From time to time, I like to go through my collection of historic, identified photography in hopes of making a connection between ID’ed WWII/WWI veterans and their families. In this case, I zeroed in upon a photo taken on January 29th, 1945 in the Luxembourg town of Boevange.
John Szlyk, 6th AD in Luxembourg
The photograph was luckily identified by the 167th Signal Corps photographer, PFC Joseph Lapine. The typed transcription of his notes can be seen below:
Joseph Lapine Caption
Where does the research start? First, I carefully inspected the image for identifying marks related to the plane in the background; every US plane during WWII would be profusely marked with serial numbers (S/N) related to it’s production. In this case, the photo includes two visible locations with reference numbers to aide in the ID of the plane.
S/N Location 1
Partial S/N Visible
The information included in Location 1 indicates that the crashed plane is a U.S. Army Model P-47 D-20 RE with an Army Air Forces (AAF) Serial of 42-29176. Location 2 confirms the last five digits of the S/N. Strangely, the serial isn’t searchable on the internet, and I’ve come up with nothing………. this is atypical when researching WWII aircraft…….
Where do I go from here?
Typically, if I can’t extrapolate research worthy clues from the visual details of the image, I turn to the metadata, or associated information related to the photo. In this case, I know the photo was taken by a US Signal Corps photographer named Joseph (Joe) Lapine of the 167th (or 166th?) Signal Photographic Company. More on this later……
Photographers during WWII would typically travel with specific units during times of combat movement and frame shots, take notes, and capture the feel of the war for posterity and the general public back at the homefront. In this image, Lapine noted the names of the two men in the photo; Lt. John Szlyk of Boston, MA is identified as the pilot, and the helmeted soldiers is ID’ed as Charles A. Klein of Cambed, NJ.
My specialty is identifying specific details of WWII images, researching them, and coming to conclusions based on my best-guess interpretations. My background is in anthropology, material culture, history, literature and historic research…..here’s my gut feeling about the photo:
The men in the photo were misidentified by the photographer; the pilot and the 6th armored division names were crossed during the post-photo interview, and Lapine published the image without another thought. My justification is that I cannot, for the life of me, find a Lt. John D. Szlyk of Boston, MA, or a Cpl. Charles A. Klein of Camden, NJ. They never existed as defined…..
I was, however, able to find a John Szlyk of Worcester, MA (my hometown area!) who was a combat-hardened veteran who served with the 6th Armored Division, having received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart with two oak leaf clusters (wounded three times) as well as multiple foreign awards. Quite the veteran! His touching obituary can be found here.
Could the photographer have possibly mixed up the names? I can’t find a Lt. Charles Klein who was a P-47 pilot during the war, but I’m also unable to track down P-47 # 42-29176……
The details from the obituary match up well with the misidentified image…. the 6th AD tanker at right is wearing the exact dust goggles commonly worn by tank commanders during the war.
WWII US Tanker Goggles
John Szlyk Jr. in WWII?
One side note from this research piece: I’ve recently discovered that many internet trolls are unhappy with the goggles worn by Brad Pitt in Fury. They’re clearly of Soviet make and WWII vintage, but cares? Maybe his character picked them off a dead German soldier? The opening scene of the film shows Pitt’s character looting a dead German officer. The interior of the Sherman is littered with German war loot. My own grandfather (a tank gunner/assistant driver) used a German holster for his M1911 during the war. Enjoy the film and chill out!
My ultimate goal for this post is to contact living sons of Szlyk….. I know you’re out there! Check your facebook messages…….