Identities sought of those in WWII photos
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: March 4, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — When Richard Perkins was stationed on Oahu starting in 1942 as an Army tech sergeant, he took hundreds of wartime photos.
Three-quarters of a century later, his son Dana, who inherited the photo cache, is trying to breathe life back into those snapshots from a bygone Hawaii by reconnecting the pictures with the people in them.
The Maine resident created a website called the “World War II Pacific Veterans Project” at ww2pacificveteransproject.org, where he’s posted 226 pictures that belonged to his father. Richard Perkins died in 2014 at age 92.
“We would like to share the photos with others. Before we do, we would like to identify as many people in the photos as possible, who obviously meant a great deal to Dad,” the son said on the website. “Unfortunately, Dad’s notes about the negatives are scant. We are hoping that if enough people see the photos, many of them will recognize their grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, aunt, uncle, or some other relative or friend.”
He’s already made one long-distance match.
Beatrice Lemke-Newman contacted Perkins when she spotted her mother, Marie Carol Lemke, who joined the USO Pacific Theater in 1942. Lemke is pictured singing on stage in a long dress with several band members next to her.
“I recognized her right away. She always wore a hibiscus in her hair on the right side,” said her daughter, who lives on Kauai.
Lemke graduated early from Punahou School with the Class of ’42 — which was dismissed because of the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was a schoolteacher and died in 2015 at age 90.
“It’s really wonderful, and I’m glad (Perkins’) son found them — I guess there were negatives and reels of film,” Lemke-Newman said. “I think it’s wonderful that they weren’t totally lost and we can see into some of the past.”
After their father died, Perkins’ children discovered more than
700 photo negatives, a couple of photo albums of Hawaii pictures and some 8-mm movies, all stored in a closet.
Dana Perkins started digitizing the lot with the hope of posting them to a website or creating a book.
“The thing with Dad’s pictures is none of them are showing any kind of combat or anything,” said the son, who is 64. “But it shows what Hawaii was like” at the time.
There’s a picture of busy downtown Fort Street, long before it was a mall, framing Aloha Tower at the makai end, one-way traffic heading mauka and businesses including Benson Smith &Co. drugs, McInerny shoes and Cannon’s School of Business.
The streetscape may have been a commercial photo taken in 1941 that somehow wound up in Tech Sgt. Perkins’ collection.
Another photo shows “Sad Sam’s” Hotel Street bar, some sailors sauntering by on the sidewalk and a military officer eyeing them as he crossed the street.
A much more informal photo reveals a couple of sunbathers on Waikiki Beach Ewa of the Moana Hotel — with what appears to be barbed wire jutting out on one side during the early war years.
There are hundreds of photos of civilians and soldiers exercising, swimming, eating, performing guard duty and doing other day-to-day duties.
“I think that’s what’s interesting … how mundane the pictures are,” Dana Perkins said in a phone interview. One of his favorites is of two soldiers wearing gas masks and sitting on toilets.
“Dad told us they’d use the gas mask (containers) to keep their lunch in because they were useless,” he said. “He said it was so windy over there all the time that if anybody dropped poison gas, they’d have to run to get into the cloud because it blew away so quickly.”
Richard Perkins was sent to Hawaii in 1942, at about age 22, to be part of a radio communications unit that worked inside Diamond Head crater.
“He told us when we were kids that he worked in a volcano, and we were like, well, that doesn’t make any sense,” his son said. “And we found out the Army had a base dug into the sides of the crater, and he was actually running (what) he called high-speed radio. We don’t know what that means, but he was actually inside the walls of the crater.”
His barracks, meanwhile, were at Fort Shafter.
Times were different then, and the Army was in such a rush to get Perkins to Hawaii that he never went through basic training, Dana Perkins said.
“So his first day on the base, he was walking along and an officer went by — I don’t remember what rank — and Dad waved at him and said, ‘Hi.’ And the officer (told him), ‘Where’s your salute, soldier?’ and Dad didn’t even know what he was talking about.”
His father took photos his whole life, so there were always pictures of the kids growing up. But the trove of negatives from Hawaii found in a closet came as a surprise.
Dana Perkins thinks his father spent about six years in the Army, with most of that time in Hawaii but also in Saipan.
Lemke-Newman said she hopes more people in the photos are identified. “The kids (in the photos) are all grown up, and they’re probably what, oh gosh, 80-something now.
“Those kids that are in the photos, hopefully somebody will remember a crazy haole GI taking pictures,” she added with a laugh.
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