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?
UPDATE: This Christmas card has been returned to the Son of Mr. Henry Behrens. He found this post while searching for information about his father online. I’m pleased to have returned yet-another WWII photo to it’s rightful place.
Followers of PortraitsofWar will know that I love to do in-depth research to ferret out the names and stories of WWI and WWII veterans through the photographs they left behind. In this case, I purchased an inexpensive World War II postcard on eBay with the hopes of doing some sleuthing to find the identity of the sender. I already have a huge backlog of material to post, but I figured I would add yet another to the collection.
The card was interesting, and had nice composition. These style cards were often sent home by veterans to family members back home. With this in mind, I flipped over the card to check the reverse. Bingo. A name and address. Figuring that he likely send the card home to a family member (and not to himself) I began a quick ancestry.com search for the name. John Behrens of Grand Isalnd, Nebraska. I pulled the 1930 census record for the Behrens family to see if there were any likely candidates for the sitter in the photo. My initial guess was the he was likely 20-25 years old.
The address matched up on another record, so I’m 100% confident that this is the John Behrens named on the reverse of the postcard. John had two sons named Willie and Henry. Both were born in Germany and eventually emmigrated from Germany to the United States in the 1920s. I thoroughly researched both brothers and eventually found a reference to Henry having been in the air corps during WWII. His obituary also confirms that he was born in Eckenforde, Germany. It also sounds like he was a lifetime Air Force veteran.
Here’s his obituary:
Marin Independent Journal
Saturday, June 29, 1985
A memorial service for Henry Behrens of Novato will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Redwood Chapel Funeral Home in Novato.
Mr. Behrens died unexpectedly Wednesday at his residence. He was 67.
He was a native of Eckenforde, Germany. He spent 31 years in the U.S. Army and the Air Force. He retired from Hamilton Air Force Base in 1966.
His most recent job was office service manager for Mission Equity Insurance Co. in San Francisco.
He is survived by his wife, Runee Behrens of Novato; two sons, William H. Behrens of San Jose and John W. Behrens of Fairfield; a daughter, Linda P. Garrecht of Irvine; his mother, Alwine Behrens of Grand Island, Neb.; and three grandsons.
Inurnment will take place at 3 p.m. Tuesday during a graveside service at the San Francisco National Cemetery at the Presidio.
The family prefers memorial gifts to the American Heart Fund.
Snapped over 65 years ago at the Lichterfelde-Berlin SS Barracks in October of 1945, this shot gives us a rare glimpse of the US Army unit that transported the famous Isted Lion from it’s home in Berlin back to it’s ancestral lands of Denmark. Danish sculptor Herman Wilhelm Bissen created the monument for installation as a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the common Danish soldier. The statue we see today was completed and unveiled in 1862 with the following inscription:
Isted den 25. Juli 1850. Det danske Folk reiste dette Minde
(Isted, 25 July 1850. The Danish people set this memorial)
The statue was then taken in 1864 by the Germans after a bitter Danish defeat at the Battle of Dybbol. From there it was put on display, attacked by German nationalists, dismantled, copied, reconfigured and moved to the arsenal in Berlin, moved again to the barracks at Lichterfelde where it rested until October of 1945. This is where my recent photograph acquisition comes into play.
This pair of incredible photographs was privately taken by a member of a US Army engineering unit who were stationed in Berlin right after the end of the war. This shot shows the engineers loading the wandering lion into the bed of a heavy-duty truck. I can’t find any other shots of this scene. Also, there aren’t many soldiers in the shot…… this could be the only photograph of this scene on the web. From there, the lion was transported back to Denmark where it rested until 2010. Please watch the video below to finish the story!
I’ve been recently turned on to the magic of ancestry.com, one of the best tools for researching WWI images I’ve yet to discover. I decided to start a search for one of the names written on the back of one of my better WWI images. Alex Lindell poses in his WWI French portrait photo showing off his missing finger – likely a battle wound while he was with the 78th Division. After a search of draft cards through the National Archives, I came across a pair of WWI and WWII draft cards with the presumed identity of Alex Lindell. After comparing the signatures on both my photo and the draft cards, I realized I had a match! Success!
Sometimes an obscure patch shot slips through the cracks of the myriad listings on ebay. In this case, I picked up a VERY rare shot of two members of the 255th Aero Squadron, 3rd Air Park of the 2nd Pursuit Group posing in a Vichy, France studio. I’ve only seen two or three photographic examples of the 3rd Air Park shoulder patch insignia (SSI, remember?) in wear before. This is a spectacular example, save for a minor fold and a small tear to the corner. For future reference, the 3rd Air Park patch resembles #3 billiards ball on an underlain circular patch.