The Port of Call Blog

Puerto Ricans and Hampton Roads

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.

The photos show the women and children waving from the ship as it docks, navigating the process of passing through customs (Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since the island officially became a U.S. territory in 1900), and finally waiting in the Port U.S.O. before being taken to the Hotel Warwick in downtown Newport News.


Passengers on the deck of the S.S. Fairfax as the Ship docks at Newport News


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


Master Sergeant Thuman Miller and family are interviewed by a customs agent.


U.S. Army Signal Corps. Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection, L-13257.


A friendly British sailor helps a mother down the gangplank.


U.S. Army Signal Corps. Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection, L-13265.


T/5 Frank Humphreys and family wait on a HRPE pier before heading to the U.S.O.


U.S. Army Signal Corps. Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection, L-13254.


U.S.O. hostess offers weary travelers a tray of cookies



A mother and child exit a bus at the Warkwick Hotel, downtown Newport News


U.S. Army Signal Corps. Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Collection, L-13267.

Sussex at Hampton Housing Project

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.

Cornerstone ceremony

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

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

Housing site

Future site of the housing project with stacks of construction materials.

The development was planned to include 180 fully furnished duplex units each consisting of four rooms and a bath. According to a 2008 article, most of these buildings have now been converted into single family homes.

Row of houses

A row of houses under construction

“Fully furnished” included not only couches and beds, but also artwork, plants, rugs, and wall hangings such as these in the living room pictured below.

Living room

Hal Clement, noted author of “hard” sci-fi

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?


L-12586, HRPE, Army Signal Corps Collection

With a group shot like this it can take a little detective work to find the person you’re looking for.  Particularly since Google images returns photos of Hal Clement as an older man when he was well known among the sci-fi community as an established author. Here he should be 22!

Research through yielded Harry Clement’s yearbook photo from his senior year at Harvard where he completed a bachelors in astronomy.

Hal Clement

Now it’s clear who we’re looking for in the crowd! This young man here…


Hal Clement is renowned for writing “hard” sci-fi, that is to say works which adhere more closely to science, the scientific method, and technical details. A prolific author, he is best known for his novel, Mission of Gravity (1954). In 1998 Clement was inducted to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and Worldcon, the World Science Fiction Convention, presents an award with his namesake for best Young Adult science fiction.



Click the read more button to see some of the amazing cover art of Hal Clement’s novels from the golden age of pulp science fiction!
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Life on a Liberty


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:


HRPE L-6408 Berths


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.


HRPE L-6414 Berths

The photographer who created this series of images chose to document everything, including the latrines, providing an illustration to the usual commentary that they were insufficient, unhygienic, and unsuitable to carrying large numbers of men. Quite simply, a ship that was meant to have a crew of 44 with up to 25 armed guards was not meant to comfortably house 550 men on intercontinental runs, or 1,600 on shorter voyages, and modifications weren’t going to change that.


HRPE L-6414 Galley


HRPE L-6412 Fire drill




Entertainment for the troops Pt. 2

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.

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.

Benny plays violin

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.

Benny and Rochester

Eddie Anderson played Rochester Van Jones, Jack’s valet and chauffeur and second in popularity only to Benny himself. Here they are shown on stage during a sketch.

Dennis Day singing

Dennis Day was a well-known singer who was associated with Benny and the program from 1939 to Benny’s death in 1974. Day was also particularly good at impressions and performed many during the program.

A war story not for the faint hearted

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.

From the photo caption:

Pfc. Dorris W. Malear, 36744089, of Alto Pass, Ill., doesn’t stop for a cup, but drinks this milk straight from the bottle. This is the first milk he’s had since returning from the front lines.

On the night of Dec. 17, 1944, while serving with Co. C, 38th Inf., 2nd Div., with the 1st Army. Pfc. Malear with 40 or 50 buddies were cut off from the rest of the troops in the Malmedy Sector by S.S. troops (Panzer).

The men were rounded up and forced to face a wall, and place their hands upon their heads. Pfc. Malear was in a building with 6 other men when one enlisted man was injured by shell fire, losing an arm and leg. Some Germans forced them to leave the building which they did, all but the wounded man who lay screaming. Malear saw Germans enter building and heard bursts of machine gun or machine pistol fire and then all was quiet in the building.

Malear was then questioned by a German Officer who spoke in broken English, asking the whereabouts of his lines. From this point on Pfc. Malear doesn’t recall hearing any order to fire, but he and the rest of the 40 or 50 men were “mowed down” by fire. When left for dead, he finally worked his way back through enemy lines to his own outfit reaching his line about 1 1/2 hours later and losing consciousness.

He woke up two days later in the Fifth Evacuation Hospital in Belgium, then he was moved to 108th General Hospital in Paris, then to 113rd General Hospital, Bristol, England, finally reaching the United States on the 23th of February, 1945. Pvt. Malear holds the E.T.O., Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge and Presidential Unit Citation Awards. He has been in the service for two years, of which one year was overseas duty. His wounds were: Bullets smashed bone in lower portions of left arm, one bullet passed through fleshy part of left shoulder missing spine and passing through fleshy part of right shoulder. To his knowledge he is the only living person of the forty or fifty men.

Sports Legends at HRPE


On February 12, 1945, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation paid host to several noted professional and collegiate coaches and athletes. These men traveled to various Army staging grounds delivering athletic programs to men as they prepared to journey overseas.



Back row:

Dean “Deaner” Nesmith. Played football for Kansas and one year of pro for the New York football Yankees, graduating in 1937. He returned to KU and administered sports medicine to the likes of Gale Sayers, Wilt Chamberlain, Jim Ryun, and Jo White.

Ethan Allen. Played baseball for the Cincinnati Reds among many other teams delivering four full seasons with a .300+ batting average and averaging .300 on his career.

Cecil Isbell. Head football coach at Purdue University and later for the Baltimore Colts. He played quarterback for the Green Bay Packers leading the league in passing percentage in 1941.

Howard “Hobby” Hobson. Coach of University of Oregon basketball where his team won three consecutive Pacific Coast Conference titles and the inaugural NCAA Basketball Tournament in 1939.

H. W. “Bill” Hargiss. Football coach at numerous schools including University of Kansas. He began his career at College of Emporia where he was one of the first to use the forward pass and the option pass. Later he would pioneer the use of the huddle at Oregon State. As a track coach he trained Olympic champion Glenn Cunningham


Front row:

Billy Cavanaugh. Boxing coach at West Point for 25 years

Major Frank G. Welch. Chief, Operations Section, Athletic Branch, Special Service Division

George T. White. Eastern intercollegiate athletic association. official, New Haven, Connecticut.

Dr. Seward Staley. Director of physical education, University of Illinois.



Remembering the end of a world war

Today I am thinking a great deal about the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. My father and millions of other men and women fought in this conflict that re-shaped the psyche of the entire nation. To me, the photograph below, formalizing world peace, is the most inspiring photograph of that war.


Deck scene, Sept. 2, 1945, when Japanese signed surrender documents aboard USS Missouri (BB-63). Courtesy of the Daily Press.

Deck scene, Sept. 2, 1945, when Japanese signed surrender documents aboard USS Missouri (BB-63). Courtesy of the Daily Press.

I am grateful that we have been able to move on in international relations, embracing both Japan and Germany as strong allies who have turned their backs on war-making against their neighbors. I am also glad that President Truman learned the lessons from the end of World War I and chose to help rebuild Japan and Germany.

Putting the pieces together

When we started this project, we had photographs with minimal information, and no way to fill in the gaps. This left us with images like this one, whose inscription was only “Close view of stack with three swastikas”. They looked like tallies, and given that they lacked the plane painted over them that the Louisa May Alcott had, we could not even be certain they were from shooting down planes. That’s all we had, until the 8 x 10 inventory, which provided a new source of information.


P0003/-02#B-5888, Samuel Livermore Stack.

Given the size differences between a 4 x 5 print and an 8 x 10, you expect more details on the larger prints, but we didn’t know to expect as much as we got — not just the name of the ship (Samuel Livermore) but the casualties (Three German JU-88s), the location (the Mediterranean) and the men who did the shooting — Ennis Quinn of Milledgeville, GA, William C. Watson of Detroit, Marshall Sells of Landis, NC, and Glenn Pringle of Oskaloosa, IA. That’s a pretty decent haul for one extra source!


P0003/-02#B-5948, The Samuel Livermore

And the ship herself? The Samuel Livermore was a standard Liberty Ship, built in 1942 by Houston Shipbuilding Co, owned by the War Shipping Administration, operated by Stockard S. B. Co., and named for Samuel Livermore, a politician from New Hampshire. The Samuel Livermore was scrapped in 1959.

Shipwreck Survivors

It is no surprise that many ships were torpedoed during WWII and that many soldiers passed away as the ships went down. Today, however, I came across a few photographs of groups of men who managed to survive. Thankfully, the notes on the back of the prints are detailed and told their stories:

SS Norman Prince

These dapper seaman were on the English ship SS Norman Prince which was torpedoed on May 28, 1942 off St. Lucia. They were rescued by the French ship SS Angouleme, but kept as prisoners in Martinique for over four months. They were finally released in an exchange of prisoners and came aboard this ship, the SS Goethals. adds that all but one survivor drifted on the lifeboat for 26 hours, 40 miles before they were able to get the attention of the SS Angouleme.

SS William A. McKinney


Here is the crew of the SS Williams A. McKinney out of Mobile, Alabama. They were torpedoed on October 5, 1942 and one crew member was lost. The men were picked up 15 hours later by the USS Blakeley, a destroyer, which took them to Trinidad where they boarded the SS Goethals.

SS West Tashaway

The poor crew of the SS West Tashaway had to endure a grueling ordeal when their ship was torpedoed on August 30, 1942 about 300 miles east of Barbados. Nineteen people on a life raft drifted for twenty days when they came upon the British destroyer Vemy. The ship mistook the raft for a submarine and fired sixteen shells before recognizing it for what it was. Afterwards, the Vemy finally rescued the survivors. They were then transferred to a Norwegian freighter and brought to Barbados where they were picked up by the SS Goethals. The people on the raft included one woman, four children, and fourteen crew members, two of whom died while adrift on the raft.