The Photographic Archive of Wells C. Klein – Father of the Modern American Immigration and Refugee Field


It was a cool, drizzly afternoon in the waning summer of 2015 when I first discovered a piece of my photo collection that, to this day, sits underappreciated in a back corner of a dusty closet in my house.  Walking the squishy aisles of the Waterbury Flea Market, I quickly became disenchanted with the dealer turnout.  One tarp called to me from across the field; a dealer was selling everything from a recent Stowe, VT estate buy out and wanted to move material quickly and hit the road before the heavy rain set in.  Late summer rains in Vermont can blow in quickly over Lake Champlain, and being caught in a storm can spell disaster to an antique/junk seller.  As I approached, I noticed a small blue bag with PAA Pan American World Airlines emblazoned across the front.  I instantly recognized it as a vintage 1950s Pan Am carry on flight bag.  I had recently watched a few episodes of Pan Am and was familiar with the color and general shape of the carry on bags seen on the show.

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Wells’ 1960s Pan Am Bag

To my surprise, the bag was stuffed to the gills with photos, documents and 35mm negative envelopes.  Given the ominous weather and progressively moistening socks, I asked the dealer what he was looking to get for the bag.  “Give my five”, he hacked in the most perfect version of a northern Vermont accent I can imagine.  “Does that include the stuff inside?” I returned.  “Ayup.”

Five minutes later and five bucks shorter, I sat under the protective roof of my car and pawed through the photos.  The bag included a handful of foreign drivers licenses, a WWII Navy ID card, a handwritten letter from Yugoslavia, hundred and hundreds of loose photos taken in Vietnam, Yugoslavia, and stateside….. and a substantial pack of 35mm negatives.

Based on my knowledge of the changing variations of printed photography in the 20th century, it became quickly evident that the bag and contents belonged to a fellow named Wells C. Klein (the ID cards gave this away) who worked in some capacity overseas in the 1950s and 1960s; the distinctive borders and print stock of the photos were correct for this period.  A few items included dates, so that really helps narrow it down……..

With the help of the internet and some sleuthing by friends, I’ve been able to figure out the Hardy Boys-esque Mystery of the Pan Am Bag.

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Wells’ Foreign ID

Much of Wells’ bio comes from a series of New York Times, LA Times and other news outlet obituaries that circled the US in the days after his death in April of 2001.  Wells Campbell Klein was born on October 10th, 1926 in New York City  and raised in New Haven, CT by a family of well-educated, academically and socially influential parents. Similarly, his younger brother Malcolm W. Klein is a seminal expert on criminal street gang activity in the the decades prior to 2000.  Wells’ WWII Draft Registration card confirms that he sported hazel eyes, was of medium complexion, and weighed in at a solid 165 lbs at 5′ 10 1/2″.

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Wells’ WWII Ship – U.S.S. Duncan (DD-874)

Wells served (from July 1st, 1944-June 23rd, 1946) during and after the war as a Quartermaster in the US Navy and spent time in China and Japan. His familiarity with Asia would come in handy in the years to come, where he used his Anthropology degree from Cornell to use in his service to the immigration and refugee resettlement field from ca. 1950-2000. His 2001 LA Times death notice reads:

Wells C. Klein, an advocate for refugees and immigrants who played a central role in resettling thousands of Southeast Asians in the United States at the end of the Vietnam War and helped shape American policy toward refugees from other trouble spots, died of lung cancer April 5 at his home in Stowe Hollow, Vt. He was 74.

“He was a pioneer . . . a giant in creating the modern-day refugee and immigration field,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based advocacy and policy group.

Born in New Haven, Conn., he was raised in a family engrossed by social issues and causes. His father, Philip, was an eminent professor of social work at Columbia University. His mother, Alice Campbell Klein, was involved in social welfare agencies.

After serving in the Navy during World War II and studying at Sarah Lawrence College and Cornell University, where he majored in anthropology, Klein began his international work. He became a mission director for the humanitarian organization CARE in Yugoslavia and by the mid-1950s had become chief of the CARE mission in Saigon, where he spent much of the period of the American troop buildup.

In the late 1960s he became director of International Social Service, a worldwide, nonprofit family agency. It was the first in a series of organizations that Klein resuscitated. Expanding it into an international social work agency, he developed a special focus on finding homes for Vietnamese orphans and other displaced Vietnamese children, especially those fathered by Americans.

In 1975, he took over the American Council for Nationalities Service, a nonprofit group that at the turn of the 20th century had helped Eastern European immigrants adjust to American life. Moribund for decades because of immigration bans, it became, under Klein’s leadership, a major resettlement agency that helped more than 130,000 Southeast Asians adjust to life in the United States after Saigon’s collapse. The agency is now called Immigration and Refugee Services of America.

Klein played a central role in arranging federal and state aid to address the Southeast Asian refugees’ needs for counseling, language instruction and vocational training. He lobbied for the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program, passed by Congress in 1975, which made Medicaid, food stamps and other benefits available to them.

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In 1981 Klein resuscitated another long-dormant organization: the U.S. Committee for Refugees. It has become “the definitive voice on refugees, human rights and refugee crises,” said Lavinia Limon, who directed the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement for the Clinton White House. The committee publishes the annual World Refugee Survey, an authoritative summary of refugee conditions in more than 100 countries.

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Action Shot

Wells clearly lived an incredible life with years of selfless service to a cause he was raised to become an advocate for.  His name is intertwined with every major US refugee resettlement and advocacy program. NGO and governmental groups such as American Council for Nationalities Services, International Social Service, Immigration and Refugee Services of America, U.S. Committee for Refugees and many others were directly impacted by Wells’ hand.

Another Los Angeles Times article tells of his work in the 1980s:

In 1980 Klein led the resettlement community in welcoming and assisting the 125,000 immigrants Fidel Castro sent in a chaotic sea migration to the U.S. from Cuban prisons and mental hospitals. Rejected by their countrymen in South Florida, where they landed, the Mariel boat lift refugees “tested the bedrock values of the refugee program,” said Limon, who at the time worked for Klein at the American Council for Nationalities Service.

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His photographic style hints to his study of Anthropology in college; his role as a participant observer in regions such as Yugoslavia and Vietnam clearly reflect his early training and academic encounters.  Sadly, his bag of photography seems to end with his trip to Vietnam.  Photos with friends and peers are unidentified, and capture the fun-loving reveries of a 30-something in the prime of his life. Please see below for a small selection of scans from “the bag”.

Vietnam ca. 1955

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Vietnamese CARE Package Label

 

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Signed Photo of Wells and the Vietnamese Refugee Minister

 

 

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Crops from Contact Sheets

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Larger Format Photos from Vietnam

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Yugoslavia ca. 1953

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Letter from the Yugoslavian People to President Eisenhower

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Stateside Fun w/ Friends

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Formal Portrait Photo

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post.  To think…. this little bag of photos was very likely close to being tossed away in a soggy dumpster….. I’m glad I trecked out to Waterbury last year!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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……

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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WWII War Correspondent Ernie Pyle’s Oil Stained Pants – A Photographic Review


Amateur snapshots of WWII war correspondent Ernie Pyle are incredibly hard to find. Although a celebrity during the war, identified photos of him are hard to come across on the open market; obscurity and scarcity make these images unidentifiable to most eBay sellers.   This is mostly due to the fact that Ernie Pyle is mainly known only by WWII veterans and war buffs; his early passing in 1945 stunted his potential post-war career and relegated him to the annals of pre-boom(baby) literary figures.

 

I’ve been collecting amateur shots of Ernie Pyle for nearly ten years and have accrued a sizable collection of one-off snapshots of his wartime escapades.  One thing I’ve noticed during these years is that Ernie only had ONE pair of pants during the entirety of his European tour.  Grease and oil stained, these trousers appear in every photo of him during this period; I can only wonder where these pants are today…..

 

How did they become stained?

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Ernie Drunk in Italy (From my collection)

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Oil Stains on Right Knee

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Drunk Ernie Showing Oil Stains on Zipper Fly (From my Collection)

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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.

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WWI Photo Post – Lincoln Leslie Loper w/ Gas Mask Returns Home From France January 1919


Lincoln Leslie Loper served in France with a military medical unit during the last year of WWI.  Born and raised in Iowa, Loper  eventually worked his way to Washington, living in Seattle as early as 1942.  It’s tough to trace an individual based on scant information, but I’ve been able to deduce that he passed away in 1972 based on his military records.

Lincoln L. Loper in a Gas Mask, 1919

Lincoln L. Loper in a Gas Mask, 1919

LIncoln Loper Postcard Backside

Lincoln Loper Postcard Backside