Curators at The National World War II Museum solve readers’ artifact mysteries.

While going through my father’s wartime memorabilia, I happened upon a notebook in which he explains that original negatives of images a U.S. Navy photographer took of the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri were lost, “probably during a gala on ship in New York Harbor.” When the loss was discovered, he—U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate Third Class Allan Thomas Kimmell—and others working at a photo lab in the Philippines photographed prints to make new negatives. He passed copies of those negatives along to me. I have never heard about the negatives’ loss and am hoping you’ll find it as fascinating as I have and want to learn more.

—Karen Kimmell, Alto, N.M.

None of the photo archivists we contacted were aware of this either, and all are intrigued. “I am afraid I have never heard such a thing and would have thought it would have been noticed if we were using copy negatives for these images. That said, anything is possible,” says Holly Reed of the Still Picture Reference Team at the National Archives and Records Administration, the repository of all Official U.S. Navy Photographs. Unfortunately, the Archives is closed due to Covid-19; without someone onsite there to see if they have original or copy negatives for the images, we won’t be able to advance the story much.

The September 2, 1945, ceremony that ended World War II—when a group of Japanese delegates boarded the USS Missouri to sign the instrument of surrender—was one of the most photographed events of the entire war. Given the ceremony’s importance, dozens of still and motion picture photographers were set up and ready to capture every moment from the delegates’ arrival to the signing of the surrender. Within hours, the first images began spreading around the world through a system that had been established to develop, censor, and transmit photographs. 

The New York celebration your father references came seven weeks after the surrender ceremony. The USS Missouri entered New York Harbor on October 23, 1945, to take part in the Navy Day celebration on Saturday, October 27, when an armada of 47 American warships sailed the Hudson River before millions of appreciative spectators, with President Harry S. Truman in attendance.

We hope to learn more upon the National Archives’ reopening, and will certainly pass it along. In the meantime, treasure your father’s collection. ✯

—Josh Schick, Curator


Have a World War II artifact you can’t identify?

Write to Footlocker@historynet.com with the following:

— Your connection to the object and what you know about it.
— The object’s dimensions, in inches.
— Several high-resolution digital photos taken close up and from varying angles.
— Pictures should be in color, and at least 300 dpi.

Unfortunately, we can’t respond to every query, nor can we appraise value.

This article was published in the December 2020 issue of World War II.