Category Archives: photography

More than seventy years later, a WWII-era photograph travels across generations and an ocean to return home

As the number of living World War II veterans continues to dwindle, the importance of documenting their stories is more important than ever.

In 1945, a twenty-year old army veteran of World War II returned to Rhode Island following a stint as a cook, serving under General Patton. He eventually married, built a house in Johnston, and raised seven children.

Federico “Fred” Paolucci, was born in 1925, the son of Italian immigrants. He was the only son and he and his five sisters grew up in North Providence. Fred would have a variety of jobs, including working at Brown & Sharpe, at a fireworks factory, and for the Johnston School Department.

Later in life, Paolucci was well known for his sign art, homemade and hand-lettered folk art-style signs commenting on anything and everything he found interesting in the news of the day. After his retirement from the Johnston schools where he worked at several schools in the maintenance department, he found a hobby. Often using recycled items, he created his sign art in his garage, often while listening to talk radio. The signs were displayed in his yard and on the facade of his garage.

An ocean away from Johnston, Rhode Island, in Tourlaville, France, Jean-Paul Corbet was going through some family photos last year, scanning them.

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In uniform, Federico “Fred” Paolucci, age 19

Among them, he ran across a black and white photo of an American GI in uniform. On the back was a name and address written in pencil: Federico Paolucci, 32 Forest Street, Box 77, Centerdale, Rhode Island, USA. [Centredale is a village in northwest North Providence, on the Johnston line.]

“[It] represented a handsome dark GI, a proud soldier taking the pose,” Corbet said in an interview published in a French newspaper. Paolucci was 19 years old at the time.

Curious, he asked his mother, Renee, about the man in the photo.

She told him that Federico was one of the young American soldiers who came to the aid of his grandparents – Paule and Gustave Valognes – and their five children (his mother Renee, Jacqueline, Therese, Paulette and Louis) in 1944.

“When I was young, my grandparents told me their own story and how they have felt the German occupation, the exodus, the liberation,” said Corbet in an email interview from France in January.

“They were simple people, the existential issue for them was live [sic] during this lean time and survive during the exodus. After the 6th of June, they were civilians on the battle field under the belligerent’s crossfire,” he said of their hunger and constant fear – they were lucky to to be alive. Corbet noted that his wife’s family wasn’t so lucky. “My wife’s dad lost his mother and two young sisters,” he said of the loss of life – 37,000 allies and 20,000 civilians.

The family had been evacuated from their home for two months, and upon their return, Renee and her younger sister Jacqueline were underweight and sick. Both were treated in the American camp. Jacqueline was five years old at the time, and reminded the soldiers of Shirley Temple, recalled Renee. “She became in a way a mascot of the camp,” she told Corbet, recalling that the Americans even organized a Christmas party in December 1944. Among the soldiers the sisters met was Federico Paolucci, a cook at the camp.

Corbet went online to find out what had become of Paolucci, and soon found a memorial for him created by his daughter Vivian (Paolucci) Doyon at a genealogy site called Find-A-Grave. He was saddened to learn that Paolucci had died in 2008. He became determined to return the photo, and contacted Doyon, who now lives in Kernersville, North Carolina.

After corresponding by email in November, he sent Doyon the photo of her dad – which had been “sitting in a box for 74 years” as a Christmas present, enclosing it in a Christmas card.

Doyon, who said her father did not speak much of his World War II service, was thrilled.

“This means a lot to me. This story makes me see my dad through the eyes of another, who has seen him through his mom’s and grandma’s stories,” she said. Already interested in the family genealogy, she is now researching more about her father’s military history.

“It blew my mind that this man knew more about my dad in that time period than I did,” she told a local news reporter. She hopes to one day meet Corbet in person.

Corbet, too, is also interested to hear from other soldiers who were stationed at the camp in Tourlaville, France after the occupation ended.

He is quick to point out the fact that after seventy years, his new friendship with Doyon and her family is symbolic of the friendship between the American GIs and the liberated French people, a friendship that continues to this day.

“Every year in Normandy is commemorated the D-Day. More than a duty of memory, it is a recognition, indestructible, eternal – especially for the inhabitants who lived the operation Overlord. We must see this popular fervor, this immense burst of gratitude, these moments of intense emotion, the tears of the pampered and adored veterans idolized and elevated to the ranks of heroes. Our liberators of yesterday are now our very old friends. They have become, without knowing it, icons, true ex-votos of the friendship between our two nations,” Corbet noted, recalling the story on Feb. 6.

“‘The most true friendship between noble souls is that which has for its knot the respectable link of benefits and recognition’,” he said, quoting Francois-Rodolphe Weiss.

An account of Corbet’s story appeared in a French newspaper and also on a local television news channel in North Carolina.

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An English translation of the story that appeared in a French newspaper, featuring a photo of Doyon holding the photo of her father, Federico “Fred” Paolucci.

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Jean-Paul Corbet and his mother Renee holding a copy of the French newspaper featuring their story.

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Memorial Day, 2017: Honoring a Rhode Island civil war veteran

Video of the ceremony

As a volunteer with Find-A-Grave [FindAGrave.com], I photograph graves of veterans all the time.  Many are marked with a generic military marker of marble or bronze, but some graves of veterans bear only family gravestones, with nothing to designate the deceased as having served our country. Such was the case of a gravestone I photographed in St. Ann Cemetery in Cranston, for Frederick C. Brayton.  He is buried (section O, lot 330) with his wife and several of his children.  Back in October of 2015, I created Find-A-Grave memorials for each, and uploaded photos of the front and back of the stone.

Fast forward to May, 2017. I received an email from a member of the Rhode Island Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War [RISUVCW], Elisha Dyer Camp 7, asking about Frederick C. Brayton (1849-1933).  A member of this group was a descendant of Frederick Brayton, who had served in the Civil War. The group was planning on honoring the veteran during Memorial Day weekend.

According to Peter Sarazin, Camp 7 graves registration officer, Brayton was mustered in on March 7th, 1865 as a Private in Company B, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, and mustered out as a Private on June 12th, 1865 at Providence, Rhode Island.

Additional research revealed that Brayton was a member of Post 4, Grand Army of the Republic [GAR], following the war – the predecessor of Camp 7, SUVCW.

 

The group held a grave-side ceremony on Saturday, May 27, which included a reading of Brayton’s service, a musket salute and the playing of taps. It turns out Brayton’s brother, Oscar L. Brayton, also a civil war veteran buried in nearby Pocasset Cemetery, has been honored by the group each year, and will once again be honored on Monday, May 29.

St. Ann Cemetery and Pocasset Cemetery were just two of the many stops the Camp 7 SUVCW group – comprised of descendants of civil war veterans – had planned for Memorial Day weekend, which also included several parades.

Attending the ceremony for Frederick Brayton was a nice reminder of what Memorial Day – formerly known as “Decoration Day,” – is really about.

Ensuring a future for Johnston’s historic ‘Wealthy Apple Tree’

Almost as well known as the Mabel Sprague House, located at 216 Morgan Avenue in Johnston, Rhode Island, is a beautiful old tree on the property, known as a ‘wealthy apple tree.’ Anthony Ricci, owner of the house now known as the Andrew Harris House (the name shown on its plaque), recently hosted an event on the property to try to ensure a future for this tree. The event, held on May 6, was sponsored by the Neutaconkanut Hill Conservancy, Inc. [NHC], the Providence Parks Department, The Rhode Island Tree Council, and the Blackstone Heritage Corridor.

The tree, dating back to at least 1880 (it appears in a photo dated that year), has been hallowed out over the years, causing concern for its future. According to Ricci, an NHC board member, the tree is self-pollinating and insect resistant, which may have contributed to its longevity. The groups held an apple grafting workshop during which 30 grafts were created.

“It doesn’t have too many years left,” said Ricci of the tree. Ricci spent several years renovating the house, built in 1768, and has been preserving the surrounding grounds, which include a two-seater outhouse, a barn and a blacksmith shop.

The “Special Walk & Talk” event also featured a talk by John Campanini of the R.I. Tree Council, who described “the perils of heirloom apple trees and efforts to perpetuate their diversity and bounty.” A guided walk to Hipses Rock (an original boundary point of lands given to Roger Williams) and a historical cemetery, also located on the grounds, was offered to participants,

as well as a tour of the recently renovated blacksmith shop.

Despite its age and condition, the apple tree continues to produce fruit every two years, and members of the Johnston Historical Society have made pies from the tree’s apples in past years. The apples themselves are said to taste tart, when uncooked.

The home’s prior owner, Mabel Atwood Sprague who was born in 1913 and last of the Harris and Atwood families, was a longtime member of the Johnston Historical Society before her death in November of 2006. She had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Johnston and the surrounding area.

And if one special tree wasn’t enough, a white mulberry tree on the property was also named to the 2017 Rhode Island Champion Tree list by the Rhode Island Tree Council.

[with photos by Beth Hurd]

Looking back: my first published digitial photo

Back in 2001, I was working for the former “Smithfield Observer,” which covered Smithfield, Scituate, Foster and Glocester, all in Northwest Rhode Island. Before this time, the newspaper’s photographers were given assignments, and given rolls of black and white film (for inside photos) and color film (for cover shots). With  the advent of digital photography, we could shoot one set of photos, which could be printed in color or black or white – and no more film developing in the office’s darkroom!  This was my first published digital photo, in November, 2001, of the late Roger Fontenault.first digital photo published.jpg