Last year, while going through boxes of old photos at my dad’s house, we came across a plastic bag containing hundreds of photos taken by my great-uncle Dominic Vitale during the Second World War. The photos were curled and disorganized, but on the backs of many of the photos Uncle Dom had written the names of his buddies who were in the photos, as well as dates, locations, and the names of their hometowns. I took the photos home with me, hoping to find a way to organize them electronically and eventually find relatives of his army buddies who would appreciate seeing them.
A few months later I learned about MemoryWeb, a photo organizing website and app that lets users attach the back of a photo to the front, and I decided to try it out using Uncle Dom’s photos. The software also allows users to tag each photo with dates, locations, and names, with each field being searchable, so now that they’re all scanned I can search for all photos from November 1942, or from Camp Croft, or for all photos containing a particular person.
It took some time to scan all the curled photos and upload them, and as I scanned each one I looked up each of the soldiers on Fold3.com to see what I could learn about them, and attached that information to each of their profiles on MemoryWeb.
I’ve also searched Ancestry.com to find some of the soldiers in others’ family trees, and reached out to the tree owners to let them know about the photos. So far I’ve heard back from three of those people.
The first tree owner to reply said that the soldier, Stu Van Vliet, was his wife’s second cousin once removed. He told me that he and his wife had never met him, as Stu was killed in a train crash in 1951 while on his way home from work in New York City. They were happy to have the photos and were able to compare them with a photo they already had to confirm that we were talking about the same Stu Van Vliet.
Another tree owner responded and said that he had started the tree for a close friend after the friend’s grandfather died. He’s going to to share the photos with his friend and let me know how the soldier, Basilio “Buzz” Lanzilli, was related to his friend.
Most recently, two months after sending a message through Ancestry.com, I heard back from the niece of one of Uncle Dom’s buddies, Sebatino “Steve” Sarno, and I was able to email her a link to the photos of her uncle. She was very grateful and wants to be kept updated on my progress.
Hoping to find more relatives of the soldiers, or even that some of Uncle Dom’s buddies are still alive, I’ve devoted a page of my website to this photo project and included a link to the entire collection of photos. On that page I also list the names of all the soldiers tagged in the photos.
When Uncle Dom first enlisted, he was in Company C, 33rd Infantry Training Battalion, 2nd Platoon. After training he served in the 4th Division, 22nd Infantry Regiment. The men with whom he served, and who are tagged in his photos, are largely from Massachusetts, with some from New York and elsewhere in New England.
The collection of photos can be viewed by starting here on the webpage I’ve devoted to the project.