April 1942. Indianapolis was a training center for the war, and some interesting things happened at Fort Benjamin Harrison.
A photographer arrived and stayed for several days, documenting the daily lives of a group of Chaplains from multiple faiths as they completed their specialized training before graduation and heading to their assignments.

The first interesting point was the photographer. Jack Delano was a man of substance. As one of the Farm Security Administration’s staff photographers, Jack was receiving accolades for his “fine art” approach to his normal subjects of Trains, Transportation and Manufacturing Machinery. If you remember high impact photos of speeding steam locomotives from the 1940s, they are probably Jack’s photos. As a boy who worshipped trains as I grew up, Jack is a hero of mine. I find it interesting that he was assigned to photograph a subject that was completely different – rooms full of Chaplains talking with each other. He found ways to make them interesting – the mark of an artist. Later in life, you could find Jack in Puerto Rico as a composer and musician.

The second interesting point was that Jack was documenting a key moment in the history of integration of America’s armed forces. Looking through the library to find some photos with recognizable buildings, I saw something startling. When these were taken, the armed services were firmly segregated – except, apparently, for the Chaplain training classes that Delano photographed. The photos showed a mix of faces, all faiths and races, on classes and around the dining table. Clearly a peer group that was comfortable with each other. Some research revealed that official desegregation efforts in the military began in 1944, with full desegregation happening in the Korean War in 1952. This was 1942 in Indianapolis, and clearly this group was ahead of the curve.

These re-photographed images were taken on graduation day, as the Chaplains were together for the last time before deployment. The big thrill for me was standing in the exact spot of one of my boyhood heroes, Jack Delano, in retaking these.

3 responses to “IndyView Revisited: Fort Benjamin Harrison, 1942”

  1. Kevin J. Brewer says:

    Gauging from the upper window line and the porch line, Jack Delano must have shot his photo from highter up, say on a ladder.

  2. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I would guess that Jack Delano was kneeling when he took this photo, or that his camera was mounted on a very short tripod. The windows of the main level of the building are behind the heads of the men in the foreground. In addition, you can see that there are eight steps up to the building’s porch and entry doors, which means the main level inside is several feet above the ground. The tops of the windows on the building’s main level are probably 12-15 feet above the level of the sidewalk on which the men are standing. If the average man is, say, 6 feet tall, the only way the men could appear to be as tall as the windows in the building is if the camera were shooting the image in an upward angle, i.e., from well below the height of the men.

  3. Karl Ahlrichs says:

    I think Sharon has it right – Jack was probably shooting with a Speed Graphic camera – bulky and he was probably crouched or kneeling. I have a photo of Jack at about the same time and he is carrying a Speed Graphic. This photo was taken standing at a normal height – I probably should have crouched.

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