Mystery WWII Concentration Camp Liberation – Research Help Needed!

Hey PortraitofWar followers! I recently acquired an incredible grouping of photographs taken by a US soldier during the liberation of a concentration camp/labor camp during the tail end of WWII. There’s not much to go by in terms of identifiable visuals, but there are images of German military officers marching in line to view the bodies, as well as a liberated person in front of a T28E1 US tracked anti-aircraft gun. Additional photographs show an American officer speaking to a line of US soldiers passing before a group of bodies.


Any thoughts or ideas? I hope to pass these on to an organization that can present and appreciate them, but I want to identify the material before doing so.


A liberated prisoner tries on shoes for the first time in years


The American T28E1


A German collaborator? Commandant?


German officers pass through the line


US officers speak



US officers speak




WWII Photo: American Medics in the Battle of the Bulge – 4th Infantry Division

Captured on medium format film by US Army Photographer Cpl. Edward Belfer, this image comes from my extensive collection of US WWII photography and depicts a group of US medics pushing a metal pontoon boat along the snowy streets of Bettendorf, Luxembourg on January 19th, 1945.  The boat, loaded with medical supplies, is headed towards the Sure River.  An oddball detail in this shot include a theater-made snow camouflage helmet covers with the fronts cut out to reveal the medical cross beneath.





Freshly Liberated 17th Airborne Paratrooper POW – Battle of the Bulge Portrait Photo


Many incredible WWII US Signal Corps photos were taken during the war, printed, examined and never widely published or circulated.  In tonight’s post, I’m bringing one of these “lost” Signal Corps shots to the world wide web. Jack was a paratrooper assigned as a light machine gunner to Company G of the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division.  Jack was captured  on his 20th birthday during the Battle of the Bulge on January 7th, 1945 in a small village twelve miles outside Bastogne; known as Dead Man’s Ridge, the battle was the first for the green 17th Division.  Suffering catastrophic casualties, the 17th was eventually successful in countering the German troops it encountered.  Spending nearly a month in captivity (being wounded during this time) Jack escaped and was picked up by elements of the 4th Division.  The photo below perfectly captures how Jack must’ve felt during the hell of the Bulge and his time imprisoned with the Germans.  Note the dirt and grime on his face and clothes, the stubble and long hair associated with being constantly on the move without access to a razor or washcloth.  He’s also sporting a captured German officers cap with the eagle removed.  I’m hoping Jack took that hat home as a momento of his time in captivity!


Jack’s National Archives and Records Administration file:

(courtesy of the 17th Airborne tribute site)

Jack was born in January 7, 1925 and spent his youth in Lucerne, PA. He was volunteer for the Army in January 7, 1943 and was inducted on February 20, 1943 at Altoona, PA. He received ASN 33573517 and was sent to the 44th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, WA. He was volunteer for the Airborne troops and was transferred to Parachute School at Fort Benning in March 1944 where he was finally assigned to Company G / 513th PIR as light machine gunner after having successfully completed his paratrooper course.

On January 7, 1945, on his 20th birthday, he was captured at Flamierge during the terrible battle of “Dead Man’s Ridge”. He was sent to Clervaux, then to Prüm. He was wounded at Garolstein, Germany and escaped the Germans on February 7 with Ed SUMMERS. They reached Prüm on February 9 and went into hiding until the town was taken by the men of the 4th Infantry Division on February 13.

He spent two weeks in hospital to recovering from malnutrition and was unable to return in his unit because of Prisoner of War status. He was finally shipped back to States in March 1945 and completed military as automatic weapons instructor at Fort Benning. He was discharged in November 1945 as S/Sgt.




WWII Service Record

WWII Pilot ID Portrait Photos – Boring? or Riveting?

Remember having your second grade yearbook photo?  Yeah, I don’t either….. The same is true for WWII veterans who had their snapshots taken in front of numbered placards and blinding flashbulbs. Generally, these type of shots were taken of Army Air Corps and Marine Corps officers, but I’ve seen a few Navy portraits pop up on eBay on occasion.  In the case of tonight’s post, I’m specifically presenting US Air Corps officer ID photo which were compiled by an enterprising veteran(sadly unnamed) who collected shots of his friends and colleagues who trained with him as pilots in the early years of WWII.


General scan of type of photos in the collection: Scan 1

Each photo is unique and captures the airman with his guard down; a true snapshot portrait, these men and women had no idea that these photographs would be preserved for posterity.  Each one of these photographs has a story behind it…and each is worthy of an individual blog post.  Sadly, I don’t have the time or capacity to identify them all, and I look to the general public to track down shots of their ancestors. I will do my best to post the surnames of the officers in this post, but I need help…


Scan 2


Scan 3


Scan 4


Scan 5




GIF of 40 US Army Air Corps Pilot Photos Identification Photos

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?


Ernie Drunk in Italy (From my collection)


Oil Stains on Right Knee


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






WWII Photo – Lancaster, PA WWII Veteran Portrait Photos on Display, 1944

Straight from the dusty PortraitsofWar archives comes an incredibly unique 8×10 photo of a window display in Lancaster, Pennsylvania during World War Two.   I typically shy away from purchasing and posting “press photos” taken during the war, but this shot has so much potential research  that I felt it deserved to be digitized.

Lancaster, PA WWII Portrait Photo Display

Lancaster, PA WWII Portrait Photo Display


I purchased this photo while visiting a friend in the Philadelphia area.  The reverse side of the photo identifies the photo as the F.W. Woolworth building in Lancaster, PA.  The store identity is confirmed in the image; the tiled entrance and gilded placard identify the establishment as such.  The date of the photo wasn’t noted, but the presence of the 4th Liberty Loan Bond dates the image to 1944.


4th War Loan Drive Poster, ca. 1944

My guess is that the store asked for portrait photos of local veterans to post in the storefront.  A rough estimate puts the number at 100 portraits visible in the window.  The shots runt he gamut of WWII service branches, including the Marine leathernecks, Army Air Force pilots, female WAC and Waves, Navy Sailors as well as regular Army soldiers.


4th Loan Poster

4th Loan Poster

I plan on contacting a number of Lancaster, PA historical societies, veteran groups and newspapers in hopes of identifying a few of the veterans posed in the Woolworth’s window.






The First US Fighter Ace of the European Theater of Operation: Charles P. London of Long Beach, California

Military historians constantly refer to “Aces” as being military aviators credited with shooting down five or more enemy planes during aerial combat.  Most of these historians don’t actually know the name of the first ETO fighter ace.  I was only made aware of his story while researching a recent photograph acquisition through an internet source who acquired the wartime collection of the Baltimore Sun newspaper.   All priced at US $15.00, the shots made available for resale were mostly unnamed or impossible to research.  When I saw that this shot was well identified, dated, cross referenced and well taken, I was “quick to click” and make the purchase.


Captain Charles P. London

Captain Charles P. London

Captain London is identified standing in front of his plane with his Crew Chief Sgt. Percy M. Scott cut off from the photo, yet identified in the caption.  The photo was acquired by the Baltimore Sun from the USAAF(sic in caption).  The photo is a typical standard size shot typical of the USAAF during the war. The shot is crisp, clear and was printed directly from the original negative in 1943.   This isn’t a shot produced in later years for a book, publication, or film.

Photo Caption

Photo Caption


The reverse side of the photo contains an interesting chain of custody record for the image.  The first thing likely applied to the photo is the light penciling correctly identifying the pilot as LONDON in cursive in the left top center of the reverse.  This shot was then stamped by the Baltimore Sun apparently while a correspondent in the London office compiled shots for publication.  Here it was identified, described and prepared for shipment back home.   The next application is the ETO Censor stamp from December of 1943.  All photos sent home during the war (with some exception) were censor examined before being sent back to the US.   The bar code stamp on the top right was placed on the shot by the photography dealer I purchased the shot from.  It’s incredible how much information can be extrapolated from a few stamps on the back of a piece of paper……

Reverse of Image

Reverse of Image

Compared to other high-profile US fighter aces of WWII, relatively little can be found about Captain Charles London.  He was a Captain with the 78th Fighter Group, 83rd Fighter Squadron in 1943.   We also know he is considered the first US fighter ace in the ETO.  A description of him in the Stars and Stripes (March 9th, 1944) describes him as follows:

First fighter pilot in the ETO to become an ace.  Capt. Charlie London, of Long Beach, Cal., has returned to the States to teach some of the tricks he learned in more than 100 mission, sweeps, and sorties in the ETO.  One of the first A4F fighters to score a double victory’s over here last June, he started flying P-36’s in 1941, then P-40’s, next the obsolete P-66 and finally P3Ss before he took over a Thunderbolt.  He has destroyed five enemy aircraft. 

He awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his work in June and July of 1943,


(Citation Needed) – SYNOPSIS: Captain (Air Corps) Charles P. London (ASN: 0-421260), United States Army Air Forces, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-47 Fighter Airplane in the 83d Fighter Squadron, 78th Fighter Group, EIGHTH Air Force, in aerial combat against enemy forces from 22 June 1943 through 30 July 1943. On 22 June while engaged in aerial combat, Captain London shot down an enemy airplane. On 29 June Captain London shot down two enemy aircraft in a single engagement. When, on 30 July 1943, Captain London again shot down two enemy aircraft in a single engagement, bringing his total to five victories for the period, he became the first American ACE in the European Theater of Operations. Captain London’s unquestionable valor in aerial combat is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 8th Air Force, and the United States Army Air Forces.

General Orders: Headquarters, European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army, General Orders No. 82 (1943)

Action Date: June 22 & 29 & July 14 & 30, 1943

Service: Army Air Forces

Rank: Captain

Company: 83d Fighter Squadron

Regiment: 78th Fighter Group

Division: 8th Air Force

Plus, an article with his photo:



WWII Identified Photo – Lt. Peter Figler of the 45th Division in Northern France, 1944

Lt. Peter Figler

Lt. Peter Figler

eBay listings can be a treasure chest of great genealogical and WWII material.  My favorite photos are ones that can be linked to a direct individual in a combat unit serving overseas in WWII.  In this case, I was able to purchase a signal corps shot taken by the well-known combat photographer Irving Katz.  His last name is mentioned on the reverse side of the image.  Luckily, I’m familiar with Katz’s work from my familiarity with the Smithsonian article about the famous discovery of the Rothschild furniture in a German warehouse.  More on that in a later post.  Also, I’m friendly with a 196th Signal Corps photographer who lives locally. The 163rd and 196th served together in similar capacities in Italy and Southern France.

(August 25th, 2017 UPDATE)

I was just informed that this photo was taken by a different Katz that served in the same unit. Irving didn’t make it to the continent until January, 1945. Thanks to Barry S. for clearing this up!


45th Division Insignia

45th Division Insignia

Back to the identification portion of the blog post.  Lt. Peter Figler posed for his snapshot while holding a French fire helmet next to a fire engine in the Northeastern French town of Brouvelieures.  Figler was a Lieutenant with B Battery of the 160th Field Artillery of the 45th Division when they participated in the Vosges Mountain Campaign.  The photo is dated October 23rd, 1944 which places it in the early portion of the campaign.

The reverse caption identifies Lt. Figler as being from the Pennsylvania town of Larksville.  With a name and town I was able to easily identify him and track down some basic info on him from  He was born on September 28th, 1919 and enlisted on June 16th, 1941, well before Pearl Harbor. That would likely account for his status as a Lieutenant in 1944.  Sadly, he passed away in 2006.  I’ve attached his obituary at the bottom of the post in hopes of connecting with his family.  I love to reconnect family members with images of their relatives and provide unwatermarked photos for them.

1940 Census Record

1940 Census Record

French Brass Fire Helmet

French Brass Fire Helmet


2006 Obituary

PETER FIGLER Peter Figler, 86, of Colonial Park, Harrisburg, formerly of Larksville, passed away Monday, June 26, 2006 at Community General Osteopathic Hospital in Harrisburg. He was preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Eleanor (Sheridan) Figler, Jan. 11, 2002. Born Sept. 28, 1919, he was a son of the late Peter and Eva (Yasenchak) Figler. He graduated from Larksville High School. A veteran of the U.S. Army, he served his country in World War II. The Army took him to numerous countries including Germany, Italy, France, Africa and Austria. He received the Bronze Star Medal for Heroic Achievement in Action, in France, in September, 1944. He worked for the United States Postal Service, retiring after more than 30 years. His family says he will be remembered for his strong family values. Mr. Figler was an active, founding member of St. Anns Byzantine Catholic Church in Colonial Park, Harrisburg and the former president of the Holy Name Society. During the early part of his retirement, he enjoyed traveling with his wife to Florida, Canada and Cape May, NJ. He was a former member of the ABC North Senior Bowling League. Surviving are his two daughters, Margaret Wolfe and her husband, Robert, of Lansdale and Elaine Witmer and her husband, Jonathan, of Harrisburg; four grandchildren, Pamela, Michael and his wife, Kim, Robert and his wife, Janelle, and Karen and her husband, Pietro; six great-grandchildren, Devon, Camron, Brandon, Elizabeth, Adriana and Arden; a sister, Helen Zalora of Wilkes-Barre; a brother, Paul Figler of Shavertown; and numerous nephews and nieces. Friends will be received from 6 to 8 PM, Sunday, July 2 at Neill Funeral Home, 3501 Derry St., Harrisburg. Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at 11:30 AM, Monday, July 3 at St. Anns Byzantine Catholic Church, 5408 Locust Lane, Harrisburg, PA 17109, officiated by Father Michael Shear. Burial with military honors will be at Resurrection Cemetery, Harrisburg. Memorials in Peters memory may be made to St. Anns Byzantine Catholic Church, at the above address.

A Voice From the Past – WWII ” Letter on a Record” Digitized!

WWII USO "letter on record"

WWII USO “letter on record”

I have to admit that this is a first for me.  99% of my posts have been dedicated to photos mixed with the occasional letter and/or youtube video.  This is the first time I’ve digitized a WWII record! The process was incredibly laborious and the results were scratchy and hard to listen to.  Given the condition of the record as well as the limited audio digitization available, I think I did a decent job.

Here’s the story – I purchased a set of WWII “Letter on Record” wax and paper records produced by the USO in WWII.  They were put out by the USO in affiliation with organizations such as the National Catholic Community Service.  According to my research, over 350 recording booths were available during the war with a total production of 350,000 +/-.  They were printed on wax and paper records using a recording booth where the sitter would talk while the machine “cut” their voice into the record.  They were then sent home to be listened to by loved ones.  I can’t imagine they were made to survive 70 years, but these two copies remain in decent condition.  I purchased them for $1.50 each at a local flea market.

The discs were recorded by a Eugene “Gene” Daly who was stationed at an Army Air Corps base in Charleston, SC during the war.  He was a member of Crew 620 of Sub Unit E.  I’m not entirely sure what this group did but it may have to do with sub patrol on the East Coast.  It was sent to Bunny Echenique of 122 Bedford Ave, Grant City, Staten Island, NY in February of 1945.

I played the disc on my record player at 33 speed and held my iPhone up to the speaker and recorded what played.  I could hear a slowed down version of human speech so I knew that the process was working.  From there I sent the audio file to my computer where I fiddled with Audacity to tweak the speed.  I was able to speed up the voice by 1.6X.  A voice from 70 years ago played on my speakers.  From there I created a video with the actual record as the visual and posted it to youtube.  Listen for yourself!  I still have a few additional sides to record, but this one gives you the general feeling of Gene Daly’s “letter on a record”.

Envelope details

Envelope details