I’ve been lucky enough to acquire another 1944 color slide to add to my growing collection of slides from Walter Huff, a WWII Marine pilot. This one is especially interesting as it shows his name on his yellow inflatable life vest. Slick hair too!
These two blurry but historically significant photos recently arrived from a friend in Pennsylvania. I instantly recognized the USSR red star on the fuselage along with the bundled up WASP standing proudly beside the plane. The fighter is a Bell P-63 Kingcobra, a variant of the P-39 Airacobra. The serial number on the tail appears to be 42-704XX. Although the last two numbers are obscured by the tilt of the rudder, a quick google search turned up a hit for one plane with the 42-704XX serial. 42-70468 was ferried from Nome, Alaska to the USSR by a female WASP pilot. I even found a hand colored shot of the same plane! Enjoy.
UPDATE: I just found the POSSIBLE name of the WASP pilot in the photo. I found an aircraft accident report for this plane on November 12th, 1944. Gayle Ewing (Now Ewing-Reed) had a small accident in Niagra, NY. Sadly, she rolled her ankle and wasn’t able to fly again during the war. I even found an interview with her talking about THIS P-63 rolling over and breaking her ankle after she parked it in NY. Maybe another WASP took over after she broke her ankle?
Occasionally I revisit my WWII photo collection to cull through material I’ve overlooked. In this instance, I found a real gem that I somehow never took the time to research. I remember buying this photo at a local flea market with the intention of doing some research on the crash incident, but never got around to it. I assumed that the wreckage in the image was from a B-17 or C-47, but it turns out to be from two B-18 bombers that collided mid-air over Bellerose, Long Island on June 17th, 1940. Eleven men died in the crash, and one Bellerose citizen died of burns following the event. Scanning the internet, I was able to find an advertisement for asbestos siding from 1940 that makes reference to the event. This photo is an incredibly close up shot of the event. A fireman’s hat and jacket can be seen on the wing of the B-18 in the backyard of the burned home. Incredible.
I was able to find an article written by one of the local survivors of the crash:
Also, a minor league baseball played died in the fiery inferno. Here’s an excerpt from the Baseball in Wartime website:
“On Sunday, June 16, 1940, Bedient sent his parents a telegram stating that he was spending the day with his wife at Great Neck. At around 9:00 A.M. on Monday, June 17, two twin-engined Douglas B-18 Bolo bombers, escorted by two fighter planes, left Mitchel Field on a routine training flight. The two bombers carried a crew of 11, including Second Lieutenant Bedient. Just 15 miles from Mitchel Field, above the densely populated area of Bellerose Manor on the eastern edge of Queens, New York, the two bombers were executing a maneuver at 2,500 feet. One plane had to pass under the other and there was not enough clearance. The two planes collided and crashed in flames. One landed within a block of a school and the second smashed into a one-story residence that instantly went up in flames. All 11 crewmen — two of whom unsuccessfully attempted to escape by parachute — perished in the wreckage.”
An author who is writing a book on the B-18 emailed me with the following technical info on the two planes that crashed.
Douglas B-18A – AAC 37-576 Accepted 17 May 1939 and immediately assigned to Langley Field, VA. To Mitchel Field, NY 10 November 1939. Accident 17 June 1940 at Bellerose, Long Island, NY 1LT P. Burlingame, collided with B-18A 37-583 (q.v.), w/o. Coded 9B45 and 9B43 at the time, order uncertain.
Douglas B-18A – AAC 37-583 Accepted 9 June 1939. Assigned to Langley Field, VA 10 June 1939. To Mitchel Field, NY 12 November 1939. Accident 17 June 1940 at Bellerose, LI, NY, 2LT R. M. Bylander, collided with B-18A 37-576 (q.v.), w/o.
A new addition to my collection comes in the form of an autographed French RPPC of the 59th Pioneer Infantry Regiment commander. J. Warner Reed was a colonel with the Delaware National Guard during the Mexican Border War and later went on to form the 59th Pioneer Infantry of the 2nd Army. Units from this regiment were engaged in road building, bridge building, and front line construction and improvement projects.
For more info on the 59th Pioneers – check out this website from the Delaware National Guard: http://delawarenationalguard.com/aboutus/history/firstworldwar/
Ever wonder how doughboys sent their photo postcards home? I actually don’t own a single example of a postmarked photo postcard from the war, but recently came across a grouping that contained an envelope and postcard sent home by a 42nd Division soldier. A member of the 151st Field Artillery, Frank Svec sent home a studio portrait shot of himself. Not incredibly rare, but a good example of how WWI photos were sent during the war. The 42nd Division is one of my favorite divisions, so this is an addition “kicker”.
Finding wartime photos of nurses is becoming increasingly difficult given the recent demand for quality WWI photography. One of my favorite poses for the WWI nurse has to be the standing studio portrait with an American flag on hand. I have three good examples in my collection, but am always on the lookout for more.
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between an old photo and an historic photo? Context.
Photograph collections are often unknowingly hidden away or discarded by people in the modern day due to the influx and influence of modern digital camera technology. Family photo albums are stored in attic crawlspaces by distant relatives with no sense of stewardship or preservation. The stories of thousands of American families are discarded at the local dump each year, losing context and supporting documentation that could help historians piece together stories of the distant (or not so distant) past.
A good example of the value of context when interpreting vintage photography comes from a collection of WWII photographs and negatives a colleague of mine and I purchased from an online auction house (ok, it was eBay) back in 2010. This case study lead me across the globe, a generation gap, and even landed me a few friends along the way.
For this story, we need to travel back to January of 2010. The dark winters of Vermont are a good time to surf the web and make online purchases. For someone who generally dislikes the cold, I tend to spend the majority of the winter season indoors. One night I found a spectacular grouping of WWII photography online, placed a bid, and soon awaited the arrival of a new group of 200+ B/W photos from a seller in Pennsylvania.
The photos contained some interesting content; typical European Theater post-combat photography complete with knocked out German armor, captured enemy weapons, snapshots of friends and family as well as the occasional scenery photo. Judging by the rainbow shaped shoulder insignia worn in many of the photos, I soon came to realize that the photos were from a member of the 42nd Rainbow Division. Shots of trucks and jeeps provided the regimental and company designation. The 222nd Anti-Tank Company of the 42nd Division.
It’s uncommon to narrow down a photo grouping to a specific regiment, let alone a company. I quickly emailed the online dealer who sold the photos and asked for more information regarding the collection. He provided me with the name of the veteran who took the photos as well as an offer to purchase all of the original negatives from the collection. One week and $125 later I had the negatives and a copy of the veteran’s obituary.
Edward “Eddie” Majchrowicz of West Hazleton, PA served with the 222nd Anti-Tank Company of the 42nd “Rainbow Division” during WWII. He was a professional football player, police chief, and private detective who was an active member of his local VFW. His collection of WWII memorabilia was broken up when he passed away and I was the lucky recipient of his photography collection.
Armed with his name and unit designation (222nd/42nd Division) I tracked down the membership coordinator of the 42nd Division Association who provided me with a list of living members of the 222nd Anti-Tank Company. On a whim, I wrote six letters to six members of the company in hopes of learning more about Eddie and his wartime exploits. After a few weeks of hopeful waiting, a letter arrived in my mailbox penned by one of the 222nd Anti-Tank veterans. Success!
That initial letter opened a floodgate of information and context to help me decipher the photograph collection. My new veteran friend provided me with personal identifications of the men pictured in the collection, as well as stories and anecdotes to go along with the photos. The personal stories he shared with me range from the comical to the tragic, but each was even more “real” with a photograph for reference.
This case study is a perfect example of how context and background can add important texture to a collection. Finding a living link to a historic photo is the goal of every historian. Dig out those old photos and start doing some research!
Photos in Context
Without any background knowledge, the above photo would appear to be a mundane image of a snow-covered field with a distant tree line. After tracking down a living veteran from the 222nd Anti-Tank Company, I was able to add some human interest to the image. On his first night of front-line combat duty, Bud Gahs tried chewing tobacco for the fist time. His foxhole comrade, Hickey, convinced Bud that the tobacco would take the edge off. With the German lines only a thousand yard away, Bud spent the entire night nauseated and vomiting in his foxhole. It was his first and only time trying tobacco. This photo was taken only yards from his post that fateful night.
Late April 1945, Near Munich
The low drone of an approaching German Me-109 fighter plane could just barely be heard above the snoring coming from the back of the Dodge WC-54 truck at the camp of the 222nd Anti-Tank Company. As the fighter plane swooped in on a strafing run, the men of the 222nd AT jumped out of their sleeping bags and dove for cover. Everybody except for Swanson, who arose only after the wing of the Me-109 swept the protective canvas off the back of his truck. He had been only ten feet from the plane as it swept over the camp. Coming in for another strafing run, the inexperienced pilot clipped his wing on a tree and crash landed only yards from the camp. The smell of vaporized airplane fuel hung over the camp for hours. The plane was smashed to bits, and the pilot was killed instantly. In this above photo, the lifeless body of the pilot can be seen resting on the ground, with plane wreckage strewn about.
The kicker? When visiting with my 222nd veteran friend, I was handed a piece of the wreckage. Bud has kept it with him for the past 65+ years as a reminder of that memorable morning.
Eddie can be seen proudly sitting in the back of one of the Dodge trucks used to tow the 57mm guns of the 222nd Anti-Tank Company. The best part is that the truck was driven by none other than Bud Gahs, my new found WWII buddy. The photo sat in my collection with no story behind it until Bud came along and enlightened me. The name of the truck was the Coughin’ Coffin – a name derived from the tendency of the truck to sputter and almost die out while towing a huge arsenal of shells. One hit from a German 88 would put Bud and his crew in the ground, hence the Coffin moniker. Here, Bud drives the truck across a nondescript German field. Note the small German eagle proudly displayed as a war trophy on the camo netting of the gun.
At a recent get together of the 42nd Division, I presented Bud with a poster sized mounted photo of his truck. He had a great time showing it off to his Rainbow buddies.
Without a knowledge of the background of the soldier who took the photo, the armchair historian only have a vague idea that the men in the above photograph were possibly concentration camp prisoners. Since I know that the 42nd Division liberated the Dachau concentration camp in 1945, I know that these three men were from Dachau. Also, I know that Eddie spoke Polish, and that he was able to converse with many of the liberated Poles on that fateful day in April of 1945.
Stay tuned for more photos and stories from this collection……………
A particularly special photo acquisition comes in the form of a 2nd Cavalry RPPC (real photo postcard) taken somewhere near Tours, France during the war. The 2nd Cav. trained only ten miles from my house in Vermont, at Fort Ethan Allen before their departure to Hoboken for transfer overseas to France. Considered by many to be the only true U.S. mounted cavalry units to serve during WWI, the 2nd Cav. was a unique unit that tends to be glossed over by WWI histories. I’m proud to add this photo to my collection!
Interesting details of the photo include a mascot puppy, the use of spurs, and a raggedy pigeon perched on a shoulder.
For those interested in reading more on the history of the 2nd Cavalry, check out this website: http://history.dragoons.org/category/world-war-i/
Half the fun of winning a new group of WWII photos on eBay lies in the research and presentation of the material. After recently having placed the winning bid on a set of 50
or so WWII photos of what appeared to be some sort of beach landing, I quickly realized that I had something more important in my possession.
After asking the gracious seller a little bit of info about the provenience of the lot, I soon found out that the photos came from the estate of a deceased WWII veteran from Santa Rosa, CA. Al Pellegrini was the skipper of the LCT-535 during the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach, and either snapped, or was given these photos as a memento of his time aboard the 535.
According to a 1994 article by Gaye LeBaron of the Press Democrat,
“Ensign Albert J. Pellegrini of Santa Rosa, California, came early to the invasion of Normandy. He landed his LCT 535 about 10 minutes ahead of H-Hour on the sands of Omaha Beach, earning the distinction of being the skipper of the first American vessel to land on the French coast on June 6th, 1944.”
Wow! What did I stumble across with this innocuous looking eBay listing? I hope to present these photos to show the world the faces of the first men to land on Omaha Beach on that fateful day nearly 70 years ago.
Many more photos to come!