WWII SOLDIER’S PHOTO ALBUM - MAX BAER, AFRICAN AMERICAN BOXERS, DALE MABRY 1944
This 13 ¼” x 10 ⅜” photo album consists of 39 black construction-paper pages, of which 28 have photos, and 11, towards the back of the album, do not. Some of the blank pages seem to once have had photos that are now missing, as captions remain. The album is in good overall condition. An embossed figure of a mill and millrace, colored or tinted in shades of orange, light brown, and blue, with a frame of golden branches, fills most of the faux ivory cover. Ivory on ivory embossing running vertically along the right side spells out “Photographs.”
There are 83 photographs in the album, varying in size. The album opens with eleven 5” X 4” black-and-white photos, shot by an official photographer (there are handwritten notations on some of the negatives), that show Max Baer---the only Jewish world heavyweight boxing champion in history---both in a boxing ring and out of it. Baer is in his army uniform (he had enlisted when the war began). Standing in the middle of the ring, he uses a stand microphone to speak to the large crowd of assembled soldiers. He referees a fight between two white fighters. Baer jokes with a Colonel Gains in his office and then appears in two photos taken at the base hospital, once with a group of white soldiers, and in a second photo taken at the hospital, with a group of African-American soldiers. The implication---that the hospital was segregated---seems clear. Other photos show African-Americans boxing in the ring (“colored-boys, boxing,” says one caption).
Most of the photos in the album were taken at Dale Mabry Army Airfield. Dale Mabry Field was Tallahassee’s airport before the war, but beginning in 1940, at the urging of some Florida elected officials, the Army began converting the airport into a training base for pilots and crew members. From that initial beginning as an army airfield, the base grew from 530 acres to 1760 acres. At its peak, in 1944, over 8000 people were employed there, both soldiers and civilians.
One of the large photos at the front of the album is captioned “Jack Carter, Promoter and Referee - D.M.F [Dale Mabry Field] 3/23/44. Sergeant Carter stands in a far corner of the boxing ring, dressed in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, his referee’s outfit. That this is Sergeant Carter’s album soon enough becomes clear. The first page following the initial boxing photos shows a number of Sergeant Carter’s female acquaintances, with two photobooths, one hand-tinted, two snapshots of different sizes of young women, two studio portraits of young women, and a snapshot showing four young women, working at sewing machines in a factory. “A-pex’s [sic] silk mill,” a caption below the photo denotes. The page following has snapshots and a studio photo showing a brother of Sergeant Carter; another young lad, perhaps a boyhood chum; a woman identified as “Irene Gottschling Phil Pa”; and quite a lovely small photo of a smiling middle-aged woman in her Red Cross nurses’ outfit, identified only as “Mother.”
The bulk of the album depicts life on base, various training and recreational activities, and especially, Sergeant Carter’s roommates. There are 8 large snapshots (5” x 3 ⅝”) showing soldiers either sleeping in their bunks, resting in their bunks, or reading---perhaps letters from home or from a sweetheart---in their bunks.
From a caption below a large glossy photo of Sergeant Carter later in the album, we learn that he was the Squadron Athletic Director. One should say an “extremely fit” Sergeant Carter, as he is photographed wearing only boxing trunks and shoes, with a beautifully-proportioned, heavily-muscled body indicating he practiced what he preached. Apparently he was quite proud of that physique, as he appears in two other photos in the boxing trunks and shoes.
Six photos in the album, again seemingly taken by an official Army photographer, show soldiers engaged in physical activities at McDill Field in Tampa (no doubt reflecting Sergeant Carter’s official duties). The Camel Caravan comes for a visit to Dale Mabry Field (in four photos). Johnny, the Phillip Morris mascot, shows up in one photo, lying down on an examining table and suffering good-naturedly, some faux medical procedure performed by a male army medical assistant.
One might say that this album is all fun-and-games, were it not for the obvious friendship that Sergeant Carter seems to have felt for his roommates. Sergeant Al Cassell, one of those roommates, gets his wings and ships out to “Blyte” [Blythe], California, where the Army Air Force had another training facility. Sergeant Cassell gets his own page, appearing most humorously in a photographic montage that he had sent out as his Christmas card.
Walter Ziemba (Sergeant Carter misspells his first name as “Walther”), another of Sergeant Carter’s roommates, also appears in several photos. One learns from Sergeant Ziemba’s obituary (found on the internet) that he was “a veteran of World War II having serv[ed] in the US Army Air Corp, stationed in Hawaii as a radio operator on a B- 24 bomber in the South Pacific Theater.” There is even a small snapshot, a woman standing behind a half-opened gate in front of a house, labeled “Ziemba’s girl in Pittsburg [sic].” From Mr. Ziemba’s obituary, we learn that he never married, though he was a “lifelong exercise enthusiast.”
The album ends with seven 8” x 10” photos, 7 glossies and 1 with a matte finish. The glossies are all photos from Sergeant Carter’s time in Florida, one showing two African-American soldiers fighting in the boxing ring (notably, African-American soldiers are sitting at ringside and white soldiers are standing behind them), three USO scenes, two of a dance and one of some sort of humorous skit, perhaps a radio skit, and two of Sergeant Carter, Sergeant Ziemba, and another buddy on an excursion to Wakulla Springs, a Florida tourist attraction, with glass-bottomed boats. The 7th glossy, obviously an Army-issued photo, shows a “Bed Prepared For Inspection.” A smaller glossy (4 ½” x 9 ¾”) on the following page shows a locker “befor [sic] inspection.”
Two photographs in the album are anomalous. One is the matte-finish 8” x 10” photo, of “my dog Skipper.” The photo appears to be an enlargement from a snapshot. The other out-of-place photo, striking in its peculiarity, shows a woman’s head, painted or otherwise inscribed on the floor of a bar in Central City, Colorado. This probably is a photo sent to Sergeant Carter by one of his buddies.
Lurking in the background, always, is the fate of these men, shown here training and playing and exercising and relaxing. Some perhaps did not return to civilian life from those far-flung battlefields. Here is a record of those friendships