In particular, I have a fascination for photographs related to the war, not only combat-related pictures, but shots of the military and civilian support here at home for those who were fighting overseas. Among the vets who worked in support roles was my father, Donald Amend, and he left me some pictures that connect me with the war and his service.
A few years ago, quite by accident, I discovered that one of those photos is part of a special collection of photos from the war years and has an interesting story behind it.
My dad enlisted in the Navy from Worland, his hometown. He trained at Great Lakes Naval Base in Chicago, where he met and married my mother, then spent the war at the New Orleans Naval Air Base. My mom joined him there after I was born.
Dad’s job was to help train pilots, which is ironic, because he never in his life flew in an airplane. Even so, he was part of a team that operated a Link trainer, the flight simulator of the time, and I have an official Navy picture of him and his unit performing that job.
An interest in journalism led Dad to another role on the base as well. In addition to his official duties, he served as sports editor for the base newspaper, The Bayou Tailspinner.
That job and the fact that he had a young son who was named after him led to some photographs of the two of us posing on the wing of a training plane, one of which appeared on the cover of The Tailspinner in observance of Fathers Day, 1945. Dad was in dress whites and I was decked out in a miniature version of his uniform, created by my mom and identical right down to the rank insignia of Special Artificer 1st Class.
A few days later, the picture found a wider audience when the New Orleans Item featured a similar shot on the front page of the Saturday edition.
I was too young at the time to have any memory of that photo session, but I have copies of both of those publications, as well as an 8x10 print of another shot taken that day that is my favorite. As a direct print from a negative, it’s sharper and clearer than those printed on newsprint, and I like the pose better.
For nearly 50 years, I thought of that shot as “the picture” that was taken that day.
A colorful surprise
Then, about 20 years ago, my mother called to tell me that my sister had noticed a similar but quite different shot of Dad and me in Reminisce magazine. We were not identified correctly, but it was definitely a picture taken that day in 1945 that we weren’t aware of. She asked me to look into it, so I found a copy of the magazine to see for myself.
This picture was a wider shot than those published in 1945, and bigger smiles on our faces indicated that we were having more fun when this one was snapped. The big difference, though, was that this picture was in color, one of several accompanying the review of a book titled “The Victory Era in Color.”
Kodachrome was available in those days, but its slow speed and special processing made it unsuitable for journalistic photography, so the war was mostly shot in black and white, and that’s how I was used to seeing it. As a photographer, I appreciate a good black and white photo, but in this case, the color really makes the picture.
Instead of appearing before a background of shades of gray, our white uniforms stand out against a bright yellow plane and a deep blue sky, giving the picture more life and depth than my old black and white print can do.
Through Reminisce, I was able to contact the editor of the book. Some color pictures of his father during the war had led him to search for similar photos. He had learned that ordinary servicemen had taken nearly all of the color shots for personal reasons, and he had spent years seeking those who had taken color photos during the war.
Eventually he found that a large number of Kodachrome slides were stored in the National Archives. The picture of my dad and I, taken by an unknown photographer, was one of them. That’s how I learned that this picture is not only an interesting family photo, but also an unusual artifact of the war years. In a way it’s a historical document, part of the U.S. government’s records of World War II.
The editor gave me the information I needed to acquire a copy of the photo, but I failed to follow up for nearly 20 years. Finally, just last month, I contacted the National Archives and received a digital copy of the photo.
A father who loved to read
As any family photo does, this picture prompts memories of my dad, who died in 1973. He was a man who loved to read and was particularly attracted to newspapers. He would often read the entire daily newspaper, right down to the last want ad, and he usually had a paperback book close at hand. I inherited that love of books and passed it down to my children.
I didn’t realize I had also inherited his interest in newspapers, though, until I approached the end of my teaching career. Dad had studied journalism in college, but never had the opportunity to work in the field. In a way, then, I feel as though I’ve been following that career for him for the last 14 years.
I hope this old picture will give my father’s grandchildren, only one of whom was born before he died, another glimpse of their ancestor and perhaps prompt them to talk to their parents — my siblings — about him. In turn, I hope his great-grandchildren will learn about their ancestor, thanks to this picture.
More than anything else, though, I hope this picture of that young sailor will prompt his descendants, for whom World War II is ancient history, to look back at that crucial time. I hope they will reflect on that history and learn to appreciate what their ancestor and other veterans of that war and their families did to build the world they live in today.
It’s an important lesson.