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“I was a gunner and a gun captain on a 90MM-AAA gun during World War II…”

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Now, maybe it’s happened to you: that “needle in a haystack,” “home run,” unbelievable find that blew you away, and brought joy to a researcher. We archival folks live for that moment.

Let me share with you one such moment from my career. During busy times in the Still Picture Branch, the processing staff can be called upon to help answer reference letters, or staff the research room. One day in early 1995, I was asked to help with the backlog of letters.

This one from Mr. Evan Evans looked promising:

Letter from Mr. Evans

Letter from Mr. Evans

A 90mm antiaircraft gun? No problem! We have tons of photos of various artillery pieces and vehicles in our files. Or so I thought.

I spent half the day trying to track down a decent shot of the antiaircraft gun Mr. Evans requested, and I came up empty. Then I read through his letter again. He and his gun crew set a record for downing 12 Japanese bombers over Rendova? Maybe they had been photographed after their feat; the military services are always on the lookout for a good story to tell the folks back home.

So I checked out series 127-GW, under the heading Rendova . . . and what do you know?

evans gunner

From left to right: Pfc Evan Evans; Pvt. Roy E. Boone; and Pfc. John S.Gembarowski. Full caption on the negative jacket pictured below.

Original jacket of the negative image

Original jacket of the negative image

Needless to say, I was amazed, and Mr. Evans was overjoyed! He wrote me a touching letter saying how he’d never expected that a photo of him would be in the Archives. Seeing it brought back for him a flood of memories and emotions. And yep, I teared up, too.

Some time later, a new orientation exhibit was being installed in the basement area of Archives II and there was a call for “success stories” among the staff. I sent along my story, and it was selected for display. Here it is in 2013.

exhibit evans

Making someone’s day—there’s really nothing better! What needles have you found in your archival haystack? Tell us about your home run!

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Comments

Comment from Peg E.
Time February 5, 2014 at 1:03 pm

This is an amazing story. Thanks, Alan!

Comment from Mike Everman
Time February 5, 2014 at 6:02 pm

What a great connection through the years!!! That is why we keep doing this work.

Comment from L. Weathersby
Time February 5, 2014 at 10:01 pm

I hope to find a needle in a haystack like this. I would be excited to just find photos of 12th Defense Battalion members on Peleliu where my father served. Hope to send a formal request soon.

Comment from Tamara G.
Time February 6, 2014 at 11:40 am

I love it when this happens! Great story!

Comment from Rick Blondo
Time February 6, 2014 at 4:04 pm

I’ve led over a hundred tours of that exhibit area in my time with NARA and always include the Evan Evans story. It exemplifies the surprises that can be found in our vast holdings; our service to the research public; the work of dedicated staff members who preserve, maintain, research, and find records to meet researcher needs; and the impact such records can have on those affected. Nice to learn the account of your sleuthing, Alan! Well done!

Comment from JEFF EVANS
Time March 9, 2014 at 1:55 am

Dear Mr. Walker. I was surprised and excited to find this photo of my late father, Evan Evans. He also served in the Korean War, and left as a SSgt. He was always proud of the “Corps.” Excellent work Alan!

Alan Walker Reply:

Mr. Evans – I was so happy to have made your dad’s day. Left me with the best feeling, and still does!