The Port of Call Blog

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!

10,000 Items Catalogued (Cont.)

Well, now that the Library has catalogued all these items pertaining to Monitor and Virginia, how do you the reader search for them? Let’s start out by talking about the Archives catalog at You can search here for anything that we as a museum care for. But if you want to search for these newly-catalogued Monitor and Virginia-related items, click on the “Archives” link. Once you’re there, I really recommend you read the Help. It can truly improve your searching.

Let’s say you’re interested in anything we catalogued about John Taylor Wood, who served aboard CSS Virginia. Now, I like the keyword search, but I like to limit the number of bad hits I get, so I will find a short and uncommon couple of words that go together and enclose them in quotes, like “Taylor Wood”. Select the Item Level, and hit the Search button.

John Taylor Wood search

Searching for John Taylor Wood in the Archives catalog

I got nine hits, all of them on our man John Taylor Wood. Now, on the left hand side of the screen, sometimes you’ll see an image, whether it be a photograph or a document or whatever, and sometimes you’ll see the little Adobe symbol. The Adobe Acrobat symbol tells you there’s a multi-page document there.

Search results

Search results

If you click in the Item Number, you’ll see a nice full record of the item.

Item record

Item Record for John Taylor Wood engraving, in MS0016, the John L. Worden Collection

If you want to copy the image from our catalog, feel free! If you want a better copy, or you want to come in and look at the item yourself, just give all the information from the catalog page to a staff member and we can bring it to you in no time!

Got a Maritime Research Question? Ask Us!

This past weekend, a reader who follows this blog wrote in a response to a blog post that was in itself a great research question.

I’m happy he asked it! We might very well have what he is looking for.

The best way to get your research question answered, however, is by dropping us an email or calling us. Get all of our contact information here. From there, our information specialist farms your question out to whichever library staff person is most familiar with the content.

It can take some time, and like everyplace else these days, we do charge a modest research fee. But you will get an answer and great, personal research help for your project.

The Mariners' Museum Library, circa 1944. We have come a long way since then!

The Mariners’ Museum Library, circa 1944. We have come a long way since then!

10,000 Items Catalogued (cont.)

Here is our final guest blog post, from Alex, who worked with us this past summer during the big drive to the finish line. Alex, yours is the last word:

Memo from Irwin Berent to John Newton, ca. 1980, MS0164, Irwin M. Berent Collection

Memo from Irwin Berent to John Newton, ca. 1980, MS0164, Irwin M. Berent Collection

Hello Readers! I am an intern at the Library this summer working on materials under the Battle of Hampton Roads Grant, mostly with materials from the Irwin Berent and Ernest Peterkin Collections. I have found the experience very worthwhile and it has been an intriguing glimpse into the world of Archival and Library Science. I wanted to share with you all one of the documents that I personally found to be the most compelling while I was cataloging.

This letter, from the Irwin Berent Collection, is actually written by Berent himself to John Newton. The letter is requesting the possibility of Berent being hired as an archivist if and when there is some type of Tidewater Monitor – Merrimack Museum, Library, and Archives created. Although Berent worked under Newton, they seemed to be good friends as they shared many interests, especially the Monitor and Merrimack. As such, the letter is written in a rather informal fashion and, if you take the time to read through it, some parts are quite funny. This letter gave me the most insight into the kind of young man that Berent was and therefore helped me to get to know him better. Since I was working through a lot of material created by him, documents like this one were priceless in that they helped me to better comprehend and analyze other materials by Berent.

I found this letter in particular very easy to relate to since I am a rising senior at CNU and will soon be seeking employment. Almost two-thirds of the letter is just Berent listing his achievements, somewhat awkwardly in my opinion. I often feel the same way when promoting myself for a position or internship. Although I know that self-promotion is healthy and necessary, it is reassuring that others, such as Berent, have taken the same plunge as I will and aren’t ashamed of listing their every achievement and ability to pursue their dreams and goals.

Thanks, Alex. All of us wish that you and your colleagues may pursue and achieve your dreams and goals, the way that Berent did. For those of you interested in how Irwin Berent has fared in the last 34 years, please have a look at his online bio. He has been a very busy man!

10,000 Items Catalogued (Cont.)

Here, readers, is another post from Allie, a student volunteer whose work helped us this past summer. Allie, the floor is yours:

Page 1 of Letter from Fran DuCoin to E.W. Peterkin, MS390, Series 6.1

Letter from Fran DuCoin to E.W. Peterkin, MS390, Series 6.1

Page 2 of DuCoin letter

Page 2 of DuCoin letter

Hello readers, this summer I spent the months of June and July interning at the Mariner’s Museum Library in Newport News and working on the Battle of Hampton Roads Grant. As a history major, I am looking into various career possibilities and working with archives is one of those options. I worked with a great many fascinating items over the summer but my favorite piece by far was a simple letter written from a man named Francis DuCoin to the main collector of the documents I was dealing with, Ernest Peterkin. The letter was the one piece that really struck me because I think that it captures the real purpose and importance of having an online catalog of the materials in the archives.

Francis DuCoin was a man living in Jensen Beach, Florida in 1984 and who had a passion for the U.S.S. Monitor. He wrote to Peterkin often, passing along information he had gathered through studying the ship and asking Peterkin for any news or material he had gathered himself. In the letter I have chosen DuCoin writes that it has been a year since they last wrote to one another and that he has had no real news on the Monitor apart from a small newspaper article and a segment on nightline. He asks if Peterkin ever published any of the books he was working on and for the results of an expedition to the ship’s site. DuCoin goes on with detailed questions about the expedition and asks for measurements of the ship in order to build a model.

The reason this letter was my favorite piece to work with was because it really shows why having an online catalog is so important for people like Francis DuCoin who live far away and do not have the ability to come view documents in person. This gives real meaning to the work I spent doing throughout the summer. By cataloging and helping in the effort to digitize the numerous records available in these collections, the Library is expanding the number of people who will be able to view the documents and people like Francis DuCoin will have all the information at their fingertips. Most of all, the document shows how different access to information has become over the thirty years since DuCoin wrote this letter.

What Allie didn’t know is that Fran DuCoin was, and is, a great friend of the Monitor and continues to come and help with the work nearly every summer.