I first saw the photo when Google searching on Joseph H. Wellings early in 2012. The Naval War College Museum had a page dedicated to Wellings and this photo was on the page (http://navalwarcollegemuseum.blogspot.com/2010/11/artifact-spotlight-commander-jh.html#comment-form). Of course something like this is going to catch my attention - how was such a shot possible? Who could have taken it? When I made the trip to Newport, the archivist at the time, Dr. Evelyn Cherpak was not able to tell me who took it, only that it was given to Wellings years later after the war was over. For some reason I could not let it go, and shelved the mystery until some clue presented itself.
A break came in the form of a note I found on a website dedicated to the HELENA. One man posted a note about his father, Thomas Tuke. Mr. Tuke was able to abandon ship when HELENA sunk the night after STRONG with a drybag filled with payroll sheets and other information. My first inclination was to believe that whomever took the shot was able to get the film into the drybag and safely off the ship. For the longest time, this was the only explanation I had- until I got the book by Duncan Norton-Taylor that I discussed in a previous blog.
From the book, With My Heart in My Mouth by Duncan Norton-Taylor, I learned of three overseas correspondents who were present with DESRON 21 the night STRONG was sunk. B.J. McQuaid of the Chicago Daily News was on the USS HONOLULU, Duncan was on the USS ST. LOUIS, and Allan Jackson of the International News Photo Service was on the USS HELENA. They all witnessed the loss of the STRONG. The next evening they were all aboard the same vessels when the HELENA sucumbed to 3 torpedo hits. As she went down, the men abandoned ship and some of them were rescued by the USS RADFORD. Allan Jackson was among those rescued. I learned from Norton-Taylor that these journalists were under the auspices of the military and were the only people officially allowed to have cameras in a war zone. The thing is, when Jackson abandoned ship he put his identification, money, rolls of film, and camera in a ballistic balloon (dry bag) to take with him. In the confusion of leaving the sinking ship, the bag got away from him and he lost everything. He floated in the water for an hour before being pulled in by the RADFORD. This should be the end of that story, but I dug a little further.
In locating Jackson's obituary I found he had two children, Robert and Kathleen. I managed to locate contact information for both via Facebook, and after having conversations with them both I learned that Kathleen had possession of Jackson's personal scrapbooks and other documents. She looked through the scrapbook and found something interesting - a missing photograph and a story. It appears that when Jackson left HELENA, he had a roll of film in his pocket. As he boarded RADFORD, he thought the film was too damaged by oil and seawater for development, and he tossed it in the trash. A sailor from RADFORD saved the film from the bin, later developed the film and sent Jackson copies of the photos that came out. As you look at this photo you can certainly see some damage from either salt water or oil.
The RADFORD sailor may be responsible for the fact this photo exists, and it would be great to identify who he was – that’s a tiny krill in a very large sea at this point. Because these journalists were the only ones allowed to record the events of war, I will conclude that Jackson is responsible for the photo. Jackson kept copies of all his work in scrapbooks that were fairly complete. If Kathleen had not found the page missing the photo and the paragraph that accompanied it explaining the retrieval of this roll of damaged film, I might not feel so strongly. I may learn something different in the future, but for now I truly appreciate the help of Kathleen and Robert in helping me come to this conclusion and thank them for giving me their time and information about their father, journalist Allan Jackson.