Remember Dad's photo album from World War II, down in the basement? While Dad is around, get him to whip out a soft pencil and write on the back of those snapshots— names, dates, and locations. Gently remove the snapshots and slip them inside archival pages designed for preservation.
Do that. And then, you won't be in a bind like Denise Gamino.
Gamino paid fifty cents for a portrait photo at a used furniture store in Austin, Texas, in 2005.
Gamino was, in effect, buying junk. The store had acquired the picture from an auction of abandoned storage units. The picture frame bears the name of a photo studio in San Antonio, Texas, that went out of business decades ago.
Gamino is a reporter, author and historian. She is co-author of an autobiography of presidential pilot James U. Cross "Around the World with LBJ" (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008). When she spent "two quarters," she said, for a color-tinted photo bearing the signature "Love, Dick," Gamino resolved to use her investigative talents to identify Dick and learn his story.
She hasn't found him.
"I am obsessed with a man I don't even know," Gamino wrote in the May 29, 2006, Austin American-Statesman. Gamino wrote of her photo of "a young man named Dick with hooded blue eyes, a smooth face and a little brown mole over his left eyebrow."
"He has the look of a gentle soul, the kind of man who believes in the goodness of the Golden Rule," Gamino wrote.
The only clue in the photo is a standard Army uniform, circa 1944, and an Army Air Forces shoulder patch.
Although Gamino conducted forensic research, she found no one who recognized Dick. Gamino contacted me — an author on military topics — and with her permission we've both been trying ever since.
"Tell veterans to label their photos clearly," said retired Air Force Tech Sgt. Norman Taylor, an expert on restoration of old photos. "Write on the back. Remember, your photos may be around long after all of us are gone."
History is told in photo, but only if they are preserved.
For help with matters photographic, my favorite local expert is Oakton Photo, also called Quality One Hour Foto, in the Oakton Shopping Center, where Mustafa is a miracle worker at repairing and restoring old images. It's one of the last family-run businesses in our area.
About me: My latest book is "Mission to Berlin," a Stephen Ambrose-style history of B-17 Flying Fortress bomber crews in World War II, illustrated in part with snapshots from veterans. My dog and I are survivors of a near miss by the in-your-face bicyclist who can't read the word "STOP" at the intersection of Wayland and Valewood. My goal is to make an occasional comment here about Oakton and military matters. Help by ringing me: 703-264-8950. And call if you recognize Dick.