Mike Chamberlain ’78 works on massive photographic veterans’ project to honor his father

Mike Chamberlain ’78 of Auburn, New York, is continuing his herculean task of documenting more than 900 World War II photos taken by his late father, Carl Chamberlain.

Throughout his deployment, Carl, a staff sergeant in the Army, took photographs in the field. Mike has donated the photos to the Veterans History Project (VHP) run by the Library of Congress. VHP is dedicated to collecting and preserving the personal accounts of Americans who served in every U.S. war since 1914. Mike’s donation is one of the largest collections donated since the project was created in 2000.

Mike continues follow-up research to determine names of soldiers and details about locations shown in his father’s photographs. Locations of the photographs include North Africa, Sicily, Italy and southern France.

“As a paratrooper and especially early in WWII, paratroopers regularly returned to their bases behind Allied lines near the larger airfields (North Africa first, then Sicily and Rome),” Mike says. “So his earliest pictures tend to be pre/post combat shots of life at the base — mostly non-combat. After the amphibious assault at Anzio, where he was injured, he transferred to an aerial resupply unit — a support group where he had more time to take images of the war and its destruction.

“In both cases, he was periodically away from the front lines where he could take, develop and store the photos. Although many photos had handwritten notes on them, most of my time over the past four years was spent sorting the +900 photos, cross-referencing the images on them, and documenting and cataloging the collection.”

The donation has received widespread coverage in local, regional, state, national and international media, including a feature on the AARP website and one on a French website.

“Unlike other history projects/museums, the VHP (part of the Library’s American Folklife Center) is dedicated to preserving the stories of individual wartime soldiers,” Mike says. “These photos not only provide insights into the war, but what day-to-day life was like for those serving in Europe during WWII. It’s important to remember that it’s people — thousands of individuals like my dad, and not just the generals and the decision-makers — who make history what it is. I only hope that my dad’s story and photos encourage a new generation of wartime (Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan) veterans and their families to share their stories, first-hand accounts, letters, photos and documents with the VHP.”

(Photo: Mike Chamberlain ’78 with his father’s camera. Carl Chamberlain is in the photo at left.)


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