Remembering WW2, part 2

It’s Memorial Day again on Monday, and I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight more of the remarkable images Hugh Morton brought back with him from his World War II service in the Pacific Islands, as a member of the 161st Signal Photography Corps (see my first WW2 post for background).

We recently scanned a batch of about 100 WW2 prints for inclusion in the Morton digital library we’re currently developing. These images are truly unlike anything else in the Morton collection — they include not only soldier portraits and combat scenes, but also some stunning views of Pacific Island people, culture, and scenery.

As with most of the Morton collection, I only wish we had better documentation! Details are maddeningly scarce.

Thankfully, there is ONE labeled photograph which allows us to identify some of Morton’s fellow enlistees, though where or when these were taken, I can’t say. Shown below enjoying some Schlitz, from left to right, are Henry van Baalen, Hugh Morton (with cat), (woman unidentified), “Lt. Shepherd” (sitting), Steve Leakos (standing), Pat Boyd, Eddie Seliady, and Frank Ilc (sp?). Maybe someone out there Googling for their relatives will find this and make a meaningful discovery?

10 thoughts on “Remembering WW2, part 2”

  1. Hugh and music! I never knew he ran across a South Pacific xylophone out there, where ever it was…  The image under that one must have been take on New Guinea. ( I think I remember that part right, but will accept all corrections gracefully.) It is a long story, but he was once assigned to go with an army chaplain to photograph a village where a French missionary, his wife and two little blonde daughters lived. The priest wanted to ask the GIs for money to build a church, and the chaplain needed to check out the situation before he allowed the solicitation to be made. Hugh said the natives were one generation from cannibalsm, but they received the photo team warmly and enthusiasticly. The request was legitimate, and Hugh’s film told the story. By pure chance he happened to be available to return to the village and film the church after it was built. He said their group was greeted like heroes, presented with a basket of vegetables with a live chicken hanging from it by its feet, and other gifts.  One  man wanted to carry all Hugh’s equipment for him, but he wasn’t about to turn loose his cameras. They had taken with them the film taken on the first visit, along with a projector, a cartoon of Donald Duck painting with invisible paint  (whatever he painted disappeared) and a copy of “King of Kings”, the story of Jesus. Hugh said the missionary tried to prepare the natives for a few minutes and then they showed them the film Hugh had taken of them on the first trip. He said one or more of the people shown had died since he shot the film, and you can imagine the reaction of the audience. The Donald Duck film was received with total hilarity. After everyone quieted down the priest told them what to expect and they watched “King of Kings” with great reverence. It was one of the most interesting experiences he had during the War… You may run across a picture of three little children sitting on wooden potties, other natives all dressed up like the man you selected to print, etc.By the way, the portrait shots of some of the GIs Hugh was with were deeply appreciated by the men and their families. One is of a Japanese interpreter, Hank Suzuki, who was attacheded to the 25th Infantry at the time Hugh was. Hank was from Chicago and all the guys thought so much of him that he had to stop going too close to the front because the fellows would stop what they were doing to give him cover. Hugh sent Hank’s parents the portrait photo of him reading captured documents (I always thought Hugh’s lighting of Hank was perfect.) and told them how well liked and how important he was to the War effort. The Suzukis had been badly treated because of their nationality, and they truly appreciated Hugh’s letter. ..After the war Hank wrote Hugh that he was not allowed to go home when everyone else did because his language skills were so vital, so he decided to stay in Japan and capitalize on them. He wrote that he had finally gotten a Purple Heart. (He said, “It drew blood.” ) We tried to get up with his family once when we were in Chicago but there were more Suzukis in the phone book than Johnsons. By the way, some of Hugh’s War pictures were used in a photo presentation Robert Rector put together about the War. It toured the country (army camps?) for severaal years and was apparently very successful. That’s where the prints of “Griff”, Hank, Hugh’s Captain he called “Jungle Jim”, and others that I have forgetten went.

  2. Hi,if I’m not mistaken, all the pics above show vicinity in Malaysia or when WW2 we call Tanah Melayu. But i’m not sure too. for the last pic, the house like “Malay house” you can check here for the first pic, a curl hair women try to wash something, she like aborigine in Malaysia or we call “Orang Asli”. you can google it for more information.

  3. I’m really glad to learn that so many of Hugh Morton’s wartime photos are a part of the Wilson Library collection. I remember asking him one time about his WWII pictures and he said that most of the stills became the property of the military. There are many World War II images in the National Archives, but I don’t know how one could determine who took individual images.
    I guess the same could be said about Hugh’s motion pictures film from the War. Again, the National Archives offers a catalog of wartime footage, but since I haven’t seen the actual catalog, I don’t know if individual photographers are listed.
    I recall during one of his slide shows in Chapel Hill, in response to a question from the audience, Hugh related a story following his time in a military hospital. In April of 1945, he returned to Wilmington on convalescent leave. and one day he was walking past the downtown Royal Theatre when he noticed the marquee was advertising “Combat Scenes of Pacific War.” He went inside and discovered that the Fox Movietone Newsreel was showing footage he had filmed the day he was injured. So, we know that at least some of his movie film turned up in the newsreels. I have a little experience with libraries that deal in newsreels…if you are persistent and if you have a large budget, you can get copies of this footage.

  4. Hugh would rise up and smite me for telling you this in irreversable print, but here goes. A record was kept at the film processing center ( film of all branches of the service in one place) and I somehow think it was in New Caledonia when Hugh was filming. Hugh was assigned to that lab once and looked himself up, the opportunity being irrestible. He said he had a very high percentage of film used for film exposed, and he attributed it to the fact that he had always paid for his own film, whereas many Hollywood type photographers were used to taking the same scene over and over. He also spent a lot of time at the front. He would sometimes load a jeep with film, c-rations, and gasoline and not go back till he ran out of something. He had a story about the time he was driving up Phillipine Hywy. No. 1 to photograph something he had been assigned to film. Whatever it was he didn’t find it, and he kept going until he was stopped by a tree across the road. When he looked down all he could see was what he called “web-footed” Japanese tracks in the sand ( The highway wasn’t paved and the tracks were distinctive as the great toe of the shoes was separate from the rest of the toes.) He turned the Jeep around as fast as he could and said it was a couple of miles before he came across GIs in the ditches at the side of the road yelling at him to “get down!” It took them two days to fight their way up to the place where the tree was. Hugh thought the Japanese probably thought he was sent out to draw fire. The other reason his percentage may have been a little higher was because, if any of the movie men thought he has blown it with a can of film he would put “Charlie Yogenfloster” on the can where he should have put his own name. He said Charlie took some pretty good film, sometimes. (Sort of like “Killroy was here.”)

  5. Charlie Yogenfloster? That is priceless! I wonder if that was a widespread practice, or just within Morton’s unit? (I googled it, of course, and came up with no results).

  6. My daughter, Judy, told me that Hugh once told her he had seen New Guinea by not gone ashore. Therefore do you think the native in the fancy dress could have been photographed on New Caledonia?

  7. Giving Charlie Yogenfloster credit or blame for dubious film was a widespread practice before Hugh ever heard thr name.

  8. In the picture of the GIs gathered around the wounded soldier the man in back of the medic might be Hank Suzuki.

  9. i have 2 albums of photo “s. war in china 1930 40s. these are brilliant photos but unfortunately like yours no script would any one be interested in buying these unique reminders of our brave soldiers.

  10. Veterans Day 2010…a day to honor our military. There are so many local veterans who deserve our thank you, and there are those who gave the supreme sacrifice…we should remember on this day as well. And finally, there are those who served…and then returned home only to continue their service. Our dear friend Hugh Morton belongs in that group.

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