This is one of those duplicates.

This large format photo, taken a day after the strategic landing of two airborne divisions on the eastern bank of the Rhine River near the village of Hamminkeln and the Town of Wesel, Germany.  Know as Operation Varsity, the landing is regarded by many historians as the most successful airborne landing carried out during WWII.  Although I tend to argue such facts, the point is that the landing led to the quickening of the end of the war.

This series of photos provides an incredibly detailed view of the aftermath of the glider landings and a general layout of trenches, hedgerows and landscape features that may be obfuscated today.  These images can be found in many books and through government archives but may be of lesser quality due to multiple reproductions.  Enjoy!

 

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Large Format Aerial Photo Showing Airborne Gliders, March 25th, 1945

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WWII Color Photo Post: An Unopened Box of Developed WWII Kodak Color Slides!


Many of my followers know that I actively collect WWII color slides, predominantly those developed by the Eastman Kodak Company.  These Kodachrome slides are typically regarded in the field of vintage color photo collecting as the crème de la crème of vintage color.  Taken at a time of incredible social and political upheaval, these images capture an era that will never be seen in the same light or colors again. With the small percentage of the world populace that used color photography, an even smaller percentage of the slides have been passed down or purchased by people with the ability to scan and post them to the internet.

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In this rare case, I was able to purchase a large set of Kodachrome slides taken by a US serviceman before he shipped off to war.  One box of the Kodak-developed slides were unopened.  I took a photo of the seal, opened the box and immediately scanned them!  Please enjoy the following 12 slides that are only seeing the light of day 70+ years later….

Taken in Fort Benning, GA, these slides were shipped home in January of 1945 to only be opened in 2016! Enjoy.

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WWII Snapshot – Female Photographer Pauses for the Camera


 

A female US service member rocks a summer dress and snaps a shot of the photographer; what more can you ask for from a blog dedicated to obscure vernacular snapshots taken during wartime?   Originally digitally cropped down from a slightly larger print, this shot exudes the youthful demeanor of downtime during WWII. The taut, braced legs also hint to a slightly posed sexualized snapshot….

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