The Identity of a World War II Airman Remains a Mystery
Who is Dick?
Denise Gamino, a reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, has been trying for almost a decade to find a young man who isn’t young and isn’t related to anyone among her friends or family.
Dick, who has only a first name so far, remains elusive.
Rummaging in a used furniture store in Austin in 2005, Gamino paid 50 cents for a colorized, uniformed, 8 x 10-inch portrait of Dick. The picture came with a frame bearing the name of a photo studio in San Antonio, Texas, that went out of business decades ago.
Gamino is a newspaper reporter, author, and historian. Among other achievements, she is co-author of an autobiography of presidential pilot Brig. Gen. James U. Cross – Around the World with LBJ (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008).
She is also something of a sleuth. When she invested “two quarters,” she said, in a color-tinted photo from a bygone era bearing the signature “Love, Dick,” Gamino resolved to use her investigative talents to identify Dick and learn his story.
“I am obsessed with a man I don’t even know,” Gamino wrote in the May 29, 2006, issue of her newspaper. Gamino described “a young man named Dick with hooded blue eyes, a smooth face and a little brown mole over his left eyebrow.”
She knew him only from the photo, but felt she knew him nonetheless: “His almost-smile ends in dimples, and he has the look of a gentle soul, the kind of man who believes in the goodness of the Golden Rule,” Gamino wrote.
She hasn’t found him.
“For heaven’s sake, if you have an old photo album in your attic, mark your snapshots properly,” says Jim Sullivan, a photographer and archivist who fears that the nation is losing its pictorial heritage. “Get a soft pencil and write on the back of every snapshot what you remember about names, dates, times, and locations. Don’t assume you know who’ll have that photo 50 years from now.”
“You can learn a lot from an image,” said former Air Force Sgt. John Gourley, another expert on archival photos. “You can learn more, though, if somebody who ‘was there’ has provided information.”
So who is, or was, Dick?
The evidence is persuasive that he went through basic training at what today is called Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. But did he fly in the ball turret of a B-24 Liberator over Nazi Germany? Was he a radio operator on a C-46 Commando pulling cargo runs over the Himalaya mountain range?
Did he survive the war? Is he alive now?
Although Gamino conducted forensic research into the origin of the photo and analyzed its content, neither her research nor her article produced anyone who recognized Dick.
If you recognize the young man with the Army Air Forces patch on his shoulder, let us know in the comments section below this story, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if you don’t recognize him, please share this story as widely as possible. Maybe we can help solve the mystery.