WWII Photo Identification: John Szlyk of Worcester, MA Interviews Downed Airman in Luxembourg

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

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

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 Locations

S/N Locations

S/N Location 1

S/N Location 1

Partial S/N Visible

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…….

Plan B

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

WWII US Tanker Goggles

John Szlyk Jr. in WWII?

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!

Russian Goggles?

Russian Goggles?

My ultimate goal for this post is to contact living sons of Szlyk….. I know you’re out there!  Check your facebook messages…….

WWI Ohio Soldier Research – Defiance, Ohio Soldiers Identified as Ward Family Veterans

A recent eBay purchase has been incredibly fun to research and has yielded some solid and fulfilling results.  I purchased a group photo of four US soldiers posing in an American studio immediately following the war.  How do we know they are in an American studio?  The veteran at center is wearing a WWI Discharge Chevron, also known as a Discharge Stripe or Honorable Discharge Stripe, which indicates that the soldier has been discharged from his service and can wear his uniform in public with the proviso that he affixes the chevron.  Apparently, it was possible to be arrested for wearing a service uniform without the stripe after three months following discharge.

Ward Brothers

Ward Brothers

A fellow WWI researcher (Brian – AKA WWINERD) posted the following information on a popular militaria web forum:

“Thus far, I’ve been unable to locate any specific General Orders either from the War Department or from the U.S. Army concerning the red discharge chevron, which I believe was adopted early in 1919. However, I do know that:

  • Each discharged soldier was issued with three discharge chevrons. Officers had to purchase their own.
  • Upon being discharged from service, the uniform could be worn for a maximum of three months without the red discharge chevron.
  • If the uniform was worn after the three month period had expired, the person wearing it could be charged with the offense of impersonating a soldier.
  • If the uniform was never worn again the discharge chevron did not have to be sewn on.
  • As soon as a soldier received his discharge papers he became a civilian, and he was no longer obligated to salute a superior officer.

These and other facts pertaining to the uniform and discharge chevron were explained in a post war pamphlet handed out to Doughboys before they mustered out of the Army. It partially read as follows:

John Ward's Discharge Stripe

John Ward’s Discharge Stripe

The Uniform

If it is your desire to go home in uniform, it is your privilege to do so, under full grant of an act of Congress. You may wear your issue uniform as long as it hangs together if you wish. It is yours. But do not let a minute pass, after being discharged, until you have sewn on, or had sewn on a red chevron, point up, midway between the elbow and the shoulder on the left sleeve.

The wearing of any gold, silver, or metal device indicating service is forbidden. Only regulation service chevrons and collar insignia are authorized by law and regulations. Wound and service chevrons for service in any of the Allied Armies are included in that authorization. Can all camouflage.

Remember in wearing the uniform, that all of its privileges are yours, with none of the restraints. You are a civilian. There is no law or regulation or tradition requiring you to salute an officer. But so long as the O. D. or the Navy blue or the Marine green covers your body, it should be your pride as one with a military training, and as a soldier who participated in the Great War, to be courteous.”

Where Do We Go from Here: This is the Real Dope, 1919, William Brown Meloney, page 21, 22

Ok – so we know the photo was taken stateside at some point after the war, but recent enough to warrant a group shot of all four men in uniform.  The photo trifold mount had “Ward Boys” scribbed on it with no additional identifying information.  The seller was from Ohio, so I started with a basic search for Ohio veterans with the last name of Ward.  Big mistake……. There were nearly a hundred men with the last name of Ward who served in Ohio during the war.  Take a deep breath…..

I needed to narrow down the search and the image itself provides a very good way in which to identify one of the soldiers based on his patches.

Clayton Ward

Clayton Ward

See those patches on his left sleeve? They’re from a very famous unit that served in Italy during the war.  In fact, this is an incredibly rare shot that depicts a soldier wearing regimental, divisional and army level patches along with the discharge chevron previously mentioned.  Ok – so we know one of the Ward Boys was in the 332nd Infantry Regiment.  Since the typical US regiment during the war varied between 1000-2000 (roughly), it’s highly unlikely that two men with the last name of Ward were likely to both be from Ohio.  Luckily, my research gamble paid off……

Clayton Ward, H Co. 332nd Infantry Regiment

Clayton Ward, H Co. 332nd Infantry Regiment

Bingo!  After interpreting the abbreviated information in the Ohio WWI book, I was able to determine that Clayton was born in Defiance, Ohio, was 24 years of age, and served with Company H of the 332nd Infantry Regiment.  With the place of birth info, I was able to identify all the additional men in the photo using clues present on each of their uniforms.

A quick search for the 1910 US census record for the Clayton Ward provided me with the names of his brothers:

1910 US Census

1910 US Census

With the census in hand, I was able to make out a few names of brothers who were of-age to serve during WWI.  Clint (short for Clinton) and Perry were easy enough to research.  The same Ohio reference book provided the following:

Clinton Perry

Clinton Ward

Perry Ward

Perry Ward

Based on the information provided in the reference book, Clinton Ward, age 26 1/12 at the time, enlisted with Company G of the 6th Infantry of the Ohio National Guard.  This unit was federalized and became Company G of the 147th Infantry Regiment.  He rose to the rank of Private First Class on May 15th, 1918.  Since I’ve memorized the rank insignia of the AEF, I was able to quick pick him out.

Clinton Ward

Clinton Ward

See the round patch on his right arm?  That’s the rank insignia worn by a Private 1st Class during WWI.  I’m including a generic view of the patch below:

Since he’s the only one wearing a Pvt. 1st Class patch in the photo, plus the addition of infantry regiment collar discs, he’s almost certainly Clinton.

Perry Ward

Perry Ward

Although it’s tough to make out in the scan, the soldier is clearly wearing a collar disc that depicts a set of crossed cannon.  This would indicate service in an artillery unit during the war.   Perry’s reference in the aforementioned Ohio WWI book shows that he served with the 52nd Coastal Artillery Company during WWI, which would be supplied with these exact collar discs.

WWI Artillery Collar Disc

WWI Artillery Collar Disc

At this point, I’ve been able to identify three of the four soldiers in the photo based on archival research, visual interpretation and identification of key pieces of military insignia, and a gut feeling.  The last soldier, shown sitting turned out to be a tough nut to crack.

John Ward

John Ward

Ok – so what do we see in the photo?

  • A seated male, appearing to be the oldest based on facial details
  • A 37th Division patch on the left sleeve
  • A discharge chevron and overseas service chevron
  • Corporal rank insignia on the right sleeve
  • Infantry collar disc

In essence, we have an older-looking corporal from the 37th division who served for at least six months (the service chevron) overseas in an infantry regiment.  A detailed search of the Ward’s who served from Ohio in WWI yielded the only possible candidate:

John Ward War Record

John Ward War Record

John Alvin Ward was a brother who separated from the family early in life (no idea why) and eventually rose to the rank of corporal in WWI as part of the 147th Infantry Regiment.  It was tough to parse out the details regarding his upbringing, but the following Social Security information confirms that he was indeed from the Ward family of Defiance, Ohio.

Social Security Records

Social Security Records

At first I was confused about the portion mentioning his father being identified as a William H. Ward, but upon further genealogical research it became clear that his father commonly switched his first and middle names; this is a common practice that becomes terribly difficult for researchers.

So, we have the older brother who left the family and posed with his brothers after returning home from war in 1919.  Sadly, the photograph was discarded at some point and made it’s way into the eBay chain; eventually ending up on the desk of an intrepid WWI researcher (Me!) who was able to bring some context to the photo using easily-accessible internet resources.  I hope I’ve inspired some readers to delve into their own collections of photos in hopes of giving a name to the faces sitting in photo binders and dusty drawers.

Interested in researching Ohio World War One veterans?  Check out the following book:

The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18. Columbus, OH, USA: The F.J. Heer Printing Co., 1926.

WWII Photo Identification – US Nurse and Navy Husband from Plymouth, Pennsylvania

Family heirlooms come in many forms, shapes and sizes.  It always amazes me what types of material appears on eBay as part of estate liquidation sales.  Family scrapbooks, bibles, photo albums and personal diaries.  In this case, I was able to purchase a small group of photos and a War Department Identification card from a nurse who served in WWII.  Included were a few photos of her in wartime garb, shots of her husband (pre-marriage) and her wartime ID card.  As I always say, it’s about the research….

Helen (Boretski) Bronesky's WWII ID Card

Helen (Boretski) Bronesky’s WWII ID Card

Reverse of Card Showing Fingerprints

Reverse of Card Showing Fingerprints

It’s sad to thing that a family would sell off relics of their family’s past, but it’s not for me to judge.  I’m here to interpret the material at hand and figure out as much as possible with scant information.

I always start off with a quick ancestry.com search to help figure out the background story.  We have a name – Helen Boretski and a birthdate of March 31st, 1924.  Helen was 5’6″ when the photo was taken and a healthy 142 pounds.  Her hair and eyes are listed as brown.  Her thumb and right index finger are both present on the back of the ID.

A quick ancestry and google search helped me discover that Helen was dating and eventually married to a Navy man named Paul Bronesky in 1946.  A few photos included in the purchase we indeed identified to a Paul, so this helps confirm the identification.  In fact, further research into Paul’s WWII service shows that he was a radio man on a Navy aircraft.  This is further confirmed through the photo included in the group.  He is wearing a rare set of Navy air crew wings with a radioman rate patch on his sleeve.

Paul Bronesky in WWII

Paul Bronesky in WWII

Hubba Hubba

Hubba Hubba

Helen Wearing "Sweetheart" Navy Wings

Helen Wearing “Sweetheart” Navy Wings

What makes this grouping of photos interesting is the fact that both the husband and wife (dating in wartime) were both service members.  Helen was a nurse and Paul was a Navy radioman.  Helen strikes a chord with me.  There’s just something about her gaze and smile that make me want to reach out and talk to her.  Sadly she passed away in 2008.  Please see below for an obituary record from Plymouth, PA:

“Helen (Boretski) Bronesky, 83, formerly of Plymouth, died March 24, 2008, in Mequon, Wis., of a cerebral aneurysm. Mrs. Bronesky was born March 31, 1924, in Plymouth and raised in Lyndwood. She graduated from area schools and RN school and was a veteran of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in World War II. She was preceded in death by her husband, Paul; parents, Michael and Susan Boretski; her brother, Michael Boretski. She is survived by son, Paul; daughter, Susan; granddaughters, Michelle, Erica and Leslie; sisters, Mary Koliga, Anne Kochevar, Margaret Cowan and Dorothy Bedosky; numerous nieces, nephews and friends.

Interment will be Saturday, July 26, 2008, at 11 a.m. in S.S. Peter and Paul Cemetery, Plymouth Township. Arrangements are by the S.J. Grontkowski Funeral Home, 530 W. Main St., Plymouth.

Helen as a Nurse in WWII

Helen as a Nurse in WWII

Helen and Paul Marriage day 1946

Helen and Paul Marriage day 1946

Helen's Kiss

Helen’s Kiss

WWII American Nurse Corps Overseas Cap Identified – Lt. Frances M. Gleason of Washington

This cap comes my way via eBay; it isn’t in the best condition, but it was inexpensive and came with the possibility of a solid research piece.  I bid knowing the item was identified with a short, atypical name with a military rank (Lt.) to reference.  Only $21.00, this US Army Nurse’s cap is a solid buy considering the amount of information I was able to tease out of a simple name written inside a cap.
2013-06-19 19.37.50
2013-06-19 19.38.00
The nurse’s name was both stamped as well as inscribed on the interior silk lined interior.  I was able to determine that it belonged to a Frances Kain in 1944-1945.  The cap is an overseas cap, so the veteran clearly served overseas.  Nurses were required to be at least 25 years – this gave me a general birth year to search for.  A quick ancestry.com search for a Frances Kain turned up a Frances Kain born in Pennsylvania in 1919.  The birthyear and the name matched perfectly.  A school directory subsearch on ancestry yielded PortraitsofWar gold with a solid hit for a Harrisburg, PA nurses training school.
Frances M. Kain

Frances M. Kain

From there I did a search for marriage records to figure out her name later in life and found that she married David H. Gleason in April of 1951.
Kain Gleason Marriage

Kain Gleason Marriage

From here I was able to confirm my hunch that she was the owner of the cap.  Her obituary and grave record show that she was a WWII veteran who served in the ETO as a Lt. in the Army Nurse Corps.

On FindaGrave.com I was also able to find a wartime photo of Frances:
And a copy of her 2009 obituary:
Frances M. Gleason

Frances M. Gleason, age 90, passed away August 14, 2009 in Mount Vernon, WA.

She is survived by daughter, Beverly (Dr. Marshall) Anderson of Camano Island; and grandson Kristopher Anderson of Arlington.

She was a World War II Veteran of the Army Nurse Corp. serving in the U.S and European Theater. She worked as a nursing instructor for the Practical Nursing Program at Columbia Basin Community College in Pasco for 21 years.

At her request no public services will be held.

Arrangements are under the care of Hawthorne Funeral Home, Mount Vernon.

WWII Photo Grouping – Men of the 31st Signal Company, 31st “Dixie” Division Portrait Photos

One of my favorite neighbors growing up was a member of the 31st Dixie Division and always took time to tell me about his experiences during the war.  As I grew older, he told me some of the more intense stories of his time on Mindanao and of his being wounded while attacking a Japanese airport.  Those memories have always stuck with me, and with those memories come an attachment to photographs from the 31st Division.  It’s one of the hardest divisions to find on eBay and I was especially excited to find this set of 8 images listed as “(8) Vintage WWII photos / Happy American GI Soldiers with Names – Old Snapshots”.

My WWII patch radar went off when I recognized a portion of a 31st Division patch in one of the shots.  I did quick searches on each of the soldiers and found a website for Mr. Fred B. Kearney of Kokomo, Indiana.  The name matched with the town on the reverse of the photo and the writeup mentioned his service with the 31st Signal Company of the 31st Division during WWII.  Bingo, my hunch was correct that this group was a portrait collection of soldiers of the Dixie Division.


Company members identified in the images include:


Fred Kearney of Kokomo, Indiana

Fred Kearney in 1944

Fred Kearney in 1944



Jack Parsons of 905 Kramer Ave, Lawrenceburg, TN31st074 31st075


Joseph Kalmiski (sp) of 26 Willow Street, Plymouth, PA31st078 31st079

Edwin Wilson of Oakwood, MO31st080 31st081

“Shaw” of 220 N. Lewis Street, Staunton, VA31st082 31st083


Merrell Warren of Box 84 Bowdon, GA31st084 31st085


Eugene W. Carroll (identified through draft records) of 3140 Long Blvd., Nashville, TN31st086 31st087


Unidentified – Possibly “Curly”31st088

WWII Marine Nightfighter Unit – VMA-542 – Identified Photo! – Henry H. Thellman of Beaver Falls, PA

A recent eBay purchase turned out to be from an obscure Marine Nightfighter (airplanes) unit stationed in the PTO during the tail end of WWII.  Included in the album are many shots of planes, tropical scenes, buildings, trucks and veteran “buddies”.  I always try to do research on name in the hopes of tracking down a living veteran.  I’ve succeeded on a number of occasions, but the search usually ends unfulfilled.  In this case, I was able to successfully track down the veteran.  Sadly, he passed way a few months back, but I’m hoping to contact one of the living relatives.

Here’s a copy of the obituary which I found on a public website:


Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 4:00 am

Henry H. ‘Heinie’ Thellman, 85, of Tampa, Florida, peacefully passed away on Thursday, January 26, 2012 in the University Hospital of Tampa. Born February 21, 1926 in West Mayfield, he was the son of Daniel and Regina (Untch) Thellman.

He served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. He had been employed by the Kohlmann Bottling Co. and Babcock & Wilcox Co. He was a member of the Beaver Falls Owls Club where he was steward for many years.

Preceding him in death were his parents; his beloved wife, Pauline (Frier) Thellman; a daughter, Tammy; his son, Mark, and three brothers, Steve, Daniel and Richard.

He will be dearly missed by a daughter, Paula (Jeff) Jones, and three grandchildren, Megan Jones, Lauren and Alex Thellman, all of Tampa, Florida. Also surviving are his sister, Regina (Jennie) Karczewski, Chippewa Twp.; a brother, Michael Thellman, West Mayfield; sisters-in-law, Loretta Thellman, West Mayfield, and Margaret Thellman of East Palestine, OH; a brother-in-law, Walter (Dutch) Frier and his wife Betty, and numerous nieces and nephews.

A memorial will be held at a later date.

Without a doubt the same veteran.  Maybe the family would like to see photos from the album?

Henry H. Thellman of Beaver Falls, PA

Further research shows that Henry was one of four brothers who all served in the Marines during WWII. What a family!


WWII German Snapshot Photo – RAF Gravestones in Germany 1939 – 1st Australian Soldier Killed in Action

Today’s post comes from a loyal PortraitsofWar follower from the Netherlands.  He recently stumbled across a single snapshot at a Dutch flea market and did some savvy investigative work to tease out the historical significance.  Thanks Werner!

Wartime German Snapshot of the Graves

Begraafplaats Engelse Vliegeniers

By: Werner Peters

Here we have a photo taken by a German soldier depicting the graves of three Allied airmen who lost their lives in the skies over Germany.  These soldiers were likely recovered from their crashed plane and buried with full military honors by their German adversaries.  A Nazi laurel wreath can be seen in the left corner of the photo.

At the time, two of the airmen could be positively identified by the Germans; one body was unidentifiable.  One the left side of the burial plot lies Mr.Hammond whose RAF identification number was 562535RAF.  On the right side of the grave lies J. MCI. Cameron, Offr res 24225RAF.  The middle marker merely says , Engl. Flieger(English Airman).  On all three grave posts is written “Hier ruht ein Engl. Flieger – im luftkampf gefallen 28.9.1939 Vorden” – which translates as “here rests an English airman who died in aerial combat on 28.9.1939 Vorden(?)”.

With a little research it turns out that this crew belonged to the 110th RAF squadron.  They were flying a Bristol Blenheim type IV, number N6212 which crashed on September 28th, 1939 during a recon mission over Munster in the neighborhood of Kiel, Germany.  They were shot down by a German pilot named Klaus Faber, a feldwebel of the Ersten Abiteilung.  Jagdgeschwader Eins (1st Section of the 1st Fighter Group).

It turns out that the man buried on the right is wing commander Ivan McLoed Cameron, an Australian who, in fact, is the first Australian to die in action during WWII. The man to the left is Thomas Cecil Hammond, an Irishman.  The last grave belongs to Thomas Fullerton.

For more information regarding the crash, please check out the following website: http://ww2chat.com/biographies/5839-raf-australians-wing-commander-ivan-mcleod-cameron.html

After researching the photograph, Werner visited the current grave site in Kleve, Germany where the three men were reburied after the war.  He snapped some great photos and generously allowed for them to be posted here at PortraitsofWar.

Thanks Werner!

Reichswald Forest War Cemetery Gates

The Three Graves

Cameron's Headstone