Puerto Ricans and Hampton Roads

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U.S. Army Signal Corps. Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection, L-13256.

Today there are more than 4 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States, making them one of the largest distinct ethnic groups in the U.S. and the second largest subgroup of Hispanics. While the Puerto Rican population in America is largely concentrated in New York City and Florida, Hampton Roads is home to one of the most substantial populations of Puerto Ricans in the south. This is to be expected as our community’s strong ties to the military brings in people from all over their world and Puerto Ricans have served proudly in the U.S. armed forces since at least World War I.

The Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection gives us an important reminder that not all of our Puerto Rican neighbors are recent arrivals. Indeed many have been in Hampton Roads for generations. For example, in a series of seventeen photographs the U.S. Army Signal Corps documented servicemen returning to the mainland after being stationed in Puerto Rico. When the S.S. Fairfax docked in Newport News, March 29, 1945, it was also carrying their Puerto Rican wives and children.

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Sussex at Hampton Housing Project

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Cornerstone ceremony
Brigadier General John R. Kilpatrick, Commander of HRPE, laying a brick at the Sussex at Hampton cornerstone ceremony.

One of the advantages of processing a collection that was created in the Hampton Roads area, is that we often come across images of landmarks that are still in existence today. It can be fascinating seeing how places have changed and evolved over time. Recently, we found a number of photographs of the Sussex at Hampton Housing Project. It was originally built to provide housing for military and civilian personnel.

Construction began towards the end of 1942 in a large field off Kecoughtan Road between Armstrong Drive and Clyde Street.

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Hal Clement, noted author of "hard" sci-fi

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L-12586, HRPE, Army Signal Corps Collection

Here we have a typical photo from the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation collection, it depicts a group of soldiers debarking. Specifically this is a group of Army Air Corps bomber pilots arriving on the transport ship “General John R. Brooke,” its February 1945 and they are coming home on rotation. From the photo print’s caption we know that one of these men is Lt. Harry C. Stubbs.

In completing authority work on Lt. Stubbs, the Library of Congress tells me that this is the birth name of an author better known by the nom de plume, Hal Clement. But which one is our guy?

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Life on a Liberty

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HRPE L-6409

The vast bulk of the ships we encounter in the course of cataloging the HRPE photographs are Liberty ships. Not entirely surprising, really, as there were 2,710 completed between 1941 and 1945, making them a large portion of the Army and Merchant Marine fleets. Some of the Liberties were converted to transport ships, and the reception was not entirely favorable. While the holds of a Liberty were just fine for crates of supplies or racks of bombs, fitting them up with bunks resulted in conditions like this:

The inscription on the back says these photos were taken to show the “crowded conditions”. For officers, conditions were slightly better, with bunks only three men high, and actual mattresses on springs.

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Entertainment for the troops Pt. 2

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Group portrait
Those pictured above include: Sam Hearn, actress Virginia Bruce, actress Betty Furness, Lt. Richard Barthlemess, Lt. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Jack Benny, Col. Medorem Crawford, Don Wilson, and Dennis Day.

The Jack Benny Program was a widely-known and well respected comedy series that ran for more than three decades. It ran as a radio show from 1932-1955 and as a TV show from 1950-1964. In 1943, Jack brought the show to Camp Patrick Henry to entertain the troops. Many members of the cast were involved including Eddie Anderson as Rochester, Sam Hearn as Schlepperman, Dennis Day, and Don Wilson. Other well-known performers were also in attendance.

Benny was also an accomplished violin player (his program character was known for playing violin poorly). He started playing when he was only six years old.

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