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  • November 11, 2015

Found in the Archives, Seldom Seen Photos From World War II

Author
Sara Manco

U.S. Army soldiers make an amphibious landing on the banks of Germany’s Rhine River. Navy sailors take a break from combat for a dip in the Pacific Ocean. A young marine cleans sand out of his shoe. These World War II–era images are part of a small collection of photographs currently on display in the basement of National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Sorry, not open to the public, but we’re bringing you a selection here on Proof, along with the original captions.)

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection

nPhotograph from National Geographic's World War II collection
“The Marines Land.” Marines hit three feet of rough water as they leave their LST to take the beach at Cape Gloucester, December 26, 1943.
Photograph by the U.S. Marine Corps

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection
“Sittin’ On Top of the World.” Of all things, Marine Private First Class Raymond L. Hubert, of Detroit, Michigan, chooses a huge unexploded naval shell for a sofa as he removes a three day accumulation of Saipan sand from his field shoes.
Photograph by Staff Sgt. Andrew B. Knight, U.S. Marine Corps

Tucked away among the 11.5 million photographic items housed in the National Geographic archive, the images were among those recently pulled from storage by NG Creative’s Julia Andrews and Debbie Li and archivist Bill Bonner in homage to the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, marked earlier this year.

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection
French mademoiselle waves tricolor in tribute to the forces which liberated her city as they march past Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. August 26, 1944.
Photograph by U.S. Army Signal Corps

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection
Women employees working on the nose assemblies of Douglas “Havoc” A-20 attack bombers.
Photograph by the Douglas Aircraft Company, Inc.

Bringing them out of the archive provides an insight into the lives and mentalities of the past. “They tell a story we don’t want to forget,” says Li.

The National Geographic Society archive once had an entire collection of photographs specifically dedicated to World War II, but in the early 1960s, the archive ran out of physical space to house prints, and the collection was culled. What remained was stashed in files not related to the war, and Bonner periodically came across them while doing research on other topics.

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection
Crouching low in a DUKW for concealment and protection, men of the 89th division, U.S. Third Army, cross the Rhine River at Oberwesel, Germany. March 26, 1945.
Photograph by the U.S. Department of Defense

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection
“Relaxing After Battle.” Crewmen of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier banish post-battle nervous strain by taking a swim in the warm waters of a lagoon in the Marshalls only a few days after laying siege to and conquering Roi Island in the Kwajalein atoll. Released April 18, 1944.
Photograph by the U.S. Navy

According to Bonner, National Geographic magazine published “a lot of stories about soldiers—a life for the soldier, that kind of thing … and less [about] the frontline battles.”

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection
“Wedding Ceremony at Church Hit by Bomb.” The bombing of this beautiful Roman Catholic Church in London did not stop Fusilier Tom Dowling and Miss Martha Coogan being married there today. After the ceremony was over, Father Finn, who performed the ceremony, assisted the bridal couple over the debris to the church exit. Fox. September 14, 1940.

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection
“Londoners Sleep in Safety at Aldwych. First Pictures in New Shelter Where People Occupy Railway Lines.” These are the first pictures to be taken at Aldwych Shelter, the stretch of underground railway between Aldwych and Holborn which has been taken out of service to provide safe shelter for Londoners in air raids. Photograph shows the railway lines as well as the platforms provide a dormitory for Londoners during the night raids. October 5, 1940.
Photograph by Acme Newspictures

“You would never think that National Geographic was even interested, but we were,” says Andrews. “Editors were paying attention to this. They wanted it in the [archive] collection but never published it.”

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection

Photograph from National Geographic's World War II collection
“It Was Worth It, Abe.” … so that … “freedom … shall not perish from the earth …” A fighting Coast Guardsman, who gave his right arm in battle pays Memorial Day tribute at the Lincoln shrine in Washington, D.C. He is Coast Guardsman Thomas Sortino of Chicago, who participated in the North African invasion.
Photograph by U.S. Coast Guard

Many of the photos on display are wire photos—distributed by news agencies and not commissioned by National Geographic magazine. They’re displayed with the original caption information that was taped on the back of the print. These captions add a rich layer to the show, giving the viewer insight into the mentalities of the time. The captions are clinically written and matter-of-fact, with a “neutrality you wouldn’t have now,” says Andrews.

Thanks to Bonner, Li, and Andrews, these incredible photographs not seen in decades can ensure that some moments won’t be forgotten.

There are 33 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Guest100
    August 16, 2016

    To think this generation went through the Great Depression before and then this! Records of the time indicate a lot of the young people were undernourished when they went in for their armed forces physical. Contrast these people with the silly, overfed twits today, many who don’t even know that George Washington was our first president as well as other school basics. I hope someone tells them about this generation. Can you imagine the horror of the old soldiers last Veteran’s Day when Obama gave a speech saying he would fight to bring illegal sponging INVADERS into our country against the laws of our land. What they must have thought after seeing their buddies fight and die for their country.

  2. David Chisman
    May 30, 2016

    It is good to view the photos less we forget what happened then.

  3. Fran
    May 30, 2016

    Great photos. Would be even better if they were somewhere that the public could see and/or buy.

  4. gregkoo
    May 30, 2016

    thanks a lot ,the great ally

  5. Tom
    January 16, 2016

    Yes, here was a time when the people of the United States, especially our young men and women, came together to make the world a better place for all races, colors, and creeds

  6. Debojit Chakrabarty
    December 6, 2015

    Stunning images capturing poignant moments of WWII. Let’s pray that this is the last World War humanity will ever witness till posterity! Peace!

  7. Mary
    December 3, 2015

    wonderful photos and glad they were preserved. Future generations can see when the world pulled together to stop the dictators from taking over.

  8. Alfred A Arnold Be MBA Jp
    November 29, 2015

    Great photos, soon you maybe able to recreate new ones, With luck some one may survive to see them

  9. Eduard Kanevskiy
    November 22, 2015

    Forever memory of immortal feat soldiers victory against the Nazism and fascism in a World War 2

  10. Ernest Duncan
    November 16, 2015

    Isn’t it ironic that on Friday 13th.,2015, in Paris, it happening again. When is it all going to end???

  11. Earl Zwicker
    November 14, 2015

    Thanks so much.
    Eyes wet with tears.

  12. Ydalir Ullrsson
    November 12, 2015

    The very first picture is the Cologne Cathedral if I do not fail totally.
    My Home Town

  13. Don Whipple, Sr.
    November 12, 2015

    There is a duty – an obligation here. These photos must be shared with the world. The greatest generation indeed!

  14. Saptarshi Bose
    November 12, 2015

    Wow….superb collection!

  15. Don Young
    November 12, 2015

    We need national geographic to republish these photos so the current generation can appreciate the sacrifices by these young men and women to make America what it is today.

  16. nestor huarcaya
    November 12, 2015

    God rest his glory to all those men and women who died in combat

  17. Tom Gunner
    November 12, 2015

    Very moving, with excellent contextual detail. A really fitting tribute.

  18. Dave P
    November 12, 2015

    These photos are absolutely incredible, thank you for sharing.

  19. Akiko Orui
    November 12, 2015

    these pictures tell a lot of stories… wonderful

  20. Devakalpa Ghose
    November 12, 2015

    Fantastic images. Thank you for sharing these.

  21. S. Ryall
    November 12, 2015

    I shall never forget, my children shall never forget and they will teach their children to never forget the sacrifice made by the brave and heroic few so that we can live in freedom. Thank you for the pictorial reminder.

  22. Jim Weir
    November 11, 2015

    I was still in Hi School tip ’46 but we had lost friends and relatives to the war. Then as the war was over we saw the devastation that was inflicted on the survivors. Some of which was not visible on the surface.

  23. Susan
    November 11, 2015

    Dad never talked about the war. Pictures like these give me some insight to the kind of life he was in during WWII. The Greatest Generation. Thank you.

  24. Emily
    November 11, 2015

    These are beautiful!

  25. Carole
    November 11, 2015

    RIP for the people that gave their lives to save others

  26. Nancy Carter
    November 11, 2015

    Beautiful. Good choices for the piece. Thanks for sharing these on a day such as this.

  27. Alicia
    November 11, 2015

    Beautiful! I love to see old pictures…reminds me of the hardship people have been through and to be thankful for what I have and grateful for what they have endured.

  28. Tim Donnigan
    November 11, 2015

    Outstanding effort by NatGeo to share these valuable photos with the public.

  29. david Julian
    November 11, 2015

    The greatest generation….

  30. cristina
    November 11, 2015

    wonderful photos!

  31. Lal Nallath
    November 11, 2015

    Fabulous shots…

  32. shannon
    November 11, 2015

    So beautiful! Love this post.

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