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.
14 thoughts on “Dom Vitale’s war”
I was given a great aunt’s memory book of the year she spent as a nurse at a military hospital in France during WW1. I also went through similar tasks cataloging and scanning each page and researching the names of soldiers and staff. I reached a few children and grandchildren who appreciated the photos and information. Ultimately I made a a shutterfly reproduction of the book and donated the original with indexing and databases, to the WW1 museum in Kansas city. Now that I know about the site Patty used, I may someday reproduce it there. Would someone like to do it for me?
I would love to see those photos. My grandfather, Victor Harper, was injured in WWI on the last day of fighting in France. I often look at old WWI pictures and just hope I can see him! I would not mind helping at all.
I’d love some help and get to share things withyou. How Do we get in touch without leaving my email address here for all?
What a wonderful project! Bless you for investing so much time and energy for others!
It must be a pleasure being a detective to benefit others. Hope it continues to be a fun project.
I agree, what a beautiful tribute and memory resource!
My mother’s brother was at Camp Croft, ’44, though.
I agree with Pam Pottebaum and thank you for taking the time to make the families aware of the cachet you have!
That is such an awesome thing to do! I try to put the best photos of people found in my mom’s familues photo album on ancestry…so people can have a photo. I had someone contact me asking me about my relation to one of the men in a family group that I had posted.
Turns out that I am not actually related to the man…as he married into my Figg family line.
The man turned out to be the person’s gg grandfather, of whom NO ONE in her family had any pictures of! He was about 50 years old when he was struck and killed by a hit and run driver.
I had found a newspaper article in the scrap book about the accident and posted all that on ancestry.
Thank GOD someone in my mom’s family had made a scrap book of pictures and newspaper articles about this man.
Thanks for sharing your own families’ treasures with others.
Thank you so much for your article and sharing how you managed through the gift – and responsibility – of such a treasure trove! A true labor of love! I’m looking at Memory Web to see if it’ll work for my scrapbook projects!!
Your website and the work you did is wonderful.
I also have photos from my dad, Norman Carlson, who was in WWII and was in Germany. Unfortunately, his photos are NOT marked and I have NO idea how to identify the soldiers in the photos or even the land marks that are in them. Thank you for doing what you have done and good luck locating the families of the soldiers.
What a wonderful job you have done with your photos. It has sparked my interest again in trying to accomplish something similar. I have my dad’s photo album from his days in the Navy from initial “boot camp” to his assignment as a medical corpsman on the USS Repose just after World War 2 was over (circa 1945-1947). Alot of his buddies are pictured and named. I have often thought that some of these men may still be alive and that they and their family members would also like to see these precious pictures of unique moments in time.
Great article. And thanks for preserving your great Uncle’s WW2 photos & memories. I am doing something similar with my Dad’s photos of occupied Japan (he was on the first wave to Japan after the surrender) along with photos of his training in various camps. Most of the WW2 vets are gone now and it’s up to us to preserve their memories.