Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

Lesser-seen color photos showing the U.S. military in the 1940s

By Kenneth Dickerman

May 28, 2018 at 6:00 AM

A driver operates a tank at Fort Knox in Kentucky in June 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
An instructor explains the operation of a parachute to student pilots at Meacham Field in Fort Worth in January 1942. (Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress/)

Between 1939 and 1944, a group of photographers working for the government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) and then the Office of War Information (OWI) shot about 1,600 color photos. These photos depict life in rural America and the mobilization efforts for World War II.

The FSA was created in 1937 from an earlier agency named the Resettlement Administration. The RA had been created by a 1935 executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help struggling farmers and sharecroppers by providing loans, purchasing depleted farmland and resettling destitute families into government-designed communities.

Roosevelt tapped a former Columbia University economics professor, Rexford G. Tugwell, to lead the RA’s efforts. In turn, Tugwell appointed one of his former students to head the RA’s historical section. That former student was named Roy Stryker, and the task given to him was to form a team of photographers who would document hardships nationwide, particularly across the Midwest and in California.

In 1942, six months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt created the OWI. While the FSA was created to depict the hardships that farmers were facing, the OWI’s mission was to foster patriotism as the nation mobilized for war during World War II. In that vein, it served as a government propaganda arm. The majority of the photos that the FSA and the OWI produced were black and white and are those that people are more familiar with. The color photos shown here are far less frequently seen.

A sailor at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Tex., in August 1942 wears a new type of protective clothing and gas mask designed for use in chemical warfare. (Howard R. Hollem/Library of Congress/)
Jesse Rhodes Waller, A.O.M., third class, tests a 30-caliber machine gun he just installed on a plane at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Tex., in August 1942. (Howard R. Hollem/Library of Congress/)
Cadet Thanas at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Tex., in August 1942. (Howard R. Hollem/Library of Congress/)
A Marine glider at Page Field at Parris Island, S.C., in May 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
Personnel inspect the landing wheel of transport planes at the Willow Run manufacturing plant near Ypsilanti, Mich., which produced B-24 Liberator bombers during World War II, sometime between 1941 and 1945. (Howard R. Hollem/Library of Congress/)
Returning from a practice flight at Meacham Field in Fort Worth in January 1942. (Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress/)
A bomber pilot, captain in a bombardment squadron, is seen just before climbing aboard his YN-17 bombing plane in May 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
A worker touches up the U.S. Army Air Force insignia on the side of the fuselage of a Vultee Vengeance dive bomber manufactured at Vultee’s Nashville division in February 1943. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
A Marine lieutenant and glider pilot in training is seen at Page Field at Parris Island, S.C., in May 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
A 16-inch coast artillery gun stamped “Watervliet Arsenal 1921” at Fort Story, Va., in March 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
A color guard of engineers, taken sometime between 1941 and 1945. (OWI/Library of Congress/)
The driver of a Marine truck, New River, N.C., in May 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
A Marine sergeant in New Orleans, sometime between 1941 and 1945. (Howard R. Hollem/Library of Congress/)
Servicing an A-20 bomber at Langley Field in Virginia in July 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
A Coast Guard sentry stands watch over a torpedo boat under construction at a southern shipyard in New Orleans in July 1942. (Howard. R. Hollem/Library of Congress/)
A sailor and a woman at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Washington in May 1943. (John Collier Jr./Library of Congress/)
A member of the Fort Story, Va., coastal defense, in March 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
A soldier operates a light tank at Fort Knox in Kentucky in June 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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Kenneth Dickerman is a photo editor. He previously worked as a photo editor at MSN in Seattle and TIME in New York City. Before that, he worked as a freelance photographer specializing in politics and conflict and his work appeared in The New York Times, TIME and US News & World Report among other publications.

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In Sight | Perspective

Lesser-seen color photos showing the U.S. military in the 1940s

By Kenneth Dickerman

May 28, 2018 at 6:00 AM

A driver operates a tank at Fort Knox in Kentucky in June 1942. (Alfred T. Palmer/Library of Congress/)
An instructor explains the operation of a parachute to student pilots at Meacham Field in Fort Worth in January 1942. (Arthur Rothstein/Library of Congress/)

Between 1939 and 1944, a group of photographers working for the government’s Farm Security Administration (FSA) and then the Office of War Information (OWI) shot about 1,600 color photos. These photos depict life in rural America and the mobilization efforts for World War II.

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