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Interview with William Wilson [June 7, 2002]

Larry Ordner:

This tape is made June 7th, 2002, with William Robinson Wilson, date of birth 12/18/1914. Mr. Wilson resides at 927 North Hart in Princeton, Indiana, a native of Audubon, Iowa; served in the United States army in the army pictorial service. His highest rank attained was captain and served from June 1941 to April 1945 and has very unique experiences as an army photographer. Bill, tell me what was your background coming into the service in terms of photography? What kind of experience had you had before or were you involved in photography before the army?

William Wilson:

I was in the ROTC at what is now Iowa State University. It was Iowa State College then. I was -- being in the middle of the Depression, I was working my way through college and I began to use photographs to further my employment for the University and at the same time I was taking the basic two years of military training which were required and then, in addition, I took two more years plus a six-week session of summer camp at Fort Riley, Kansas. But the -- my experience in -- my experiences of photographic officer came about in a rather strange way. My original commission was as a lieutenant in the field artillery, which came with my graduation from Iowa State. But shortly thereafter, the army, in it's -- in it's infinite wisdom, decided to form photographic companies and so there were a total of -- total of nine photographic companies that began consecutively, the 161st, 162nd and so on up to a typographical error which made the last one, instead of 169, 196; that is what I mean by the army's infinite wisdom. And so just prior to -- well, I went on active duty. As I was ordered to active duty as a photographic officer and I reported to the post commander at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, with orders to join the 162nd -- to join 102nd signal company photo. And when I arrived there nobody had ever heard of the 102nd signal company photo. Since my experience had all been in the field artillery, but my orders read signal core. So they put me to work with the post signal officer doing what I had never had the slightest bit of experience in doing, pulling cables under pavement -- and the post was mushrooming at that time. And I did that for about three months and finally I could see I wasn't getting anywhere photographically. So I sent a letter to second army headquarters in Memphis requesting that I be relieved from Fort Sheridan and a reply came back immediately from Memphis: The request is denied, this officer will report immediately to the 162nd signal photographic company at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. This was all prior to Pearl Harbor, of course. And so when I arrived at Camp Robinson, Arkansas, the photographic company was on maneuvers on the -- well, our maneuvers were in Louisiana and one other state, I forgot. But anyhow, we got indoctrinization with signal photographic company policies there and I remember one night particularly we had moved into a town and we set up. We always set up our photo labs in the chemistry department of the local high school. And one night while I was -- I guess I was probably duty officer that day -- all of a sudden there were sirens and flashing red lights and all kinds of excitement in the city park, which was just across the road from the -- where our lab was in the high school and we found out afterward that the -- our enemy, so called enemy -- we were the red army and the enemy was the blue army, and blue army's chief of staff was a name nobody could ever pronounce and the newspapers could never spell it correctly, his name. And he had sent a team out, infiltrated our lines, to kidnap the commanding general of our army. Well, the commanding general was Uncle Ben Lear and he was attending a party somewhere. So they set the wastebasket on fire in his office and skedaddled back into their own lines, but the chief of staff who arranged this whole affair was a young lieutenant colonel by the name of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and we heard quite a bit about him later. But that -- now that was something that brought the name Eisenhower -- or was added to his 201 file. So when General Marshall saw that, it indicated that here was an officer who wasn't going to practice Civil War characteristics. He was more the Blitzkrieg type of general. So after the maneuvers were over and we were back in camp at Camp Robinson, our training continued and the maneuvers were over, I think, in late October and in December, December 7th, was Pearl Harbor and so then --

Larry Ordner:

Bill, where were you when you got that news, do you remember?

William Wilson:

Yes, I do. I was driving from my home in Little Rock. It was on a Sunday, if I can recall, and so some duty officers were on duty and I was going over to pick up a brother officer and his wife and their son, his name was -- still is Lieutenant Peshak, P-E-S-H-A-K, and on my way over I had the radio in my car turned on and the news came through that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

Larry Ordner:

What was your reaction?

William Wilson:

I knew that my tenure -- see my original orders called for one year of active duty and it was the same with the enlisted personnel, many of whom where drafted for one year. But, of course, after Pearl Harbor we all knew that it wasn't going to be a year.

Larry Ordner:

When did you actually form what was to become the army pictorial service? When did that actually take shape that you were going to be part of this unit that was going to be documentary, among other things?

William Wilson:

Well, army pictorial service was an all-inclusive name which covered all the activities of all nine signal photographic companies and the table of organization of a signal photographic company consisted of a captain and seven or eight lieutenants and each lieutenant had a photographic unit and then we had our common laboratory for processing our film and so forth. But we -- since the -- since the table of organization called for a captain who stayed behind the -- behind the lines and a number of lieutenants, each of whom commanded a small six man photo unit, the captain was never shot at so there was no opportunity for advancement as long as we were under that table of organization. So I served from June 1, '41, until May '45 as a lieutenant and a lot of my pictures are -- the credit lines were lieutenant.

Larry Ordner:

How is it determined what kind of assignments you were going to get and where you were going to be sent?

William Wilson:

Well, I don't know.

Larry Ordner:

I was wondering too how the army determined -- they probably used these images for, I know, for lots and lots of reasons, but the army had reasons for having this kind of pictorial service as part of the army because they use that for their own function as well.

William Wilson:

Well, the army -- the army was very fortunate in this respect. They didn't know anything about photography and they had in their files photographs from back to the days of the Mexican War in the 1800s. They had just -- even Civil War pictures, but when I -- after the war, when I went to the Pentagon in Washington and talked to the colonel who was in charge of the war's pictorial history, I pointed out to him that one of my pictures had been published in the army's photographic history of World War II as -- with an erroneous caption, said that it had been made -- well, I've seen it several ways -- Casablanca, Morocco or Algiers, Algeria and I pointed out to him that I had made the pictures and it was made at Oran, Algeria. And he looked at me and he said, "Lieutenant, we don't make mistakes. And I said, "Thank you, sir," and turned on my heel and walked out. And then at about that same time I talked to a lady who was in charge of the photographic files, which were all in the Pentagon at that time, and I gave her the same story. Well, she said, "How do I know?" The caption sheets that went with the photographs always had the name of the officer or the enlisted man who had shot the pictures and the caption sheet on this air raid picture of mine read Lieutenant William R. Wilson. Well, the lady said, "How do I know that you are William R. Wilson?" Well, I happen to have a small copy of my official photographer's pass in my wallet and I showed that to her and she said, "Well, how do I know that you made this picture?" And so we talked a while and she went back in the files and pulled the picture out and the caption sheet read Lieutenant William R. Wilson. So we got it straightened out. As far as the army's records are concerned, they were correct.

Larry Ordner:

Anything you shot of an official -- technically belonged to the army?

William Wilson:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

Do they retain those negatives today?

William Wilson:

I --

Larry Ordner:

Probably?

William Wilson:

I don't think they are at the Pentagon any longer. I think they are in the National Archives and Records Service in Washington.

Larry Ordner:

Now, you have -- you do possess prints of most of your official work?

William Wilson:

No. No, not anywhere near. Only I kept for myself only photographs the subjects of which I felt would be of interest to my family and friends back home.

Larry Ordner:

Are there images of an official nature that you feel are very important images? For you looking at your career as a documentary photographer, are you looking at these images that the army might still have that are important?

William Wilson:

I'm sure they have the original negatives and their files are -- ran from floor to ceiling in long, long rows of files in album form and I saw that day some photographs that I recognized were mine that I had forgotten that I ever shot. But have I gotten off the track here?

Larry Ordner:

No, I was saying I hope those images still exist.

William Wilson:

Well, I think they do. You know, in those days, photography, the technical side of filmmaking and of film has not reached the state of that we are used to today and particularly those photographs that were made -- that were made on the job out in the country, sometimes the negatives were not washed properly and they'd develop stains or other physical damage. But I think -- I think probably when they got them back in Washington originally I hope they rewashed all those negatives, because if they didn't their life is limited.

Larry Ordner:

Can you tell me some of the assignments that you went on in an official capacity? What were some of the more memorable assignments you went on in photography?

William Wilson:

Well, right after Pearl Harbor several of us and our units, our vehicles, our equipment and all were sent out on temporary duty as either division or core assignment units. Actually, it was all division assignment units. And my unit was sent to the fifth motorized division in Camp -- Fort -- I'm sorry, the name slips my mind. Leave a blank in there if you can and I'll -- well, it was at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. There, it came back. And we served there and we were shooting, we were shooting for historical record. We were shooting for new sources in the states. We were sent on one occasion to Saint Louis, on another occasion to Chicago on the Fourth of July to photograph proceedings there and there is -- I'm sorry this is so longwinded, but what actually happened there was the photo editor of the Chicago Herald American found out somehow that there was an army photographer -- photographic unit in Chicago for the ceremony and at that time the army would not let any civilian photographers, news photographers, professional photographers, would not let them off the ground. So he called me and asked me if I would make some photographs for them from the air of soldier field, which was completely filled and people were standing outside trying to get in for the ceremonies honoring General McArthur. So I said sure, I would be happy to do that. So the army pilot by the name of Chandler, Speed Chandler (ph), and I flew out of the old Midway Airport in Chicago and I made some fairly low altitude photographs of soldier field and they appeared eight columns -- one of my pictures was eight columns wide that same evening on the street in Chicago. I gave my exposed film to the photo department at the Herald American. They developed it, printed it, and it was on the street at eight that evening, and Verne Waily (ph) was a mighty, mighty happy man that evening. He called me afterwards and offered me a full-time job with the photographic department after the war was over, which I never followed up on, of course. But there were others of my areal photographs were on the overrun inside that issue.

Larry Ordner:

How did you find out you were going to be traveling to Europe?

William Wilson:

Well, when we got back from Chicago there were orders waiting for us to return to Camp Robinson in Arkansas. And, of course, we knew what that meant; that meant we would be heading overseas. And so the entire signal photo company wound up going by train to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, which was a port of embarkation for the -- well, it was England, England and Scotland. We found ourselves aboard the Queen Mary on the 5th of September, '42. And we and the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth always traveled alone, unescorted, across the Atlantic Ocean to the Clyde River in Scotland. And we, of course, we -- the only way we could tell which direction we were headed was by going outside -- the ships were both blacked out, of course -- going out on the open deck and looking at the stars. And one night I noticed that we had -- you see the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth didn't just sail straight across. They zigzagged all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and when we -- about our fourth or fifth night out I noticed we had changed north and we were heading north towards Polaris, the north star, and in the morning when we woke up it was cold and we were going around the northern edge of Ireland and into the Firth of Clyde, where we disembarked at Greenock in Scotland, within a stone's throw of where both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth had been built. And then we went by train that night down to London and south to London and then west up onto the Lavington Plain, a little community called Diviasis (ph), and we were quartered in tens. It leaked when it rained and when we get there it was late at night. We went to bed on army cots, bare army cots. So we slept in all of our clothing plus our GI overcoats to try and keep warm. Later we got better quarters, indoor quarters, Blandford Camp.

Larry Ordner:

Tell me then, Bill, from the time when you finally arrived, how is it determined how the pictorial service was going to be used? Do you think they knew at that time what your role was going to be?

William Wilson:

We were sent. The officers and the cameraman were sent to the headquarters in London for training by British photographic personnel and we spent about a week there and we were on our way back to Blandford when my unit was intercepted by another group and we were ordered not to return to Blandford Camp. They had packed up all of our personal belongings and had them in the jeeps and we spent a very cold, very discouraging night, ordered to report to the -- to the water front at Liverpool for shipment out. Where we didn't know, but we found out later, we were headed for North Africa, the Mediterranean and then North Africa. So there is so much more that I could tell you, but we can't prolong this interview to the -- because this was -- we were headed for French North Africa and when we came ashore there we found ourselves shooting at and being shot by not Germans, not Italians, but French, the French army. I think everybody in the French army and everybody in the civilian population had been expecting us any minute. But we came ashore, climbed down a rope ladder from the Derbyshire, which was the name of the ship that we had sailed on from Liverpool, England, down through the straits of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean and then on east almost to Algiers. And we went ashore there on the morning of the 8th of November, 1942, and that is when our experience as army photographers really began. I remember the first day we were there we were shot at by a trigger happy English pilot flying what was called a Seafire fighter plane. It was a -- it was a carrier-based version of the old Spitfire that became so popular during World War II and the pilot himself crash-landed his plane on a dune and I photographed the airplane afterwards. But he -- I don't think he was hurt because the airplane didn't appear to be damaged very much.

Larry Ordner:

Just curious, were you guys satisfied with the kind of equipment that you were issued or would you have preferred to use other kinds of equipment? (Laugh)

Larry Ordner:

Seriously.

William Wilson:

Let's go back just a little ways back to Liverpool on the -- on one morning, Hollywood's gift to the American army -- the name was Daryl Zanuck, you may have heard of him, but he was -- he had the idea of shooting a -- both still and motion pictures out of the invasion of North Africa and when he came aboard the Derbyshire and found my men and me, he was the only officer that -- he was the only -- he was the only full colonel, what we call the chicken colonel, who ever wore diamond studded shoulder insignia, but he had brought aboard ship with him -- with us -- at that time all of our equipment consisted of Speed Graphic four by five cameras and Bell and Howell Eyemo motion picture cameras, but Colonel Zanuck brought us 35 millimeter Kodak 35s, all metal and painted olive drab, and I think we got three, my unit got three of those, I believe, and a beautiful scenic Kodak special 16 millimeter movie camera, which later wound up on the bottom of the Kasserine River, where my sergeant, Larry Meuler (ph) threw the camera in the river and then swam the river to get away from the Germans, the Battle of Kasserine Pass. So the --

Larry Ordner:

How did people feel at that time using 35?

William Wilson:

We had all been using 35s long before. In fact, I had a little better -- it was a better than a Kodak 35 because it had a range finder, my personal camera, a range finder, but I had left that at home. I didn't bring that overseas with me. And the colonel -- now this is -- this is a little bit off the record, I think -- but we were told that Colonel Zanuck and General Eisenhower tangled and Colonel Zanuck went home back to Hollywood and we never saw him again after the North African campaign was over.

Larry Ordner:

Well, you were in a unit that had such a specialized mission. Looking back now, Bill, after all these years, how do you view the role that that unit played in the military and the work that was done?

William Wilson:

Well, I understood at the time that there were four photo units from the old 162nd signal photo company. Mine, Lieutenant Klein's unit, Lieutenant Judge's, Jack Judge's unit and one other, I can't remember who commanded that, but it was another lieutenant from our 162nd. Jack Judge's unit wound up in Casablanca and made some of the real fine photographs of president Roosevelt's trip to Casablanca to meet with Winston Churchill and various and sundry other leaders. It's too bad Jack Judge is dead now and so is Lieutenant Klien -- and who in the world is that other one? I think I'm the only one who is still --

Larry Ordner:

That was very good work though, wasn't it, that was done?

William Wilson:

Yes. Yes. As the lady -- if we may refer back just a minute to the post -- my post-war encounter with the lady in the Pentagon, she said, "The photographs that you made -- you all made that the army produced, the photographs that you produced during World War II are the finest that we have in our files." And I said "Well, do you know why that was?" She said, "No, why was it?" I said "Because they were all shot on four by five negatives." They weren't shot on 35 millimeter film as most of my unofficial pictures were, but they were including this air raid picture which was picked as one of 26 great photographs of World War II. It was published in a booklet, printed by the manufacturer of our Speed Graphic cameras and I have -- I have several copies of that publication. On the cover was a picture of a depth charge exploding made by a Navy photographer. My picture, which I entitled "Hell over Oran" was the double face centerfold in the booklet and then there was another picture that I remember very, very, vividly was raising the flag at Iwo Jima, which was the original photograph was never made -- was never published, I think, because it was reshot posed later.

Larry Ordner:

The film that was shot there, was that Joe Rosenthal?

William Wilson:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

I guess I always wondered. The still that everybody sees was recreated, is that what you said?

William Wilson:

Yes. He shot one but he didn't like it. So they gathered this group of marines. I think they were all marines, weren't they?

Larry Ordner:

I think so.

William Wilson:

Anyway, they posed the picture.

Larry Ordner:

I'll be darned.

William Wilson:

You notice how beautifully the flag flies up. And there is a --

Larry Ordner:

Is that widely known?

William Wilson:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

Is it?

William Wilson:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

I wasn't sure.

William Wilson:

It's not publicized, I suppose, and I have a letter in my files at home from Felix de Weldons, who was the sculptor who created the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. I made the picture for Better Homes and Gardens years later and then I was very surprised when the magazine sent me a letter from him saying that that was the best picture he had ever seen of his sculpture and he wanted to obtain for himself color prints of it, which in those days were very, very expensive. And I saw -- answered his letter and I told him I could arrange to get color copies for him. When I told him how much they cost, he never answered my letter. But anyway, let's see. We're through the North African campaign now, if you will.

Larry Ordner:

We're going to have to --

William Wilson:

After the campaign in North Africa was over, our next stop was Sicily, the island of Sicily, the football at the toe of the Italian boot. And I was in Sicily stationed there for about almost a year, after which we followed up the invasion of Italy proper at Salerno and I was in Italy with my photo unit working as far north as Rome, where we smuggled a Speed Graphic camera and flash bulbs and film into the Vatican throne room to photograph the pope, which was explicitly forbidden, and we were fortunate there that we didn't create an international incident, but it didn't. And the next morning we went --In France we land at Marseilles and followed the Lyon River north. We had intended to set up our headquarters in Marseilles, but the Germans were running so fast ahead of us that we wound up in the town of Dijon; yes, that is where the mustard comes from and also the fine burgundy wine. But we were stationed in Dijon until I was incapacitated when we were moving again. Our laboratory in Dijon was the finest single core laboratory I have ever seen outside the United States. And while we were loading our equipment to board trucks to move north farther to Nancy or Nuncy (ph), as the French pronounce it, one of our civilian employees and I were carrying a heavy, heavy, chest full of boxes of photographic paper which having a silver emulsion and were very, very, heavy. And I wound up in the hospital with a broken toe when we dropped that (?B.C. fire chest?). I got up from under it all except my toe. So I was in the hospital there and then shortly after that there had been -- as I explained to you earlier, there had never been any opportunity for a promotion. So I got the one of the signal core officers who was a close friend of mine and he arranged me -- he arranged to transfer me out of photography into a new prisoner of war camp that was calling for officers to staff this -- staff prisoner of war camps all over that area and so I didn't like the idea too well because I didn't -- I wasn't too encouraged at the prospect of working with German prisoners, but it worked out alright. Eventually I got my promotion to captain and on -- on May 26th, wasn't that V-E Day in Europe? I think the 26th of May '45, was the victory day for the Americans in Europe. And those of us who had been overseas the longest and those of us who were married and had children back in the states were ordered to what -- what was called the cigarette camps. They were embarkation camps in northern France, each of which was named for a type of cigarette and so from -- from there it was the old army game hurry up and wait. And some of us went to Paris on leave and -- because there was nothing to do except just wait for ground transportation to get us aboard ship and on our way home. And before we left for home I had orders cut to enable me to go to Germany and get permission from General Patent's (ph) headquarters to buy some fine German photographic equipment. So then after that then it was just a matter of -- I made one more unofficial trip. I wanted to see the spot in General Eisenhower's headquarters at Reims, France, which is still kept today exactly as it was the night the German's surrendered -- and I got a picture of that for my pictorial record. And from there we moved all the way south back to Marseilles on the Mediterranean, where there was a transport ship waiting with steam up to take off from the states.

Larry Ordner:

Where did you arrive back in the States, sir?

William Wilson:

Staten Island, New York City. And then from there we were all broken up and each one of us traveled to his destination. I was headed back to Iowa and the nearest army installation was at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois, and so that's where I was separated from the service.

Larry Ordner:

This -- for the men who you photographed with, I mean the body of work that you as a group compiled is really quite admirable; isn't it? I mean, it's really a fine piece of work.

William Wilson:

Well, as I explained a little earlier, I saw a lot of pictures in the Pentagon in their files that I had actually made and I had forgotten, but I had recognized them when I saw the pictures.

Larry Ordner:

Were those images tagged by the individual photographer?

William Wilson:

They were, but I'll tell you a little story. You know, army pictorial service, everything was not sweetness and light with army pictorial service because there was two factions of army photographers. There were the photographers from the old school, including some that were graduates of the Signal Corps Photographic School of Astoria on Long Island and then there were the Hollywood gang that came out of California and there was very little, very little respect from -- between the two -- the two groups. And most of our problem in army pictorial service was due to the fact that we were never credited when our photographs were published. Individual photographers were never allowed to be credited by name. And by way of closing I'll tell you the story about only one signal core photographer ever received credit for his pictures when they were published and he was a lieutenant from a 165th signal photographic company, I think it was, and he conceived the idea that when he went on the Normandy invasion on June 6th, '44, he was going to take with him a carrier pigeon and he was going to shoot a roll of 35 millimeter film and then attach it, the little film cassette, to the leg -- one of the legs of this carrier pigeon and then he would aim the pigeon toward England and toss him up in the air and in due time he would arrive in England along with the first combat photos of the D-Day Invasion.

Larry Ordner:

What was the photographers name, if you can remember?

William Wilson:

Yes, I have his name. But anyway, what happened, the best laid plans, you know, sometimes have a way of not working out. The -- the pigeon became disoriented and instead of flying north toward England, he flew south over the German lines and a subsequent issue of the German army newspaper published a splendid layout of American army photographs complete with identification of the young lieutenant from the 165th who shot the pictures and that was the only instance I knew of -- I heard of where an army pictorial service photographer --

Larry Ordner:

Well, it would be really interesting to know where that work is and where it's archived?

William Wilson:

Well, I think today they're in the national archives in Washington. They were, of course, for many, many years in the Pentagon.

Larry Ordner:

Although there were never any bylines given, were the photographs, prints, negatives tagged in any way at that time by the photographer?

William Wilson:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

So presumably, your work, it would still be possible to identify your work?

William Wilson:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

I was curious about that.

William Wilson:

Official photographs that my unit made, including myself, each -- each negative was -- carried a complete caption and the name of the photographer. But not until we got home and went through the World War II copies of Life Magazine that we had all missed in Europe did we recognized some of our own pictures published in Life and Look and various other sources, including the army's official history photographic history of the Mediterranean Theater part of World War II.

Larry Ordner:

It's too bad. I always feel that so many of those images that everybody recognizes, that so often the name of the photographer is sometimes never ever written and it might be recognized as a great image, but never a thought given to who was standing there with camera and what that person was going through to get that image.

William Wilson:

I was fortunate because the only actual combat that I was involved with was the day we arrived in North Africa and were battling the French and the press in the United States called that a peaceful landing in north Africa. But we had, I think, well over several hundred killed and more wounded and missing, but that didn't -- that's not the way it was. It was not a peaceful invasion.

Larry Ordner:

Bill, is there anything else you would want to add before we close your recording?

William Wilson:

It's a funny thing. Well. I guess I didn't say anything about meeting Ernie Pile (ph) in North Africa. Ernie didn't come in on the initial invasion on November 8th. He came in about a week or ten days later and he and I became good friends and hoped that one day we could get together and compare notes after the war, but, of course, Ernie was killed.

Larry Ordner:

What was your most memorable encounter maybe with Ernie? Do you have a couple of quick stories you could tell about it?

William Wilson:

Yes, that was Christmas in '42. Ernie was -- was a late arrival. I had been there for a month, about a month or almost two months by that time. And I had went into Ernie's room to see how he was doing. I hadn't seen him for several days and as it turned out he was -- he was down in bed with the flu. And this was the day before Christmas, Christmas Eve day, and all of us, all of the Americans in North Africa, were placed on a red alert. And we, the officers, all carried side arms and extra clips of ammunition. And the headquarters commandant, a full colonel, was marching up and down the Grand Hotel with a loaded Thompson submachine gun and why, none of us knew. So when I went into Ernie's room, he said "My God, Bill." He said, "All hell is breaking loose outside and I can't even get out of bed." He said "Go out and find out what's going on and come back and tell me." But, of course, none of us knew why that red alert had been called. As it worked out, that red alert was called by General Eisenhower's headquarters in Algiers. The general himself was on a return trip from the front lines in Tunisia and -- but the French admiral, Admiral Darlan, who was second in the command of the Vichy French headquarters in France, had been in -- had been in Algiers, in Algeria, when we came ashore, and he was he was caught with his proverbial pantaloons at half mast because here was a top ranking Nazi Frenchman and we had him, but he -- the reason for the red alert was that Admiral Darlan was assassinated by a member or by one of his own countrymen. He thought that he was a hero and a great man. Well, he wound up in front of a firing squad and Admiral Darlan, of course, is dead and -- and general Ike, as soon as General Ike got back to headquarters, he cancelled the alert. But that was somebody at Ike's headquarters in the Saint George Hotel in Algiers thought that might signal an uprising against all Americans in North Africa and so he called -- he ordered the red alert.

Larry Ordner:

Excuse this fancy camera I'm going to use to get a quick picture of you for the file. Anything else you'd like to add, Bill? I know there is lots and lots of things you can add. A one hour tape is not going to do justice to what you did.

William Wilson:

After World War II, I stayed in photography and every -- almost every photograph I have ever made has a story behind it. The air raid picture was one and all -- once I was once I was invited to come in and photograph President Eisenhower at his desk in the oval office in Washington. And I wasn't trying to get in, I was just in Washington on a travel assignment for Better Homes and Gardens Magazine then. I wanted to get a picture of the north front of the White House, not the south front but the north front of the White House, which is only lighted from the front very early in the morning. And so I checked in at the White House press room and the assistant press secretary, a man by the name of Murray Schneider (ph) was on duty and I told him what I wanted and he said "Well, let me see your credentials. I said, "Well, I don't carry a press card or anything like that, but I said "I have up in my station wagon an album of magazine covers that I've shot." He said, "Go get it and bring it. I'd like to see it." He said "Oh, these are great." He said, "Sure. Go on out and get your picture." I said, "It's too late now, the sun's gone on the south front of the White House." I said, "Can I come in the morning and get it?" He said, "Sure. I'll fix it with the guards at the northwest gate and you can drive your station wagon up and get your picture." So I packed up and started to leave and he said "Oh, by the way, the President will be signing a bill in his office at 11 o'clock today and if you'd like to come in and get some pictures of it, well you'd be very welcome." I said, "Yes, but for Better Homes and Gardens they won't be publishing any pictures of the President in the Oval Office because they publish pictures only of what visitors to Washington can do when they are visiting the capital city." He said "Oh, I know, but if we thought you wanted to get in we wouldn't let you in. But as long as we know you don't necessarily want you get in, you'd be most welcome." And so I came back that day and that was the day I photographed President Eisenhower in the Oval Office.

Larry Ordner:

That's amazing. Great stories.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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