Merrill’s Marauders

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Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection
Kneeling, left to right: Pvt. Frank L. Pruitt, Pvt. Patrick J. Muraco, Pfc. Angelo O. Pomotto. Standing, left to right: Pvt. Fred E. Nalley, Pfc. Joseph J. Colaci, Pvt. Samel J. Rayner.

Counted among the heroes of World War II are a few whose exploits became the stuff of legend, there you will find Merrill’s Marauders. Officially known as the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), but best remembered by their catchy nickname given them by a war correspondent, the unit’s special mission was to unite with Chinese and British allies in Burma, east of India, in order to harass and disrupt the Japanese Army’s offensive.  The conditions in Burma were unbelievably harsh, not only were they out manned and outgunned by the Japanese, but they had to contend with exceptionally rugged terrain and tropical disease.

The six men pictured below were part of the 5307th and survived the brutal Burma Campaign. A Signal Corps photographer shot this photo as the men passed through Hampton Roads on their way home, December 26, 1944. The caption on the print labels them, “suicide outfit.”

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Calling former library and archives interns and volunteers

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If you previously volunteered or interned at The Mariners’ Museum Library and have gone on to work in the museum or library field, we would love to hear from you.  Please send a brief email to Bill Barker  (bbarker@marinersmuseum.org) with an update on your career.  Thanks, and we look forward to hearing from you.

HRPE in moving pictures

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HRPE Collection, US Army Signal Corps, E-2602
Ensign John R. Branch, Second Class Seaman Richard L. Lowe, and First Class Seaman Dexter B. Alley posing with cameras.

The majority of our collection about the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation consists of still photography produced by the Army Signal Corps. However there are some moving pictures as well, including some shots made by the US Navy on June 3, 1943. A copy of the 35mm film is housed at The Mariners’ Museum and another copy belongs to the National Archives and Records Administration who has digitized the movies and uploaded them to a public online database. Much to our delight a retired librarian with the screen name WWIIPublicDomain has been going through the database and putting some of it on YouTube where it can be more easily found by the general public.

Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation sent and received millions of men and millions more tonnes of cargo, most of it bound to the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. These short clips document the 45th Infantry Division embarking from Newport News destined for the invasion of Sicily, code name Operation Husky.

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A memento, an emblem, a reminder

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Newport News Daily News, 7 May 1944.  The Mariners' Museum.
Newport News Daily News, 7 May 1944. The Mariners’ Museum.

An object is not always an object. Sometimes it can be a symbol or a reminder of lessons learned, sometimes it is a testament to recovery.

Some years ago, The Mariners’ Museum had the worst kind of archivist, lifting items from the collection and selling them on E-bay. To this day, no one is entirely certain what was lost. Records from before his tenure here were often incomplete and idiosyncratic, a fact he used and exploited to his advantage. The mess he left behind, both metaphorically and physically, is something we still deal with. No one is sure how he worked, or why some of these items were chosen and then left cluttering up his office. Were they things he had meant to sell and hadn’t yet gotten to, or was the massive pile of disorganized items meant to disguise the quantity that had gone missing?

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Photographs of the Photographers

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Sergeant Joseph Shere photographing three Navy photographers
Sergeant Joseph Shere photographing three Navy photographers

As we work through the HRPE collection, we see many images of the same subject matter – ships, stacks of crates, military vehicles, etc. – so it is always a pleasant surprise when we come across photos of something different. I recently cataloged a few photographs that show a little behind-the-scenes view of the photographers themselves.

While our collection of HRPE photos were taken by the Army Signal Corps photographers, the Navy had their own dedicated photographers. The first image shows Sergeant Joseph Shere of the Army photographing a Navy crew while Captain William R. Wheeler, the Port Historian, takes notes.

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