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July/August 2012 Photo Detective: Military Mystery
6/8/2012
What can you learn from a WWII veteran's Army photos taken in the South Pacific?
My dad talked about some events in his life more than others. We thought we’d heard all the stories from his WWII Army service, but then we found a small cache of photos way back in his bottom bureau drawer. Sound familiar? Many who ask me photo questions have discovered mystery pictures tucked away.
 
Dad—James William Taylor Jr.—served for nearly four years. We heard tales only about his stints in Japan and Hawaii. We often ate pineapple because he’d learned to love it while in “the islands.” What we didn’t know until we found the photos: He was a heavy machine gunner in Company D of the 389th Infantry.
 
A few photos showed Dad, but far more depicted other men in uniform. He made several friends in the Army, but we know of only one man who stayed in touch after the war. I recognize him in the tiny snapshots, but the others’ identities are unknown.
 
When I look at a group of snapshots taken around the same time, the big question is always: Where are the rest? You could get at least a couple of dozen shots from a roll. It’s possible another man’s family is looking at the same faces and wondering who they are.
 


As a collection, these images provide a glimpse into the young lives of these members of the Greatest Generation.
In his last days, Dad said I should write the story of his life. He often mentioned how “1943 was a very interesting year.” A man of few words, he didn’t say much more about this when he was alive, but I’m hoping the photos speak volumes so I can fulfill his wish.

1. The time period for this photo is the easy part. These were in my Dad’s collection (he’s shown in the inset), and his service dates from the end of 1942 to early 1946. 
 
2. Who are these men? The book History of the 389th Infantry Regiment in World War II by John G. Irvin lists the men in the company, including my father. Using genealogical records to learn if any of those men are still alive is one avenue to identify the photos. 
 
3. Posting this image online might help with the ID. Someone may recognize the beach. I’ve posted a couple of the images on my blog. Other options are Flickr, Facebook and Twitter. I’d love to post them on Historypin, but I don’t know whether some of them were taken in Hawaii or Japan. 
 
4. The fatigues identify these men as members of the Army, but without their shirts and insignia, I can’t tell their ranks. Knowing that would help narrow the possibilities.
 
5. I don’t know the significance of the goat heads in the sand—perhaps tracking down where this photo was taken will tell me more. 
 
6. Examining the plants or topography in the background could place this image in Hawaii or Japan. n
 
Do you have a family photo mystery? Submit the image and your story following our instructions. It may appear on the Photo Detective Blog
 
From the July/August 2012 Family Tree Magazine.
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