One of the stranger hobbies I’ve picked up over the years is collecting old snapshots. You can buy them at flea markets and swap meets, usually from guys with big unsorted tubs — thousands upon thousands of curling yellowed pictures of people you never met. There are different kinds of snapshot collectors. Some just want pictures of old cars. Others like kids, or brides. I like photos with writing on them. It opens up a little window into the otherwise contextless mystery that is a found photo.
I have all kinds of snapshots with writing on them, but some of my favorites deal with life during wartime. They’re not as easy to find as shots of babies and vacations — especially photos from World War II, when film was harder to come by for a time — but they’re often powerful and worth searching out. I’ve been waiting for a special occasion to share these, and Independence Day seems like the perfect time.
Just to be clear, for the most part these are the fronts and backs of photos. (The good stuff’s usually on the back!) Gene seems ready to get out of there:
That greatest of equalizers: the buzzcut.
This one’s a little tough to read, but the first few lines give you an idea. They got married right before he joined up. She really must’ve missed him.
A lot of wartime photos with writing were included with letters home.
There’s a lot of long-distance taunting of the enemy that goes on in them. I wonder if this is Parris Island. Or if WWII soldiers in training learned how to subdue Hitler in case they happened upon him.
WWII soldiers tended to write home about happy things — or put a jokey face on the trials they went through, like this fellow who, randomly, served on an island in Vanuatu where I spent some time.
But they’re not all jokes. Things get real pretty fast — especially in Polaroids from soldiers in Vietnam.
But wars end, and people come home, and as soldiers get closer to the end of their rotations, they tend to talk more about returning, as if they had only just begun to allow themselves to fantasize about it.
It’s not exactly a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square, but this man seems pretty happy about the end of the war.
Happy 4th, everyone.