Seeking A Family Reunion For A WWII Photo Album More than 60 years after World War II, Barbara Holtan is looking for the family that belongs to a photo album her uncle found on a Japanese island during the war.
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Seeking A Family Reunion For A WWII Photo Album

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Seeking A Family Reunion For A WWII Photo Album

Seeking A Family Reunion For A WWII Photo Album

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Jimmy Doris was a U.S. Navy Seabee, fighting on Okinawa, Iwo Jima and Tinian Island in the South Pacific during World War II when he found an album of family photographs in a cave - Japanese family photographs. Soldiers often kept the guns, knives, belts or medals of fallen enemy soldiers, but something touched Jimmy Doris about those photographs.

When he came home from the war, he brought that album with him. Now, more than 60 years after World War II, Jimmy Doris's niece has brought the album out of hiding, and she's trying to find the owners of those lost memories.

Barbara Holtan joins us in our studios. Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. BARBARA HOLTAN: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: And we have the album here. First, let me ask how you came by it.

Ms. HOLTAN: My - the Doris family lives in Yonkers, New York, where I'm from, and I was up visiting my aunt about nine or 10 years ago. And she told me about the album and said, you know, asked if I'd ever seen it and I hadn't. So, she brought it out and I was so touched by seeing all these family photos. And I asked her if I could have it and try to find the family so that we could give it back to them.

SIMON: And we have the album here, and I'm opening it. Perhaps you can hear the crackle of these old pages. And I want to be very careful with it. But, oh my gosh, a little boy in what seems to be a Japanese sailor suit.

Ms. HOLTAN: Yeah.

SIMON: Like a little dress-up sailor suit. A little baby sitting on a small chair next to him. You just wonder what the stories are, don't you?

Ms. HOLTAN: Um-hmm. And I've always, you know, sort of fantasized that the young Japanese soldier had brought this with him into the war as mementos, you know, to remind him of home, and had hidden it in the cave, and then Jimmy came across it.

SIMON: Do you know if he ever did anything with it to try to...

Ms. HOLTAN: No, he didn't. It was kept in a box in the attic all those years. But ironically, after Jimmy brought this home from the war, he died when he was 31 years old, right? He'd only been home a few years. So that's, I think, another reason that this was just stowed away all those years. You know, I think people forgot it was there.

And, you know, I'm hopeful that we can find the family because some of the photos do have Japanese writing on them, especially the picture at the graveside. And it has, you know, the monument, it has writing on it. So I'm hoping.

SIMON: Of course. It could be family name, town...

Ms. HOLTAN: I hope so, yeah.

SIMON: ...something like that. We'll try and describe this photo. It's a gravesite scene. That might a Shinto minister standing there in the white frock - I hope that's not an irreverent term for the garment that he's wearing - and a family, and they are clearly sad and in mourning.

Have you ever been able to have any of the writing translated?

Ms. HOLTAN: I brought this to a professor at Towson University in Maryland, and she said that there's a rank, you know, an army or...

SIMON: Army rank. Maybe there must be some Japanese army archive that can take a look at something and notice the insignia of a certain unit.

Ms. HOLTAN: Yeah, yeah, I hope so.

SIMON: You've been in touch with people at the Japanese embassy, I gather.

Ms. HOLTAN: Yeah, I tried in about 2002 through the embassy of Japan in D.C., and I sent a photocopy of the album to them. They warned me that it takes years to track artifacts. Well, it sure did. Here I am. So a year ago, I tried again, this time at the consulate general of Japan in New York, and it's been over a year. I haven't heard anything. So I'm delighted to try this and see if we can find the family.

SIMON: Well, I hope it works out.

Ms. HOLTAN: Yeah.

SIMON: Barbara Holtan. And to see these photos from the album, you can go to NPR.org. And please tune in tomorrow to WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY to hear how University of California-Los Angeles is trying to make amends to Japanese students who where forced to leave the university during World War II.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. HOLTAN: Thanks, Scott.

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