"ABOUT THE "G" COMPANY PHOTO COLLECTION"
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Chet Nycum

 

It may seem unusual, but the photograph albums which many troopers of the 503d have kept down through the years have in common a number of identical photographs. This has occurred beyond the simple expedient of printing extra photos and trading them between ourselves.

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It was at Demaguete, and it was my last day with “G” Company. I had been selected to return home on the point system. 

I’d had a number of cameras during my time overseas, Jap cameras, and had used the film in them, and discarded them when the film ran out. I had been using an 8 mm movie camera but was out of film. The camera was the type that you could run the film through twice, and when I had time I would go to the air field and get 16 mm film. After shooting it in one direction, I could rewind it by hand, and reload it under a poncho. Most of the film would never make it home, the government ‘borrowing’ it from me. I received a letter shortly after coming home stating that my pictures were being held “until the cessation of hostilities with Japan.”  Apparently, there are some public servants who are still unaware that military hostilities have ceased. I never tried to get the film.

 

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While gathering my personal belongings together, someone (probably Trooper Walter Jaco) suggested that we get a picture of the 3rd platoon with one of my cameras. 

The only camera available belonged to Mike Levac.  I went to Mike and asked if we could use the camera, he agreed and we proceeded to set up the shot using flags that I and others collected during our time in battle, including the Jap garrison flag from Corregidor.

 

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Mike took the first shot of the third platoon, then other groups wanted in on the act so we wound up getting pictures of the whole battalion, including the officers active at that time. Upon completion of the picture taking Mike removed the film from the camera and handed it to me, my plan was to carry it home have the film developed, and then distribute sets of the pictures to the members of G. Co. 

 Later that day Mike came to me and explained that he was in the photography business in the States and if I would allow him he would develop the group pictures and supply a set to any member of G. Co. that wanted a set. I was reluctant at first but Mike followed with the promise that he would return the negatives to me.

 I didn’t want to be losing the negatives, but with that promise I gave him the film.

 

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The idea of him being able to develop the film gave me another idea. In my barracks bag I had five rolls of film that I had been carrying,  dating back to Hollandia. These films were mixed – at the start of the rolls there were Jap photos, I assumed, for they owned the cameras. Then there were my photos, as I used up the film that was left in them.  I offered this film to Mike if he would include it with the group shots and make it available to the G. Co. members.   He agreed and I asked him if he would also let the guys know where the film came from.  He agreed to this too.

 

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Whether by accident or otherwise,  I never saw the negatives again. Six rolls. Mike survived the war, and sent me a set of the pictures.  I did receive a set of pictures, or what I expected was a set, because I had no way of knowing if they were all the photos on the films. But Mike had been good to his word, and I had photos – but no negatives. 

  These are the pictures which appear on the 503d Website in these pages. They come  from three sources. Firstly, they are from pictures I sent through the Army Censor, secondly from undeveloped film I sent home smuggled in Jap clothing, and thirdly the pictures Mike developed and printed from my collection. I have no problem separating these three groups. The Army Censor stamped the back of each shot. Mike stamped a number on each shot, and the ones I sent home have no marking because I told my family to have a friend develop them to keep them in secret.

 

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Mike didn’t jump on the Corregidor mission. He was assigned by some guardian angel to stand in the doorway of a C-47 and take pictures. Ah, the life of the photographer! Some of his shots turned out very good, and are displayed here in the G. Co. Collection. The balance of the Corregidor pictures were taken by me, using cameras removed from dead Japs as we moved forward.

 One I shall never forget, though, was a three shot series of Nick Baldassarre standing over what I assumed was his kill of two Nips in a bomb crater, who had fallen in a somewhat homosexual position. The shot was taken just to the left of the road leading down to north dock. I paused long enough to take the pictures and then proceed across bottomside and around Malinta Hill. In the interests of history, I’ve asked Paul not to display THAT one.

 

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Over the years, I’ve had a single desire in dealing with the photos, and that has been to make them available to the members of G. Co. On one occasion, a national photographic chain that I had approached to get copies made of them offered me a good sum ($5000) for the pictures, but I declined to give them the rights to exploit them commercially.  I will not allow them to be sold. My grandson will get them when I die, and I hope that he understands what it means to have something of great value, but to hold it in trust for heritage. It’s not an easy lesson for kids to learn these “instant gratification” days.

 

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At the Myrtle Beach reunion some years ago,  John Helms (Burr Head) accused me “of trying to steal Mike Levac’s thunder.” The unfairness of the comment hurt me, I’ll admit, to the point that I resigned from the association rather than argue the point.   I tried to contact Mike. I wrote letters and tried to contact him by phone all to no avail. I finally gave up and for several years had no contact with the Association.

 Fate plays tricks on us. I found, in the end, that although Mike Levac had made it home, he’d eventually made one plane trip too many. He was killed in a plane crash several years after the war, whilst taking pictures of an earthquake in Mexico.

 

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What happened to the negatives when he was killed, well I can’t ever say. I hope they’re around somewhere, not destroyed by some widow or grandchild who didn’t realize their historic worth. Unfortunately, all too many negatives just get lost in the sands of time.

I encourage you, if you are concerned that your children or grand-children cannot keep your collection together “in trust”, to make a provision in your will donating it to the 503d Association. At the end of the line, there will be a worthwhile museum, I trust.

  One day I received word that Sleepy Linton was coming to Washington to have his back looked at in Walter Reed hospital.  I contacted him and had him stop at my home, which is near Ft. Meade just south of Baltimore. It was through Sleepy’s insistence that I rejoined the Association.

 

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My desire to make the photos available to the members of G. Co. is the reason why I jumped at Paul Whitman’s suggestion that the photos be put on the Internet. That’s why I asked him to name them The G. Co. Collection. Now the world has them.

  So this is how the G. Co collection came to be, and I hope I have satisfied any doubters that, with their appearance on the website, no-one’s thunder is being stolen.  By the same reasoning, I’ll give up no thunder to anyone who might steal it from me.  

 

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Last Updated: 29-03-11