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.   Read more

A war story not for the faint hearted

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Pfc. Dorris Malear
U.S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation collection, E-12688

Pfc. Dorris Malear tells a story that suggests he may have been a survivor of the so-called Malmedy Massacre, one operation related to the famous Battle of the Bulge, in which the German 1st S.S. Panzer Division sought to instill fear in their enemies by taking no prisoners and killing all civilians in their path. While the details of Malear’s narrative differ somewhat from the historically accepted account of the Malmedy Massacre, he is certainly in the right place at about the right time.

Mr. Malear passed away in 2013, you can read his obituary here.   Read more

A Look Inside Camp Patrick Henry

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CPH Map

According to Major W. R. Wheeler in A Road to Victory, Camp Patrick Henry (CPH) was formally activated on December 2, 1942 as a staging area for troops heading overseas and returning home. Between this time and January 31, 1946, an estimated 1,412,107 people passed through the camp. CPH was divided into regimental areas, many with their own mess halls. There was also a post office, hospital, chapel, and theaters. But what did it actually look like?

We have come across many photos of buildings within the camp. Here are five that give good insight into the types of buildings one could find there. Their locations in CPH are noted on the map above using corresponding numbers.   Read more

Entertainment for the Troops

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Chocolate Soldier

As mentioned in the previous blog entries, the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation (HRPE) was an extremely busy nexus of activity during World War II. It wasn’t all hard work, though. Camp Patrick Henry was an Army base at HRPE where troops stayed before leaving for overseas or as a stop on their way home. They also hosted concerts and programs to entertain those troops.

One such event occurred on January 10, 1943. Gray Gordon and his Tic-Toc Rhythm Orchestra came to the Camp and hosted a show that included music, comedy, magic, and dance acts of all kinds. The US Signal Corps photographers took full advantage of this and we are lucky enough to have a wonderful collection of this wide variety of performances.   Read more

The Tuskegee Airmen at HRPE

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Lt. Thomas G. Weaver and others wait to embark (the joys of modern image software — the original print of this was backwards. This has been reversed so words run the correct direction)

During the second world war, the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation saw over a million people pass through its piers. Most of these were enlisted men, Some were women of the WAC or nurses. A few comedians, a few actors. Most of the people in these photographs are unknown outside of their own families and communities, shot only for visual documentation of everything that transpired at HRPE. Sometimes, there are unexpected (and sometimes mislabeled) gems in the mix. This past week, we found photographs of the 332nd Fighter Group, the Tuskegee Airmen, on their way to what appears to have been their first assignment overseas. Three of these men have their names provided, as well. We have reached out to Tuskegee University and the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. for help in identifying the many other men in these photographs.

The United States military was still segregated during the war, and African Americans in the service were typically kept to labor and support roles. The Tuskegee Airmen were some of the very few exceptions, and were the first African Americans to fly for the U.S. Military. The exclusive and elite Tuskegee program began in 1941 at Tuskegee University in Alabama with the 99th Pursuit Squadron, and eventually expanded into other squadrons. Only the 99th and the 332nd ever saw combat, beginning in 1943 and 1944 respectively.   Read more