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Is there a web site out there or some place to ask about the context of formal US military photos? I would like to know the time, location, and reason of a photo.

For example, here are two photos that I know are US Army from WWII, but I don't even know if they were taken in the US or in Europe. They were clearly officially staged, so there must have been a special event they are related to. Is there someplace to look this up, ask, etc?

Incredibly, the names and home locations for most of the men are listed on the back. Yes, even for the large group photo.

Added in response to comments

Yes, the two photos are connected. I didn't get into the details of these particular photos because I was asking a general question about how to get more information on such things. Of course I do want information on these photos, but thought it would be off topic here as being too localized or something. Yes, some of these people may still be living, which is why I haven't mentioned any of the names.

My father (Thomas Greenleaf Lathrop) is in both photos, but he died in 1978 so I can't ask him. He was in the signal corp during WWII, trained in Camp Kolher outside of Sacramento CA, got shipped to England, then into France and Germany. These photos could be from Camp Kohler, England, France, Germany, or anywhere else he was stationed until being discharged in Berlin after the war ended.

  • Welcome to G&FH SE! Are the two photos connected in any way? If not, then if you get an answer that relates to only one of them, it may be better to edit out the other into a new question so that they can be researched independently. I am guessing that some (many) of these men may have been born less than 100 years ago so be mindful of our policy related to such people. However, rest assured that we will do our best to try and help. – PolyGeo Apr 10 '15 at 0:37
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    @Poly: See addition to the question. – Olin Lathrop Apr 10 '15 at 12:11
  • Thank you for the additional information. I prefer not to be concerned about questions being too localized because having specific examples to consider often helps focus the answers to something that can be provided within a few paragraphs, rather than having to try and cover a multitude of permutations. At the same time the general answers usually come out in the same process. – PolyGeo Apr 10 '15 at 23:07
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    Are those palm trees in the background of the first photo? My husband thought so, and guesses photo #1 is Sacramento. – Jan Murphy Apr 11 '15 at 4:27
  • @Jan: I don't know what trees those are. I suppose they could be palms, but they are too out of focus to tell for sure. I don't know anything more about them than what is in the photo. – Olin Lathrop Apr 11 '15 at 12:38
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One place to start might be the US Army Center of Military History. Their page of Frequently Asked Questions contains many tips about how to research your relatives' service.

The answer to these questions might also yield clues which would be useful to you:

  • How can I obtain copies of my, or my relative's, U.S. Army personnel records?
  • Where can I find a history of a particular Army unit?
  • How do I find information about what my relative did in the Army? (Trace their route of march, find out where they served, etc.)
  • Where can I find official unit records?

And especially this one:

  • Where can I find official Army photographs and motion pictures?

U.S. Army photographs and motion pictures created prior to 1988 are in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, Maryland 20740-6001. You maybe able to access additional information about these holdings from the National Archives and Records Administration website at www.archives.gov.

An archivist at College Park might be able place these photos in context by comparing them to other photos in their holdings. Some NARA photos are accessible via Wikimedia commons, such as this photo: Officer Candidate Graduating Class Ft. Monmouth, N.J. December 18, 1942 U.S. Army Signal Corps Original size 11 X 14 in.. You can contact NARA electronically here: http://www.archives.gov/contact/inquire-form.html#part-b

Other photo resources:

Other strategies:

  • Find a website that was set up as a memorial for his unit. Sometimes websites created by the Vietnam-era vets have history pages or sections which pay tribute to the veterans from earlier eras. If you can find an active website, they might be able to host the photo for you.
  • Run the photo against TinEye in case another descendant of a member of that unit has already posted the photo somewhere. Someone else who had the same photos passed down in the family might have the information about where the photos were taken.
  • Research in contemporary newspapers might turn up similar photos, more information about your father's unit, etc.

I'd be surprised if someone, somewhere couldn't identify the building in the background of the second photo.


Via the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, I was able to view a snapshot taken on 5 Jan 2013 of the website that used to be maintained by The California State Military Museum (the museum is closed; the website was one of the references for the Wikipedia article Camp Kohler).

That snapshot lists these Known Units at Camp Kohler:

  • Western Signal Corps Replacement Training Center
  • 1st Signal Training Battalion
  • 3d Signal Training Battalion
  • 4th Signal Training Battalion

  • 3181st Signal Battalion

  • 1051st Army Air Forces Base Unit (Overseas Replacement Depot)

If you haven't already considered getting your father's Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF), you might investigate that first, in order to narrow the date ranges he might have been at any of the possible locations. (It might not be available due to record loss: see the The 1973 Fire, National Personnel Records Center.)

The Signal Corps was only at Camp Kohler for a limited time before it was abandoned as a Signal Corps installation on March 1, 1946.) See Wikipedia: List of Military installations for lists of other bases.

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    Wow, those are some great resources. Thank you very much. This is exactly the kind of information I was looking for. – Olin Lathrop Apr 11 '15 at 12:39
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    @OlinLathrop I've added a smallish update since I had to abandon my previous edit last night while I was in the middle of things. Welcome to G&FH.SE! – Jan Murphy Apr 11 '15 at 15:10

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