64 albums, approx. 3,500 photographs
On June 15, 1942, the army officially activated the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, under the command of the army’s Transportation Corps, with its headquarters in Newport News. By the end of World War II, more than 772,000 men and women had gone to war via the port. Hampton Roads saw even more arrivals than departures: 915,116 people, including U.S. wounded and European POWs. The Transportation Corps maintained a port historian’s office and regularly assigned Signal Corps photographers to document as much port-related activity as possible. In almost all cases, the individuals in the photographs are identified by name and rank.
Our U.S. Army Signal Corps Photograph Collection includes more than 3,500 individual 8 x 10″ black-and-white photographs from the Hampton Roads Embarkation Series, 1942–1946. These photos show, often in intimate and unexpected detail, the preparation and loading of war materials, daily activities of the U.S. Quartermaster Corps, U.S. military personnel arriving and departing through the ports of Hampton Roads, the work of civilian employees, WACs, Japanese-American servicemen, and the Red Cross, group portraits, wounded personnel, entertainers, animals, German and Italian prisoners of war, military funerals and religious observances, training and drills, equipment, vehicles and warships, aerial views of the port, and servicemen going to the barber or dentist, receiving communion, and relaxing in racially segregated dining facilities. The collection is significant for its account of all aspects of life at port, not just the strictly military, demonstrating that war is, above all, a deeply human undertaking.
Volume 35 of the collection comprises a special group of photos titled “The Odyssey of an American Soldier,” which traces the journey of one Private First Class Woodrow Arnold Powers, from the troop train arriving in Virginia from Texas, through his stay at Hampton Roads, to his voyage on a transport ship and eventual debarkation at an overseas port close to the combat zone.
Arrangement and access:
Photos are bound in modern albums. The Transportation Corps’ original organization has been maintained. This organization is chiefly chronological, often thematically sub-grouped (ex: “ships,” “infiltration course,” “WACs”).
All images from the collection can be accessed through the Library’s online digital collections.
William R. Wheeler (editor), The Road to Victory (2 volumes, 1946)
“Port of Embarkation: Signal Corps Photographs of Hampton Roads, 1942–1945,” Virginia Cavalcade 37, no. 2 (1987): 74
Related resources and collections:
The Mariners’ Museum Library in Newport News holds the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Index of Photographs, which corresponds to the photograph collection housed at the museum. This collection contains photos, all taken during WWII, of U.S. Army personnel and equipment, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ construction of the port, the American Red Cross (particularly women), the American Legion, civilians (including many African Americans), merchant marines, and Italian prisoners of war.