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Thread: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

  1. #1

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    USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    This weekend I discovered an almost forgotten part of photographic history, in an American hero. I went to an estate sale, and after passing through the house full of quality antiques, I looked into the glass case of small, valuable items. Among the wristwatch, stopwatches, fountain pens I spotted two US Marine Corps collar devices, the famous Eagle, Globe and Anchor insignia. These were the sterling and gold versions, used on full dress uniforms. I recognized them from WWII era. After telling the seller I'd buy them, I started to realize the house was much more masculine than a lot of estate sales, where the wife lives decades longer than the husband. There were silver trophy plates of some kind on the wall, beer steins, gun racks.



    I started realizing many items were from a serviceman, from the Greatest Generation. I wandered downstairs, to the basement and found a box of magazines and paperwork. Hard to believe but in the same box was a 1940 high school diploma, and a much more recent panoramic photo of a USMC Pilot's reunion. The smiling men in the photo were all grey and old. There were more artifacts from this man's life; a 1955 Confederate Air Force certificate sat next to a Kentucky Colonel award. I found two Naval/USMC aviator uniform name badges in leather. I added them to my insignia, paid and left. When I got home, I notices something I know is very rare in aviation. The pilot was enlisted, not officer. In rare cases, in time of war, the US would allow enlisted men to fly. There were something like 75,000 officer pilots in WWII, the USMC had the most non-commissioned aviators, 131. I found Master Gunnery Sergeant James R. Todd online, he had died last Fall at 91. His obituary said he was a 10,000 hour pilot, who flew in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

    I had to return to the estate. The next day I did. The house was practically empty now of furnishings and housewares. The box was gone, but the pano photo and diploma sat against a wall. There was a rolltop desk, a few NRA pins inside the drawers. A service coffee mug on the table caught my eye. As a veteran, I know every squadron, ship, unit, or mission commemorates themselves with patches, symbols. These are often emblazoned on coffee cups, as a memento of your time with the unit. This one appealed to me because the obituary said something about him doing photo recon (think, Aero Ektar lenses). The cup reads "Marine Photographic Squadron 1" and has an eagle holding a camera, flying over the globe. I have a background in some of this stuff, so for $4, I picked it up too.



    As I dug deeper into this man's life, I felt more and more pulled to learn about him.

  2. #2

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    Re: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    And so I returned to the internet, and learned more. After WWII he mustered out, then raised his hand again immediately and was sworn back in as a private! His unit helped with the evacuation of China when the Communists took over. My wife found a white silk scarf, embroidered with a dragon and Peipeng, China (the old term for Beijing). The book CORSAIRS TO PANTHERS - U.S. Marine Aviation in Korea reveals what he was flying by the Korean war. There is a whole section (it's free) about his Photo Sqdrn, and the fact MGYSGT Todd had more missions than anyone else, and that he would brief the officer pilots that flew F-86 cover for him. They didn't like taking briefings from an enlisted man! There is a photo of him next to his recce stripped down jet fighter. It turns out his squadron shot the majority of combat photo recon in Korea.


    He did have a bunch of cameras, decent Japanese ones from the mid 1950s. I passed on these obsolete 35mms, but decided to grab a $5 light meter that seemed to be working. When I researched it, it's the first popular model Sekonic made, from 1951. I'm sure he bought it in Japan while on R and R from the war. I checked it out, and of course, still works. The man is gone, but the light meter he bought as a young man still feels the sun. I wish I had known him, just a few miles from my house, living the last decades of his life. I have a few of his icons of his life, the globes, silk scarf, name badges, a silver award platter from Cherry Point, his light meter. I didn't feel right about keeping his diploma or reunion photo. But he seems like he was a great man. He donated to the Flying Leathernecks group, and many others, I could see.

    This is Marine Aviator James. R. Todd.


    And another:
    http://photos.usni.org/content/4033986jpg


    See more USMC Photographers here:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/426425...23961826/page1

  3. #3

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    Re: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    Respect

  4. #4
    Foamer
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    Re: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    Garrett--

    Don't take this as personal criticism, but if it were me I would have returned the stuff to the family and explained what it was and what it meant. I would bet they had little idea of the significance to their family history. My own dad was in the 101st Airborne in Austria at the close of WW2 and has a few souvenirs from Hitler's office. He's very proud of them and I know they should stay in the family.

    A few years ago I bought a Leica IIIc, serial dates it to 1942. There was a name engraved on the base plate along with a town. I checked into it. Turns out it was owned by a Sgt. in the quartermasters corps in Germany at the end of WW2. He bought the Leica from a widow whose husband was a lieutenant who went off to the east and never returned. She sold it for cash to feed her kids. The Sgt. went to school on the GI Bill, became an optician, and loved cameras. The Leica wasn't his favorite but was one of the last he kept. The youngest son sold it on ebay, which is how I got it after he died in 2012. (Wife had already died years before.) I got this info from the oldest daughter. I offered to sell it back, but she said, "No, he had a lot of camera stuff and we only kept a couple." It seemed pretty shallow to me to not appreciate the story behind the Leica. It isn't really "just another camera." If I get tired of it sometime in the future, I might approach them again.


    Kent in SD
    Die Gedanken sind Frei

  5. #5

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    Re: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    I understand the point about the family should want this, and that's why collecting anything is so sad. The family didn't want any of this. They put the house up for sale, must have picked what they wanted, and told the auction company to sell the rest. From what I read, he hired a stranger to care for him in his last years, who wrote a very loving tribute to him. He was married twice.

    I'm a sentimental sort, I was raised to tell and retell the family stories. I have the Yankee sword that broke off in the door of the family plantation house when Sherman sent a detachment to burn it, and remained until the 1940s when an aunt let my dad pull it out as a boy. We keep many icons like that. Sadly, many families don't. I've personally seen a farm sell that was in the family since the 1700s, and the last grandmothers words were to never sell it. I've seen WWII bomber jackets with all the missions embroidered on the back brought into Pawn Stars by the grandson, who walks out with $250 gambling money. That's why when I do buy an old camera, gun, or military item, I revere it, and try to find the story of the owner.

    The WWII generation is about gone. Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg realized it a decade ago and started honoring them with movies, after a generation lull from Hollywood. At one point a few years ago, something like 600 WWII veterans were dying a DAY. Each has a uniform, a compass, a camera, a coffee mug. But that's not our point. The point is Americans don't seem to want to keep their family history anymore. Our careers are more important. If you are asked at a party "what do you do?" that's what they want to know. 100 or 1000 years ago when someone asked that, the answer was "I am Miller's son, son of the great war hero Jesse. My family comes from Rapid Creek, and has lived there for 8 generations...."

    As a matter of fact, where I grew up in the South, you always down play what you do for a living. But you will sure brag about what your dad, grandmother, or Uncle did! At reunions, that's what people did, respected their elders and their sacrifices. Not sure what happens today, there don't seem to be many reunions.

  6. #6
    Foamer
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    Re: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    My dad has several photo albums taken in Germany just after the war. Some are photos he took, some are a sort of scrap book put together by army photographers. He also has a few 4x5 prints of him when he graduated from jump school, and the portrait that was sent to parents. Below, from 1944.


    Kent in SD
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails ParaDad.jpg  
    Die Gedanken sind Frei

  7. #7

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    Re: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    A very poignant story. Thank you for sharing.
    I steal time at 1/125th of a second, so I don't consider my photography to be Fine Art as much as it is petty larceny.
    I'm not OCD. I'm CDO which is alphabetically correct.

  8. #8

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    Re: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    By telling the stories, the men live forever. It's how humans have always done it. After a half century, it's important to write it down, as the generations die. When my dad was young, he said at reunions they would talk about the relative's who had been in the Civil War. I still have those stories in my mind, and some have been written down and corroborated. But if you don't document them, the stories die with the man.

  9. #9
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    Re: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    An amazing little archive you're caring for there, Garrett. And sad, the things that are lost to time...
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  10. #10

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    Re: USMC Pilot Photographer J.R. Todd

    Great stories, thanks for sharing.

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