How many people does it take to solve a picture mystery? The answer in this case is the right one.
I’m willing to bet that these images documented an important period in a woman’s life. She took these candid pictures of her friends and colleagues in uniform. They sat in her collection unidentified until she died. She didn’t need to write their names on the back. She knew who they were. Her descendants didn’t and so her precious photos were discarded.
That’s how a photo mystery begins.
For the last year I’ve been trying to fit the pieces back together to reveal the story of these tiny snapshots. Research, experts, and social media all played a role.
More than twenty thousand people have seen these pictures and many commented. Yet, after months of chasing down leads and doing exhaustive research I still didn’t have a location. An email to a person at a military base museum ended up in the hands in Robert Kane, Air University director of history. He immediately recognized the building in one of the pictures. He sent me photographic proof that the women posed at Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.
He also identified the women’s uniforms. Dr. Kane added: “From the picture, I suspect that the two were WACs (Women Army Corps) as the U.S. Army Air Forces (AAF) didn’t have a separate “unit” or organization for women assigned to AAF installations during World War II. The AAF had WACs assigned to these installations. Since [in one of photos] two women are near a vehicle, I suspect that they were drivers for senior officers on Maxwell Field.
No detail is too small. The leaf bearing trees in the pictures suggest the pictures were taken in late December or early January. Dr. Kate provided a time frame of winter 1944-45.
Another expert provided information on the car. According to Pete Docken at the San Diego Auto Museum the car in one of these pictures is either a 1938 or 1939 Ford. There was no new car manufacturing after 1942 for the duration of the war.
All this information narrows down the search:
Women who served as drivers at Maxwell AFB in early winter 1944-45.
There is still one nagging blank. Their names.
This is where you come in. Reach out to your contacts. Take a good look at their faces.
Someone out there has to know at least one of these women. It’s World War II not the Civil War. There are likely children, nieces/nephews or grandchildren of these women still alive.
These women served in the U.S. military during World War II. They were members of the greatest generation. After the war they likely resumed their lives outside of the armed forces. Perhaps they never talked about their service, but maybe they did. These pictures might trigger a memory for someone that heard their tales.
It’s taken a lot of time to piece together the details and yet their identities and their stories are still unknown. I’m hoping the network of Ancestry blog readers will recognize one of these women. It seems a shame to let their story of serving in the military go untold. There is friendship and patriotism in these images.
One person can turn this mystery into a solved case. Will it be you? A single name might reveal new avenues to explore and the identity of the other women. Perhaps some of the women stayed in touch after their service. My father remained friends with several of the men he served with; it’s possible these women did too.
The power of social media is strong. Even if you don’t recognize any of these women, take a minute to share this on your social media accounts, print it out and take it to your local VFW post or to an elderly housing community. These women came together for a purpose. In the seventy plus years since they smiled for the camera, they could have moved anywhere in the world.
Let’s see what we can do together. It’s the ultimate challenge. Let’s try to remember these women with their story.