Veterans Day 2011

Hugh Morton and others, October 1944
Hugh Morton, in military uniform, shaking hands with an unidentified woman in an office while two unidentified military men look on, October 1944.

Today is Veterans Day, so let’s look at a group portrait that includes Hugh Morton (right) sometime after he was a promoted to rank of Technician, 4th grade (“4T”) as indicated by the insignia of three chevrons above a “T.”  If the calendar on the wall was current at the time, the photograph dates from October 1944.
Up to now, the description for this photograph in the online collection suggested that the image might have been made in New York state, based upon the wall calendar with advertising for the Columbian Rope Company headquartered in Auburn, New York; smaller type farther down the calendar, however, reads “C. J. Hendry Co. / San Francisco San Pedro San Diego” so I have removed that part of the description to eliminate the New York suggestion.
But where was the photograph made? I don’t know (though I have a hunch from the clues below), but maybe some detective work by our readers might help solve that question.  Here’s a few clues to follow:

  • By my timeline (more on that in a future post!) Morton was overseas in October 1944, so Noumea, New Caledonia might be a likely possibility.  Bob Hope was performing there during 1944, and Morton photographed some of his performances.  Could the woman be a performer?
  • If the place is Noumea, the date would probably be early in October.  At some point the U. S. Army 161st Signal Corp assigned Morton to cover the 25th Infantry, a part of the Sixth Army.  The 25th Infantry had been stationed on New Caledonia since early Febrary 1944 to prepare for the invasion of the Philippines.  The Battle of Leyte began on October 17th and “A-day”—when the Sixth Army forces landed—was October 20th.  If Morton was assigned to Charles Restifo’s unit (and I think he may have been), then Restifo’s autobiography says that he was aboard a ship on October 1st headed to Leyte.  The land battle at Leyte launched the Allies’ Philippines Campaign; the Battle of Leyte Gulf, begun on October 23rd, was the largest naval operation of the war and possibly of all time.  It’s unlikely Morton would have been lingering in Noumea through the middle of October.
  • What is the rank of the officer in the center?  I couldn’t find information on the rank for the five bands on each of his shoulders, as I did for the insignia on Morton’s sleeve.  If we can determine the rank, we might find who held that rank at Noumea and locate other portraits of him, or if the rank was high enough, search for people in the Army of that rank in the Pacific.

Enjoy the detective work if you choose to explore today’s photograph, but even if you do not, please raise a toast to our veterans!

Hugh Morton and soldiers at leisure
Six soldiers sitting around a table, toasting with drinks. Left to right: Eddie Seliady, Frank Ilc (?), "Lt. Shepherd, " Steve Leakos, Henry van Baalen, and Hugh Morton.


5 thoughts on “Veterans Day 2011”

  1. Interesting photograph, Stephen. There is a diamond-shaped, or perhaps a better description would be to say a kite-shaped insignia on the right pocket of the man in the center. There appears to be some kind of cross on the insignia. That possibly could mean that he was a Chaplain. You can see only the top of the insignia on his left shoulder.

  2. In Oct. of 1944 I was rooming with Hugh’s sister, Aggie,at (then) WCUNC. Hugh’s family always sent Aggie copies of Hugh’s letters home (from which I formed my first impression of him.) One letter told of an assignment he had received to go with a chaplain to take film of a French mission there in New Caledonia whose priest wanted to solicit funds from the American troops with which to build a chapel. (If I remember rightly.) I have the impression that the Army wanted film to verify the facts about the mission before permitting the solicitation to take place. Hugh wrote that the missionary and his wife had two pretty little blonde daughters. He said that the natives were one generation removed from canabilism.but could not have been more cordial or more appreciative and had taken names like Peter and Paul. Could that account for the blonde lady in the picture? Hugh took quite a few photograps in addition the film. I particularly remember one of three toddlers sitting on wooden potties.
    And, of course, I could be one hundred percent wrong,

  3. Asked to review the image I am convinced the central figure is a foreign military officer. The rank insignia on his epulets are not US Army/military type. I think he is a French officer but I am unable to match the insiginia to a good source; yet.

  4. Many thanks, Rich, for taking a look at this image and helping to solve the mystery with this new clue! Thank you, also, for your assistance during my research trip to the U.S. Army Military History Institute.

  5. Stephen, you are a ” reel ” Sherlock Holmes. All these years later I can’t recall what I have already told you about Hugh’s assignment to photograph a French (?) mission on New Caledonia ( I think ) before the missionary there was allowed to solicit funds from the GIs., but I think your blonde lady is the missionary’s wife. Long shot, but I remember he said they had two little blonde daughters. And, of course, a Chaplain was with him.
    We need to get together so I can help you more efficiently, but I pretty much don’t travel anymore. I wonder if you have ever run across anything about Bob Rector. ( Our Grandfather Mt. office might have his Alexandria, Va. address. ) He worked with Hugh for years with his movie film, and later he and his wife, Marsha, put on a photographic program that they took all over the US – WW II related – which used some of Hugh’s pictures. Not more than a dozen or less but possibly of interest to you. ( Little brown toddlers sitting on wooden potties – I think they were at the mission – and a painted, fierce looking looking native, a flame thrower, an explosion, portraits of friends like his Captain he called “Jungle Jim” and Hank Suzuki who translated and interrogated, etc.) See if you have any luck finding Robt. Rector. He was in Atlanta when we knew him best but located in Alexandria last I knew.
    Thanks for the Christmas card. Back at you. Best regards, Julia

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.