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 Dad's War Photos
A Son Honors His Dad’s Wartime Experiences in the South Pacific

A new addition to the 307th PX Book Collection

Curtis Bertrand was just a country boy with a camera when he entered the U.S. Army in World War II. He returned home from the Southwest Pacific Theater with over 600 photos to share with family members and friends, never realizing the importance these unique views of the war would provide.

Thus far, the World War II photo memories and story of Curtis Bertrand have remained private. Now these never-before-seen pictures, along with official battalion diary entries, are being made available to the public, bringing to life his battalion’s camaraderie and their heartbreaking and harrowing experiences.

Neal Bertrand often imagined what it was like for his dad to be in the South Pacific during World War II. A few days before his father passed away, he asked Neal to take care of the Japanese rifle and bayonet he found in Manila in 1945. It was then Neal decided to place in high honor the hundreds of photos his dad took during his tour of duty.
“I wrote Dad’s War Photos to honor my father, that’s true,” says Neal, “but I hope it will give younger generations, especially those whose forefathers served in the Pacific, some insight into how far-reaching the war really was.”
The book covers many aspects of Curtis’s experiences in the war: leaving the farm in Opelousas, Louisiana, going to boot camp, being sent overseas, and eventually coming back home, all through the photos he took and his battalion’s military records, which Neal sought out during his research.
Readers of Dad’s War Photos will view pictures never seen before. They will feel the excitement and fear of sailing through enemy waters, they will come to know the loving bond of brotherhood and friendship amongst soldiers, and they will encounter the grief and mourning when a buddy dies while on a mission.
Through Curtis’s eyes and camera lens, readers will be virtual eyewitness to the New Guinea battle campaigns in Dobodura and Saidor; the little-known battle for Biak Island and capture of Mokmer Airdrome; the Philippine Islands campaign, and the Battle of Manila, its reconstruction, and much more.
Neal Bertrand is a publisher, full-time author, and an avid genealogist and family historian. In 2009, he began scanning his dad’s World War II photos. Neal had never seen what was written on the backs of the photos because they had been attached to the pages of three photo albums kept in a cedar chest in the hallway of Neal’s childhood home.
The photos were put in the albums in no particular order. But once he figured out the timeline, Neal was able to organize them by country, month, and year. After six months of culling the photos and researching diary entries of his dad’s outfit, the 863rd Engineer Aviation Battalion, Neal was able to trace his father’s steps from boot camp to war and back home.

The 863rd Engineer Aviation Battalion was stationed in three Australian cities during the summer of 1943: Sidney, Brisbane, and Townsville. Brisbane became the Pacific headquarters of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander, after the Japanese forced him out of the Philippines in December 1941.

Each stop was necessary for the complex task of getting the numerous battalions organized, fully equipped, and putting the finishing touches on the engineering and battle planning strategy.

After that it was on to the New Guinea Campaign, including Dobodura and Saidor. New Guinea was key in defeating the Japanese bases as laid down by General MacArthur’s strategy called Operation Cartwheel. There are 81 photos depicting men building airstrips, camp life, native scenery, and more.

In a chapter on the Battle of Biak, the near death experiences of Curtis and his war buddies as their boat approached the island are graphically displayed. A photo taken of Curtis’s good friend Clifford G. Wynne, Jr. is included, just weeks before he died on Biak. Another 60 historical images are contained within this section.

Finally, on December 21, 1944, the battalion arrived in the Philippines. Eighty photos cover the destruction of the Battle of Manila and its reconstruction. Curtis’s medals and souvenirs are depicted, along with the Japanese rifle and bayonet he brought home with him.

Japanese bayonet

The homecoming and post war life chapters give an intimate view of what many returning soldiers faced. For Curtis it was getting back to work on the farm, meeting his lovely wife, and trying to put bad memories aside.

Two appendices include extensive photo coverage of WWII aircraft nose art and the daily lives of natives in the South Pacific.

Dad's War Photos is available now in the Book Collection of the 307th PX. 
Click here to Open the Collection!

About the Author

Neal Bertrand

Prior to starting the war book, Neal was involved in charting his genealogy. He joined two genealogy societies and charted his ancestry back ten generations. Genealogy is one of Neal’s favorite pastimes, as is cooking. Having been born and raised in Opelousas, Louisiana, in the heart of Cajun Country, Cajun and cooking are synonymous to those familiar with the culture, so it’s no coincidence that Neal started his company, Cypress Cove Publishing, putting out cookbooks. It’s also no coincidence that his moniker since 2005 has been The Cookbook Dude. He is quick to recall that family holidays always revolved around food, no matter where he was. Whether it was barbecued steak from the cattle his family raised, or gumbo, Neal grew up with food and fun.

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