Book captures photographer's WWII experiences


Lifelong Baltimorean James P. Gallagher is one of the nation's most prominent railroad photographers. Over the past 50 years, his work has appeared often in The Sun and continues to be published in Trains magazine and other rail-oriented publications and histories.

In 1992, he collaborated with Sun staffer Jacques Kelly on what many consider to be his best work, Trackside Maryland: From Railyard to Main Line, published by Greenburg Publishing Co. (The book is due to be reissued next year by Johns Hopkins University Press.)

Gallagher, armed with a Speed Graphic and Rolleiflex and a full tank of gas, roamed throughout Maryland, southern Pennsylvania and West Virginia from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, capturing on film the final days of steam railroading.

As the mighty engines with their basso profundo whistles and clouds of anthracite coal smoke roaring skyward yielded to the less-colorful diesel (whose operating and cost efficiency pleased railroad accounting departments), Gallagher was there snapping away, recording for posterity the end of an era in American industrial history.

Last year, Gallagher surprised his admirers when a new book, With the Fifth Army Air Force: Photos From the Pacific Theater, was published by the Hopkins Press.

Gallagher, now 82, a retired stock broker and a Rosalie Avenue resident, joined the Army Air Force in 1942. The Loyola College graduate was assigned to the 33rd Fighter Control Squadron and the 49th Fighter Group of the Fifth Army Air Force as a communications officer in the Southwest Pacific.

Tucked away in his barracks bag was a Baldaxette camera, and Gallagher was given free reign to photograph whatever he desired with only two exceptions: no Americans killed in action or radar installations.

Some 60 years later, Gallagher, who had filed away three year's worth of photos chronicling his wartime experiences, sat down at his dining room table and began to write in longhand his recollections of those faraway days.

Gallagher's service with the Fifth Army Air Force took him to New Guinea, New Britain, the Philippines, Okinawa and eventually to mainland Japan as part of the occupying forces at the end of the war.

In revealing photographs and text, Gallagher has recorded both the emotional highs and terror of war, as well as the routine and daily drudgery of wartime life, like the horrific heat and tropical rains that reduced bases to swamps of swirling water and deep mud. Boards laid over the soupy mud allowed soldiers to walk between tents.

His lens did not miss the variety of aircraft that helped win the war in the Pacific, either. Aviation students will enjoy seeing the P-38, P-40, P-47, B-24 and B-25. He also photographed enemy aircraft, and even the odd aerial stranger, like the fighter from the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force.

Of particular interest will be the various types of colorful nose art that decorated the flanks and noses of aircraft, painted by homesick fliers for their girls back home.

In his introduction, Gallagher writes: "I want this book to enter in the record some images that are less familiar to students of the war - aircraft in the field, landing strips cut out of the jungle, the equipment essential to air operations - and to provide a glimpse of the day-to-day life many of us shared.

"Needless to add, I want this appended documentary evidence to pay tribute to the men who were with me then, especially to those who lost their lives during that long campaign, so long ago."

By September 1945, Gallagher had reached Japan, and was able to make several visits to Tokyo. His photographs reveal the randomness of war's impact. Many downtown streets and buildings remained untouched by the war, as streetcars plied their normal routes. In other areas, there was vast damage from bombing raids.

Gallagher even dined in the famous Imperial Palace Hotel, writing later that he preferred "GI rations" over the noted hotel's cuisine.

He found the local citizens to be warm and friendly. "We did not expect to find such smiling resilience among the people," he wrote. "The most astonishing sight of all may have been a softball game in a Tokyo park, American sailors playing against former Japanese soldiers, surrounded by watchful fans, all of it taking place maybe two weeks after the surrender."

In October 1945, Gallagher began the long journey home to Baltimore by sea and rail. After arriving in Tacoma, he boarded a Burlington Railroad wooden day coach, probably dating to 1910, for the four-day cross-country rail trip.

"Conditions were scarcely comfortable, but no one complained a word that I heard. For myself, after spending more than three years in uniform, two of them overseas, thoughts of surviving the war and going home were the balm of the trip," he wrote.

On Nov. 24, Gallagher at last arrived at Fort Meade.

The war was finally over for him.

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