Jun 18

Property of Frank H. Wilson

Thursday, June 18, 2015 8:39 AM

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During my first summer at USNI as photo researcher, I made a friend. Actually, this friend does not work here or anywhere else. His name is Frank H. Wilson, a Chief Photographer for the U.S. Navy. Incidentally he served from 1911 to 1945. So yes, he is no longer with us, but he does live on in our archives.

While looking through the many photo albums and scrapbooks in the archives, I noticed several were the property of one Frank H. Wilson. The albums, donated in the 1980s by M.T. Wandell, YNC USN (Ret.), were numerous. The search was on to see if I could discover who this mysterious Frank H. Wilson was before his photo albums arrived at USNI, and how the donor came to possess his albums.

Working for the US Naval Institute brings with it contacts in the military history field. The editor-in-chief of Naval History, Richard Latture, was lucky enough to have a contact at the National Archives (NARA) with the Navy/Maritime Reference Department who very gladly provided me the email of an archivist working for NARA in St. Louis where the service record books are stored.

All I had was a name and a few dates from the albums, which placed his service during the 1920s. I compiled a short outline based on captions and other information written in the photo albums. Frank H. Wilson served as part of the camera crew with the US Navy during the 1920s. According to the first archivist I spoke with, being part of the camera crew would have made him an officer. Wilson primarily served on the USS New Mexico, traveling to Alaska & Canada in July-August 1920, Hawaii in September 1920 followed by Panama & Chile in 1921. He was part of the Aerial Mapping Class NAS Pensacola, 1926. He traveled again to Panama & Haiti in 1926-1927 and the last album dated 1928 has him in Hawaii and California.

I figured with this limited information it would take months for anyone in St. Louis to help but after almost 3 years here I have learned to be surprised at nothing. No sooner did I send my email than the wonderful archivist replied saying she found the record book and could send me a copy. I anticipated its arrival, hardly believing I would actually get a chance to read it.

It arrived and to say it would be a quick read would be a vast understatement! It weighed at least 5 pounds and was a good 5 inches thick.

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What I discovered while reading it in reverse chronological order was remarkable.

  • There is a record of a common-law marriage that ended when his wife proved to have a husband already
  • Two birth years that led me to believe he lied about his age to enlist
  • Note of the tattoo in memory of his mother
  • Finally the mysterious M.T. Wandell revealed himself. In 1932 Frank H. Wilson married Florence who came with two sons, one of whom was named Mortimer Townsend Wandell.

Here are just a few of the photos from his many albums documenting his career in the Navy. He began as an Apprentice Seaman on 4 May 1911, retiring in 1939 for medical reasons. Then returned to active duty for service during World War II in June of 1941. He was finally discharged in 1945. The albums only cover the interwar years but still they offer amazing insight into the Navy during this time.

Alaska & Canada July 10-August 12, 1920

Ketehikan From the Hills

One of many scenic photos taken on the trip which included traveling inland for hunting and fishing

"The Bozos" USS Sinclair

“The Bozos” USS Sinclair, I’m guessing bozos is said with love

Hawaii-September 1920

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According to other photos in the album, the gang “borrowed” these pineapples

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In another photo, the sailors found a hot spring, where the bathing attire was less formal

In another photo, the sailors found a hot spring, where the bathing attire was less formal

Panama & Chile 1921

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Captioned “Real Beer” the Sailors have the chance to enjoy a beer on this trip to Panama and Chile as¬†Prohibition made all alcohol illegal in the U.S. at this time

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I do hope this sailor new this was a joke

I do hope this sailor knew this was a joke

Panama Canal Locks

Panama Canal Locks

USN Air Station Pensacola, Florida July 1926-December 1926

Aerial Mapping Class with their cameras

Aerial Mapping Class with their cameras

Surviving the hurricane that came through in September 1926

Surviving the hurricane that came through in September 1926

Cleaning up after the hurricane

Cleaning up after the hurricane

Again this is only a small sampling of the photos Frank H. Wilson took and preserved in his albums. And his albums are only a small sampling what else lies in the USNI Archives.