Defense Media Network

The Identity of a World War II Airman Remains a Mystery

Who is Dick?

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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.

So who is, or was, Dick?

Rummaging in a used furniture store in Austin in 2005, Gamino paid 50 cents for a colorized, uniformed, 8×10-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.

Unknown airman Dick

A scan of the photo, in its original frame, of the unknown airman whose identity Denise Gamino continues to seek out. Photo courtesy of Denise Gamino

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.”

So who is, or was, Dick?

“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 editor@faircount.com. Even if you don’t recognize him, please share this story as widely as possible. Maybe we can help solve the mystery.

By

Robert F. Dorr is an author, U.S. Air Force veteran, and retired American diplomat who...

  • This Airman is wearing the US Army Arforce Patch for Eighth Army….may be a clue
    The United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) was the military aviation arm of the United States of America during and immediately after World War II, and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force.

    The AAF was a component of the United States Army, which in 1942 was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the Services of Supply (which in 1943 became the Army Service Forces), and the AAF. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. The AAF controlled all parts of military aviation formerly distributed among the Air Corps, General Headquarters Air Force, and ground forces corps area commanders, and thus became the first air organization of the U.S. Army to control its own installations.

    The peak size of the AAF was over 2.4 million men and women in service and nearly 80,000 aircraft in 1944, and 783 domestic bases in December 1943.[2] By VE Day it had 1.25 million men stationed overseas and operated from more than 1,600 airfields worldwide.[3]

    The Air Corps became the Army Air Forces in June 1941 to provide the air arm a greater autonomy in which to expand more efficiently, and to provide a structure for the additional command echelons required by a vastly increased force. Although other nations already had separate air forces independent of the army or navy (such as the British Royal Air Force and the German Luftwaffe), the USAAF remained a part of the United States Army until the United States Air Force came into being in September 1947.

  • You can also check the National Archives Military Records
    They also have archival photos of servicemembers
    http://www.archives.gov/research/

  • I need to ammend my comment about 8th Army…OOPS….. I should have written 8th Air Force….has the historical origin of this patch to present day. The patch is USAAF United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) also known as the “Hap Arnold Emblem” shoulder sleeve insignia. This is a similar partch to the current day Eight Air Force (8AF) of the current day US Air Force…from Air Force Global Strike Command. I mispoke….in the history of the Eight Air Force you will find that it was established on 22 February 1944 as a redesignation of VIII Bomber Command at High Wycombe Airdrome, USAAF Station #101, England, 8 AF was a United States Army Air Forces combat air force in the European Theater of World War II, engaging in operations primarily in the Northern Europe AOR, carrying out strategic bombing of enemy targets in France, the Low countries and Germany and engaging in air to air fighter combat against enemy aircraft until the German Capitulation in May 1945. It was the largest of the deployed combat Army Air Forces in numbers of personnel, aircraft and equipment.

  • That patch is the Army Air Force HQ patch. It has nothing to do with the 8th Air Force. In my opinion without a last name you will never find this mans history. There are thousands of possibilities! Nice picture though and good luck!

  • Well from what I’ve gathered he must of lived; deployed from Texas. He had to be an enlistee due to his clothing.The issue enlisted men’s winter service uniform consisted of a four pocket coat and trousers in olive drab shade 33 (light shade) 16 oz wool serge. Shirts with two patch pockets and without shoulder straps were either 8.2 oz chino cotton khaki, a light tan, shade No. 1, or 10.5 oz olive drab wool light shade No. 33.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_Air_Forces#cite_ref-104)
    Due to the Hap Arnold Emblem he was enlisted between 19 March 1942 – Mid 1950′s. (http://www.vetshome.com/military_army_air_forces_patches1.htm)