Help solve the mystery of unnamed WWII soldiers and civilians

Heather Michon

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(Image: Malachi Witt/Pixabay)

Not long after World War II veteran Richard E. Perkins died in the summer of 2014, his children found a nondescript cookie tin in the bottom of his closet.

Inside were over a dozen rolls of film.

Dana Perkins and his sister, Alice Smith, quickly realized that these were photos their father had taken during his service in the Pacific in World War II. They believe he had the film developed sometime after the War but never had the money to have them made into prints.

Once they had them printed, they found a treasure trove of nearly 700 images from the 1940s...but few names to go along with the faces.

Now, they’ve set up a website to try to find these men.

DO YOU KNOW THE MEN OF THE 3117th SIGNAL CORPS?

Like many WWII veterans, their father didn’t talk much about his wartime experiences. His unit’s records were mostly lost in a devastating 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.

Online records show that Richard Erlon Perkins was born in October 1921 in Burnam, Maine. He enlisted in the Army in the spring of 1942 in Washington DC, where he was working as a civilian employee with the War Department as a radio operator. He continued that work with the 3117th Signal Service Battalion, eventually rising to the rank of Technical Sergeant (T/Sgt).

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(Richard Perkins, circa 1942 | Souce: WWII Pacific Veterans Project)

The Signal Corps played a vital role in World War II, eventually growing to a force of over 350,000 by 1944. In the Pacific, the corps utilized everything from homing pigeons and photographs to radios and radar to keep an eye on the enemy.

The unity was sent to Ohau, Hawaii in late 1942 and was stationed first at Fort Shafter, near Pearl Harbor, and later at Fort Ruger, east of Honolulu. It was sent to Saipan as part of the US invasion force in the Pacific later in the war.

LIFE ON BASE

Perkins took along a 35 mm Kodak Pony to capture some of his day-to-day life in the Army. What struck Dana was their normalcy. “None of them are bullets and bombs. None of them are combat photos,” he says in a story for The American Legion. “They were just, like, life on the base. What the guys do on their down-time. And most of the pictures, other than the tourist attractions, are people that he worked with. So, to me, they must have been important to him.”

There were also pictures of locals, including children, and USO performers.

Dana Perkins told the Minot Times that he’s devoted countless hours scanning all of the 672 photos in his father’s collection. “I have also included all of the double exposures and bad photos, because maybe somebody, somewhere might see something in them that I don’t.”

He and his sister have set up a website with numbered images of over 180 individuals and posted a video on YouTube with even more faces and photos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncycrv8k2Rk&t=27s

Perkins has also posted a short film reel from his father’s collection, showing daily life on base:

https://www.facebook.com/dana.perkins.921/posts/3036092386621308

And another that includes hula dancers and what Dana believes is images of the smoke plumes from the West Loch Disaster at Pearl Harbor in May 1944:

https://www.facebook.com/dana.perkins.921/posts/3036062519957628

The disaster occurred on May 21, 1944, when a ship loaded with ammunition suddenly exploded and set off a chain reaction that left 163 dead, hundreds injured, and six LSTs (short for Landing Ships, Tanks) destroyed.

The family would like to publish the photos as a book at some point down the road, but want to find as many names as possible to properly honor those who served. They believe that the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of these men might be able to put names to their faces.

Did your father or grandfather serve in Hawaii between 1942-1945? Did your parents or grandparents live in the Honolulu area during the period? Check out the videos and images linked above and see if you spot any familiar faces!

If you recognize any of the soldiers or civilians shown in the YouTube videos or on the website, they ask that you contact them at

WW 2 Pacific Veterans Project

PO Box 789
Biddeford, ME 04005

or by email: info@ww2pacificveteransproject.org

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