The Port of Call Blog

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.

Taking northern Italy on skis

When the 10th Mountain Division staged in Hampton Roads they were preparing to embark for northern Italy. This mountainous region posed challenges in terms of the terrain. The task would be formidable. The Germans very well fortified with machine gun nests and bunkers across the so-called “Gothic Line.” How best to mount an offensive in this punishing landscape? As it happened, some foreign-born world champion skiers had been drafted into the U.S. Army and they would lend their expertise in training the troops to navigate the Apennine Mountains.


According to Fort Drum (home of the modern 10th Mountain Division), the inspiration for a unit specializing in mountain and winter warfare came from then President of the National Ski Patrol Charles M. Dole who was inspired by the Soviet Union’s costly invasion of Finland. In fact many of the unit’s infantry were recruited directly by the National Ski Patrol and perhaps some of those were the men who are subject of today’s post: world champion skiers like Friedl Pfiefer, Walter Prager, and Sigi Engl. Readers interested in learning more about the 10th Mountain Division’s heroics during the assault on northern Italy are encouraged to read the Fort Drum page.


US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs: L-11687

US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs: L-11687


Friedl Pfiefer (left), a native of Austria. After the war he would become an important figure in establishing Aspen, Colorado, as a major ski destination. He was three times national slalom champion and winner of the 1936 Arlberg-Kandahar race.

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The “white glove treatment”, and a major prize.

There’s been precious little cataloging this week, as we’ve been working on an inventory of the 8 x 10 prints in the HRPE collection. The 8 x 10s from HRPE have been in cold storage since the 90s, when the cold storage room was installed, and have barely been touched by anyone since then. They lived in folders in drawers until about two weeks ago, when we began moving the folders into boxes and the boxes into cool storage to begin thawing out before being moved over to the library for a complete inventory. Many of the 8 x 10s have more information on the backs than the 4 x 5s do, which will allow us to better describe the images as we catalog them, going forward.

One box of 8 x 10s, with one folder open. Time separated the caption from the back of its print, and you can see how much more fits on a photo of this size than on a 4 x 5.

One box of 8 x 10s, with one folder open. Time separated the caption from the back of its print, and you can see how much more fits on a photo of this size than on a 4 x 5.


These prints have, like the rest of the collection, never been cataloged or inventoried to any degree beyond sleeving them and putting them into numerical order, but the end of last week found us in boxes of unsleeved materials. These photos are getting the “white glove treatment”, as the oils in bare hands can stain the surface. Sleeves mean that white gloves won’t be necessary in future and also makes them easier to handle — while gloves protect the photos, glossy surfaces and cotton gloves are, predictably, slippery together. In the process, we are also removing stray paperclips, and inserting detached cations into the sleeves with their photos, preventing future damage. We are also supplying the library with enough paperclips to last the next decade.

In going through these boxes, we got a chance to get a better overview all at once of the collection, and to see sections that our colleagues will be handling. It has also led, unexpectedly, to discovering a real prize.


Major Wheeler and his staff, October 1945, HRPE


Some time ago, through this blog, the library was contacted by a former HRPE employee, a stenographer in the office of Major W. R. Wheeler. At the beginning of this project Jay Moore, the library archivist, renewed the correspondence. Her name at the time was Virginia A. Boyd, and she is listed in the introduction to The Road to Victory, Major Wheeler’s history of the HRPE. Today we found a group photo with Major Wheeler and his staff — Miss Boyd is in the back row, third from the right. Now that we know the face to look for, perhaps we will find her in other pictures as well!

A Look Inside Camp Patrick Henry



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.

1. Area 5 Mess Hall

Mess Hall 5

This is an example of what the mess halls found at CPH. Like most of the other buildings, they were built to be very temporary structures – Wheeler calls them “tarpaper-covered hutments”.

2. Area 5 Barracks

Area 5 Barracks

This row of barracks in the snow was located near the mess hall above.

3. Headquaters, Casual Branch Operations Division (CBOD)


This neat shot of the CBOD Headquarters building also includes a broader view of life outside.

4. Post Office

Post Office

The post office was centrally located near the CBOD Headquarters, the chapel, and Camp Headquarters.

5. Warehouse #18, weapons storage

warehouse 18

Not much to look at from the outside, warehouse #18 is an example of the many generic buildings used to house materials such as weapons and clothing. It was located on Avenue G, just a few roads below where the map ends.

That’s Chairman Dogface to you

As professional catalogers going about our business of creating electronic records for photographs there are many steps we have to complete in order to ensure the work we do is thorough and accurate. For the majority of the photos we work with the U.S. Army Signal Corp has included descriptive captions on the backs of the prints. In the case of officers these captions usually include their name, rank, a serial number, and hometown with additional details being attached to more senior officers. The information may be minimal, but it is absolutely crucial to us!


In the photograph below we have two brigadier generals and a major belong to the 10th Mountain Division preparing to embark for northern Italy, January 1945. Their junior staff lurk in the background. The Signal Corp has provided the names and basic info on each individual. Now its time to go to work.


US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs: L-11674

US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs: L-11674


Its my job to look up each person in a proprietary database run by the Library of Congress. Usually the name is not in the database and so I can create a new entry for The Mariners’ Museum using the Signal Corps’ information. But if their name is already entered in the database I need to do further research on in order to come up with some extra detail to distinguish my subject’s name from the name that already exists.


So when the young man on the far right, “Rawleigh Warner Jr.,” appeared in the Library of Congress database, I was intrigued. When you have a “Patrick Kelly, hometown Boston, Mass.” or “Samuel Goldman, hometown Brooklyn, NY” you expect those very common names to show up. But Rawleigh with a W? That’s not the typical spelling. And then having the suffix “Jr.” in the name makes it just a little bit more rare. It was very likely that the person I was looking at and the person referred to in the Library of Congress was the same person. What was this dogface doing in the Library of Congress?


As it turns out, I was looking at the future chairman of Mobil Oil.

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Entertainment for the Troops

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.

Chocolate Soldier

Miriam Seabold and Jay Seilors made up a comedy team and performed multiple numbers throughout the show, but this might be the most intriguing of them. Here we see them in their interpretation of the dance from The Chocolate Soldier. I’m not sure what those rounded skis are, but they sure look fun (and only slightly dangerous.)  Other dance groups included the Three Hearts Dance Team made up of Gloria Prebler, Beverly Becker, and Mary Jonas.

Three Hearts

In addition to dance, there was a great deal of musical talent present. The Thee Oxford Boys was comprised of Don Moreland and Nelson Kroop. They had a touch of fame later in the year when the group appeared in the film “Du Barry Was a Lady” (1943) alongside Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Gene Kelly.

Three Oxford Boys

Members of Gray Gordon’s Orchestra-such as this saxophonist-also showcased their talents through outstanding solos.

Saxophonist from Gray Gordon's Orchestra

Saxophonist from Gray Gordon’s Orchestra

Many others performed delightful acts to keep the large audience of United States Army officers, soldiers, and their guests entertained. There has been much written about the significance of providing entertainment for our troops and how vital it is to keeping up moral. This night of fun definitely did just that-documented through the many audience shots of nothing but smiling faces.



The Tuskegee Airmen at HRPE

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.


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)

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.


Coming in from the rain — Capt. Charles H. DeBow, Jr. and others

The images we have found of the Airmen (three so far) date from the 31st of December, 1943, and show the 332nd waiting for embarkation, on a cold, rainy night. Their faces show a variety of emotions from hope to apprehension, to boredom with waiting. In a month they would be in Italy, flying bomber escort missions and gaining respect as some of the best pilots in the Army Air Forces. Their skill and combat record is considered to be one of the factors that contributed to the desegregation of the military in 1948.


Lt. Arthur G. Price, Jr. and five others wait to embark

Picture this: Hampton Roads in WWII

In the summer of 1942 Newport News, Virginia, was once again called upon to play a major role for the United States as the armed forces prepared for another war in Europe. Just as they had done in the first World War, the railroads and ports would be used to transport massive numbers of soldiers and supplies abroad.  Collectively the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation included warehouses and barracks in Warwick County, offices and piers in Newport News, a hospital in Phoebus, Fort Monroe, piers in Sewall’s Point, and the old Norfolk Army Base. Major W. Reginald Wheeler, in his two volume set about HRPE, The Road to Victory, writes that 1,687,000 men and women passed through the port before its decommission in 1945.


In the midst of all this hustle and bustle was the U.S. Army Signal Corps, hard at work documenting the daily life of soldiers and officers, their work loading cargo and embarking passengers, the many ships that came to port, and much more. Photographers like Sergeant Robert Olen, shown below with HRPE historian Major Wheeler, produced the more than 14,000 prints and negatives that we are currently working to catalog and make available to the public.



US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs: L-11616


At The Mariners’ Museum archives are using a recent grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to catalog the prints, digitize them, and find ways to make them available to the public. This might include exhibitions in the museum, in the library, or online. Satellite installations at partnering institutions are also a possibility. Because these comprise a “hidden collection” we don’t really know what we will find along the way! No one has looked at them all in a very long time. We’re excited to bring you updates on this project through the Port of Call blog, Facebook, Instagram, and via Twitter @MarinersMuseum.

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Library receives major grant!

After a long hiatus from this blog, the Library is back! We want to announce here to those who don’t already know that the Museum has received a $325,500 grant to catalog several of our negative collections in cold storage. This is big news, and we are so grateful to the Council of Library and Information Resources (CLIR) for funding our proposal.

CLIR logo

CLIR, the Coucil on Library and Information Resources

The three-year grant is part of an initiative CLIR developed with the Mellon Foundation to give museums and library funding to hide deeply hidden collections. The collections we proposed for cataloging are indeed very deeply hidden! They are collections of negatives, over 48,000 of them, that the Museum has accepted into its collections and that are now stored for their longevity’s sake in our Cold Storage unit. Some of the negatives are printed, but by far not all. In some cases, such as the Edward Hungerford Photographs, not even staff knew what these images looked like! Now we are making a concerted effort, not just to catalog, but also to digitize negatives that haven’t been examined for a very, very long time.

First negative digitized for the grant: Baden, Austria, 1928. Edward Hungerford Collection

First negative digitized for the grant: Baden, Austria, 1928. Edward Hungerford Collection

We want to invite you to follow this blog to find out week by week, as our three new project catalogers (Matt, Kit and Alison), explore and learn these collections and help us know better what we have. It’s going to be great fun for all of us!