Flea market mystery: 70 year old World War II slides lead to a name. Help us find him!


posted Wednesday, November 11, 2015 at 7:58 AM EDT


We've probably all had the experience of a chance happenstance taking us down a road we had no idea was there. It might be a random encounter with a stranger, or possibly even coming across some object or artifact that reveals a whole history behind it.

That was the case recently for our senior lens technician Rob Murray. Rob has a real passion for history and perhaps an even greater passion for flea markets and garage sales :-) He hunts for the odd and the eclectic, often restoring found treasures of some form or another. (Old tube amplifiers are his specialty.)

Recently, he came across a box of 70-year-old Kodachrome slides while rummaging at a flea market. Looking through them, he saw a lot of photos of England and France from that time period, and thought his wife Joyce might find them interesting. (Joyce has an affection for both countries, so he thought she'd enjoy seeing photos of them from 70 years ago.) Springing for the $3 price, he brought the box of slides home, and started looking through them. 

He soon discovered that a number of them were of US serviceman in the European theater during World War II.

Intrigued, he decided to investigate further. He found labels on some of the slides saying "Chalgrove Air Base (England)" and dates like "December 25th, 1944 (France)". Looking more closely, he found a last name with initials on one of the soldier's uniforms, and another image of the same soldier, where he could make out the patch of his squadron.

The investigation to find the identity of the man on the right began here, with the last name and initials visible above the left breast pocket on his uniform.

A quick internet search for WW II patches led Rob to the name of the bomber command - The Mighty Eighth Air Force. Known as "The greatest air armada in history", the Mighty Eighth could launch 2000 bombers and 1000 fighters on a single mission.

(As a side note, we had no idea of the scale of wartime air operations. All of us somehow thought of a major bombing mission as probably involving a hundred or so aircraft. The idea of launching three thousand aircraft on a single mission frankly boggled our minds. Three. Thousand. Aircraft. Launched within a matter of hours. How on Earth could you manage something like that? "Mind-boggling" is a vastly overused term these days, but the idea of launching three thousand aircraft for a single mission is clearly deserving of the word.)

While he'd identified the patch as belonging to the Eighth Air Force, Rob also noticed "27th" on the soldiers uniforms in various shots, and wondered about that discrepancy.

"Rita" of the Mighty Eighth Air Force. We believe that the port that forms Rita's eye is a camera port, likely manned by someone like Sergeant Lohse. (Do you know more about these planes? Are we correct that it's a camera port, or was it something else? What kind of plane is this?
Chime in, in the comments section below!)

Rob turned to Vivian Rogers-Price, Research Center Director at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, based near Savannah, Georgia, to see if he could track down the full identity of "Sergeant R. J. Lohse." She was able to provide not only details about his identity, but informed Rob that he was in photography reconnaissance! Being a website devoted to photography, this was of course an intriguing tidbit to uncover!

Chalgrove Airbase was one of many stops for the 27th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron [Photograph by William Brawley]

Ms. Rogers-Price informed us that Staff Sergeant Robert J. Lohse served in the 7th Photo Recon Group of the 27th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron in the Mighty Eighth Air Force. (Hence the "27th" on the airmen's uniforms.) The 27th PRS moved to Denain / Prouvy, France on 9 Nov 1944; then to Chalgrove, England on 22 Apr 1945; Frankfurt / Eschborn, Germany on 14 Oct 1945; Poix, France, 15 Oct - 26 Nov 1945; and Camp Kilmer, NJ on 20-21 Dec 1945.

Staff Sergeant Robert J. Lohse of the 7th Photo Recon Group / 27th Photographic
Reconnaissance Squadron in the Mighty Eighth Air Force, 1944, France. He didn't look quite so hard-bitten in some of the other photos, but we think this shot might have been his favorite.
It's in any case a great portrait!

Rob will be donating the box of slides to the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, but if anyone reading this has any contact information for Mr. Lohse or his family please leave it in the comments section below, as we'd love to send them the full resolution images from these slides!

Sadly, given the time that's passed, it's possible or even likely that Sgt. Lohse is no longer with us. Do you know anyone with the last name of Lohse, though, whose father or grandfather served in WWII? Please share this post on your Facebook page or Twitter channel, and encourage your friends to as well.

We've all read stories of unlikely connections made through social media; wouldn't it be cool if we could find Sgt. Lohse's family, to share these photos with them? Please share this story, and help us #findsgtlohse!

Kodachrome was a very stable film emulsion used for archival purposes, when kept in dark storage. While it faded more quickly under the intense light of a projector than so-called "substantive" films like Ektachrome, in dark storage, the yellow dye (the least stable) is calculated to lose only 20% of its density after 185 years.

It's particularly appropriate that Rob heard back from Ms. Rogers-Price just in time for us to post this story on Veterans Day here in the US, a holiday celebrating our military veterans from all services and theaters. It's paralleled in some other countries by the Armistice Day and Remembrance Day holidays. We'd like to take the opportunity to express our profound thanks, and to wish all who have served our country in the armed services and their families a very Happy Veterans Day!


[UPDATE 9-12-17: Rob Murray was able to locate Sgt. Lohse' daughter via this story. Stay tuned, as we will pen more on that soon.]


If you'd like to read more about the 7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group, here's a book we found while researching!

[Co-written with Dave Etchells and Rob Murray, photographic processing by Luke Smith]