World War II photo: Trying to put names to faces
Who are these men?
With war raging in Europe — and just before nationwide registration for Selective Service was initiated in November 1940 — the Wilton Volunteer Training Corps was formed in September 1940.
The men in the photo which accompanies this story were members of the corps. The photo is credited to ACME Newsphotos (later absorbed by United Press International) with a date of Feb. 25, 1941. The photo was purchased last month on eBay by Bill Sterling, a former Wiltonian with deep roots here. He sent a copy of the photo to Scotty Taylor at Wilton Library’s History Room and she sent it to The Bulletin asking for assistance in identifying any of the men pictured.
Former First Selectman Bob Russell confirmed the photo was taken in Wilton Town Hall.
The wire copy that accompanied the photo is datelined Wilton, Conn., and says, in part, “This little town of 2,200 souls is determined to be prepared in men and in resources, no matter what the future may bring in a world torn by wars and hatreds. And, this town, like in Revolutionary War days, is doing something about it.”
That something was the training corps. According to an account in the Sept. 5, 1940 issue of The Bulletin, a “full platoon of recruits turned up” for the first evening of training on Sept. 3 when they paraded in the auditorium and listened to retired World War I Col. Robert C. F. Goetz speak on the importance of military training “because of the crisis which faces their country.”
There were weekly drills and lectures at Orem’s Field and town hall.
According to Russell’s book, “Wilton Connecticut, Three Centuries of People, Places and Progress,” about 20% of the corps members were deemed physically fit and of the right age to enter regular military service. The rest continued to train and remained as a home guard.
At the same time the corps was formed, Wilton also formed a defense committee, as requested in a letter from Gov. Raymond E. Baldwin. A committee of 19 was formed “for the sole purpose of preparing for the protection of our American Republic,” The Bulletin reported.
At the time this photo was taken, when the corps was about five months old, members had begun using an indoor shooting range set up in the basement of town hall in January 1941, and The Bulletin reported “not a single shot went wider of the bull’s-eye than six inches.” Plans were in place to build an outdoor shooting range.
According to the wire report with the photo, the men were also trained in Morse code, Army telegraph, map making and reading, bayonet practice and mechanical work.
Sterling, who now lives in Virginia, said that since he has been retired “I’m now able to do things I’ve had on the back burner all my life, with no work, job or what have you to bother me.
“What I do, I’m on eBay and I key in anything Wilton that comes up.” This photo, he said, was one of the things that came up. “I thought it was so cool, I paid about $15,” he said. It came from an organization called HistoricImages in Memphis, Tenn., which has more than 9 million photos from 11 newspaper archives in its possession.
Sterling, who grew up on Honey Hill Road and is a 1962 graduate of Wilton High School, said he circulated the photo among his classmates, but no one has volunteered any names so far.
Should anyone recognize any of the men in the photo, they are asked to call the library’s history room and leave a message at 203-762-3950, ext. 223.