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September 2014

CurrentNews: This is a short list of projects we're working on.

2015 NANP Convention in San Diego

For information on the Shoot Off schedule go to Visual Media One's Facebook page.

Christmas Card Album: I'm collecting Photolab Christmas cards for a new album. If you have one stashed away some place please scan it and email it to me.

Lee Strausbaugh

Lee Emory Strausbaugh, 94, passed away on December 16, 2014.

Lee was born in Detroit but raised in Port Royal, SC. He joined the Navy in 1939 and spent a lot of time at the helm of the battleship Wyoming. He then became a Navy Combat Photographer and served at Port Lyautey in northern Africa. There he became aircrew for submarine patrols in PBY seaplanes, seeing combat on a couple of occasions, and finally dropping his camera and manning a machine gun turret to shoot down a German fighter bomber that was attacking his airplane.

In 1944, he went ashore in the invasion of southern France. He joined with Army units probing the front lines in eastern France and was wounded in a machine gun ambush on the French/Italian border. He received the Bronze Star for his life savings efforts of those wounded around him.

After the war, he filmed the first Navy ejection seat tests and other historical aviation milestones. He later served on many ships and was involved with 'chasing' Somali pirates in the Red Sea. He served in Norfolk, Va, and Alameda, CA, with shorter stints at other bases around the country.

After retiring from the Navy, he worked for RCA near Cape Canaveral and was responsible for developing all film shot by the early astronauts. He then worked for Navy Fleet Intelligence until his retirement in 1984 when he moved to Fairfield Harbour in New Bern, NC.

Lee Strausbaugh – a Combat Photographer in World War II

I was in the Navy almost three years before WW II started. Boot camp was short – maybe because the war in Europe was really heating up. I reported in at the piers at the naval base in Norfolk, VA. I knew I had to report to a battleship but I really wanted to be on an aircraft carrier. And the USS Langley, the Navy’s first carrier, was docked alongside the pier. So I asked permission and managed to get aboard to look around. Try as I may, I couldn’t talk my way into a billet.

A Loening OL-1 taking off from the USS Langley (CV-1). The Langley was converted from a collier in 1921

     USS Langley after conversion to a seaplane tender in 1938. Lee went aboard in 1939 when she looked like this. She was sunk by the Japanese in 1942.     

So my first duty became the battleship Wyoming out of Norfolk. I scrubbed decks, painted decks, chipped decks, and then painted them again. We trained all summer spending one weekend in New York with the next in Boston. It was summer training for the Annapolis midshipmen. Liberty in NYC was an eye opener for an 18-year old boy from South Carolina with the 1939 World’s Fair in full swing. At one pavilion, I got interviewed on TV. Most people didn’t even know it existed back then.

Battleship Wyoming

1939 World’s Fair

RCA Pavilion and TV

Back aboard, my reprieve from deck duties came when I learned to take the wheel and steer the ship. It was easy for me since I had run my Dad’s passenger boat and held a Coast Guard masters license since I was 16. I soon qualified for helmsmen and proudly had the wheel by myself as we steamed out of New York Harbor in July of 1939. I even steered her up the Mississippi to New Orleans. After a trip to Havana, we took the Fleet Marines to Vieques, Puerto Rico, for maneuvers. But on the cruise down there, we ran into a hurricane. That was the only time I was ever seasick - myself and 400 Marines.

I was transferred to the Fire Control Division and learned how to aim and fire the big 12-inch guns. Sometimes, I would tell the gunnery officer how far off his shots were using sound-powered phones. Since I had a southern accent, I wasn’t too popular as a phone talker. When the bridge talker was the boy from New York City, I couldn’t understand him and he couldn’t understand me.

In 1940, we were in San Juan, PR, and I transferred to the Naval Air Station which the Navy had just started to build there. We lived in tents and half the fellows were alcoholics. Every morning at muster, there were always two or three guys so drunk they couldn’t stand up. The station only had one single-engine seaplane. But we worked with a PBY squadron of nine planes which flew anti-submarine patrols down through the islands. Since we used the Pan American sea plane ramp facilities as well, we began meeting the big four-engine flying boats. The Bacardi Company always sent a man down on a bicycle with drinks for all the passengers. We soon realized that not all were drinkers so we ended up with the leftovers.

             Pan Am Clippers  (photo by Lee)

                   PBY Catalina (photo by Lee)    

When I saw that the Chief Photo Mate flew every day in PBY’s, I volunteered to be a photographer. I wanted the flying time most of all. I got to photograph a lot of interesting places like the site for the new naval base on the east end of the island called Roosevelt Roads. With the war in Europe going on, I was told that this base was being built to moor the British fleet if England lost the war.

                NAS San Juan mid-1940s         

NAS Roosevelt Roads 1997

In late 1942, I volunteered for a transfer to Headquarters Squadron in Norfolk. I soon found myself on a troop ship crossing the Atlantic to North Africa. We anchored in Casablanca on Xmas eve and watched while the Germans bombed the city that night. The next day, we went to the air base at Port Lyautey only to see a bunch of wrecked Army P-39’s all over the hanger. It seems the USS Texas had put a large hole in the only runway during the invasion and the French ran out and covered the hole with canvas. The invasion force had launched all the Army P-39’s from a carrier off the coast during the fighting and they were supposed to land at the air field. They didn’t have tailhooks. It was to be secure but it wasn’t. Of about 90 planes, 17 were wrecked. Aviation was a dangerous business in those days. Over the next 15 months, I saw a lot of crashes and had to photograph the wrecks and all the remains. In just one week, two Air France DC-4s crashed with almost all lost. Taking those pictures was not pleasant.

              SOC seaplane off the catapult         

Lockheed Hudson

There was always a need for aerial photography and that ensured lots of flying in everything from B-24s to PBY Catalinas. I photographed most of the coast of North Africa from Algiers to Casablanca but my main duty was serving as blister gunner on PBYs where I flew hundreds of hours on long anti-submarine patrols. Once again, we never caught a German sub on the surface but did see lots of ships sinking from the attacks. Seeing the men in the water was hard to take. I had to photograph it all.

Bell Airacobra P-39

PBY Catalina Blister Gunner

DC-4 flown by Air France

One day we spotted a German fighter/bomber off the coast of Spain who was attacking a couple of ships. One was on fire and sinking and the bomber was setting up to roll in on the other. The pilot of our PBY decided to challenge the bomber and headed right for him. The German pilot aborted his bombing run and turned directly towards us with guns blazing. We could hear his bullets impacting our seaplane as the fighter/bomber drew nearer. The pilot yelled that he was going to be close aboard the starboard side so I grabbed the starboard 50-cal, looked forward through the blister glass, and saw him approaching. I just kept the trigger down and he flew right through my aiming point. He began smoking as he limped away and soon disappeared over the horizon. We had to lower the landing gear and land on the airfield rather than the water when we got home. The airplane was too full of holes to float.

Lee shot a quick picture of the German fighter/ bomber
before it attacked his PBY 

A month later, I heard that the PBY crew received an award for a ‘probable kill’ on the fighter/bomber. They forgot to include the duty photographer in the after-action report – maybe because the nose gunner had fired also. Another time we were off Portugal and a biplane suddenly appeared. To our surprise, he maneuvered into our flight path and then swung around behind us as we passed and opened up with his machine guns.

Once again, we took a lot of hits but no one was hurt. We warned others in our debriefing about the unidentified biplane and two days later a Lockheed Hudson was sent over that way with a big cannon in the nose. The biplane reappeared and they shot him out of the sky…

                   NAS Port Lyautey, Morocco    

Seaplanes moored in the Sebou River

I was transferred in 1943 to a Combat Photo Unit in Naples, Italy. It was about the time the war was pretty hot around Rome. There were usually four of us who went out to cover combat scenes. We were led by a ‘90-day wonder’ from Hollywood, CA, whose claim to fame was making a movie called “My Friend Flicka.” LT Wrigley was always having the movie photographers shoot background footage of the areas we were in and he would send a copy of the scene log to Cecil B. Demille so that he could order prints from the Navy and use them in his movies. I was the still photographer, always lugging around a heavy Speed Graphic camera. After the war, I saw a couple of my shots in a pictorial book - nothing great. We went to Rome to shoot allies having Olympic-type games for the troops. So I got to see the Vatican and take a tour of St Peters Basilica. It still ranks as the most impressive place that I’ve ever seen. I made Chief Photographer (E-7) in early 1944 after only 5 years in the Navy.

St Peter’s Basilica

The Vatican & St Peter’s Square
Inside the Basilica

Lt Wrigley was always on the move. We went to the naval base at Salerno, Italy, shooting mock setups for the invasion of southern France. Later, we boarded a minesweeper bound for the invasion and arrived off Hyers, France. It was my first time having the Germans shooting at me. It was weird hearing the 88mm shells hitting all around us as the minesweeper laid down a smokescreen around the off-loading ships. The Germans couldn’t see the ships but sure could see us. We hit the beach around noon to photograph the operation of naval forces. LT Wrigley’s idea was to take any combat footage that could be used in future movies in Hollywood.

The fighting moved inland quickly but there were still lots of Germans around. We slept on the beach for three days. Then we went west to Toulon, France, and spent a few days shooting pictures of the harbor and surrounding area. We photographed what was left of the French navy that had been sunk in the harbor before the invasion. The French had scuttled 77 vessels, including 3 battleships, 7 cruisers, 15 destroyers, 13 torpedo boats, 6 sloops, 12 submarines, 9 patrol boats, 19 auxiliary ships, 1 school ship, 28 tugs and 4 cranes. The Germans had cut the barrels off the big guns of the cruisers and battleships so they couldn’t be turned against them.

Map of the invasion of southern France (Operation Dragoon)

French fleet scuttled in Toulon in 1942

Scuttling of the French cruiser Marseillaise

We tried to sleep in a hotel but the bedbugs and German artillery kept us awake. So we went down and slept under our truck. We could hear the shrapnel from the air bursts hitting the topsides of the truck but nobody got injured. We took over a villa for three weeks while the fighting was going on and Lt Wrigley was wounded by a bullet from a sniper. That was his second wound. He had been wounded while he was with the Army going into Rome. He was all concerned about getting to a first-aid station to get it recorded so he would have a star for his Purple Heart.

Then a fateful day….

In any stories that you read about war, there is always a place called the front lines. But in real-life, the front line is hard to define and is where you have control of the enemy now. We found this out as we made our way east almost to the Italian border. That morning, the Army had shelled a house just inside Italy and at noon, they sent a patrol out to see if there were any more Germans around. The combat photo team went with them.

Our job was to photograph Navy ships firing on the Germans up in the forts in the mountains of France and Italy. But now, the Army wanted me to shoot pictures of the damaged coastal road. A bridge on the French side had been wired with dynamite and there were trip wires all across the bridge. We took pictures of that from above and below the bridge and then crossed it near the border checkpoint.

Some tall buildings here were built into the side of the cliff with a sheer drop down to the Med on the south side. We crossed the border and three of us ran into an area where a mine had blown out most of the road. Even though I had a helmet, I was wearing the khakis of a Navy chief and the First LT had on a regular Army uniform and jacket. We made good targets. As we were standing there, the Germans opened up with a machine gun. The Army sergeant and LT were hit. I ran to the side of the road and ducked behind a concrete post. Then the jerry's started shooting at me, their bullets hitting the post and breaking up. I got hit with half of a bullet lodging into my right leg and had other wounds from shrapnel in each of my legs, a piece of a bullet under my nose, and two wounds in each arm.

As soon as the firing stopped, I ran to one of the buildings on the side of the hill and took cover. All the rest of the patrol had beaten me up there. Army guys move fast. The Sergeant was dead and the First LT had a hole through his chest. I did the best I could to make him comfortable. We had very little sulfur oxide to put on his wounds. I don’t think he made it. I then tried to dress the wounds of a French policeman who was with us. It was all a bloody mess.

The bridge sabotaged with dynamite and trip wires & the building where Lee took cover after being shot

I went upstairs in the building looking for help and found a platoon of Germans just twelve feet away on the roof of the building next door. They were sitting around without helmets and I first thought they were French until I had a good look and heard them speak. There must have been over 60 of them. I think they had a good look at me but I was holding a German luger and they probably had never seen a Navy Chief in khakis before. Maybe I looked like a Frenchman. In any case, nobody much reacted to the other and I took cover and sent the soldier following me back down to get some hand grenades. I’m not sure just what I wanted to do but I sure wasn’t going to face them with just a hand gun. When he never returned, I decided to get the hell out of there. Maybe I was on the wrong side of the front lines. I climbed down under the bridge and made it back to our side.

I was sent to the Army first-aid station and the doctor told me to go to a field hospital after he had dressed my wounds. But I wasn’t about to go there. Compared to everything else I saw that day, I didn’t think I was hurt bad enough. I was a bit sore but the pain wasn’t too bad. I went back to the hotel in Nice, France, took a hot bath, had a few drinks, and had a date with a pretty French girl. After a few drinks, I felt fine. I never did have the shrapnel removed and still light up the metal detectors like a Christmas tree when I go through airports.

After this, we went back to Toulon for a week to wait for a ride back to Naples. I rode a Polish liner called the "Batory" crewed by Poles and Russians. The Poles didn’t like the Russians and told us that our country would be at war with the Russians in a few years - which almost came true.

From Naples, I boarded a liberty ship that joined a convoy back to the states. Luckily, the subs never found us. In Washington, DC, we found that the Navy Department was recalling all the Combat Photo Units and reassigning them to the Pacific theater. Most of us had had enough of the war working for “90-day wonders” so very few volunteered. I wasn’t one of them…

M/S Batory: ocean liner of the Polish merchant fleet

2710 Liberty ships were made in WW II

After 30-days leave, I reported to NAMC, Philadelphia, PA, where I was charged with adapting cameras to new aircraft and photographing new aircraft during catapult and arresting tests. We shot high-speed motion pictures of all the tests including destroying the planes as the final test. I also photographed a test flight of the first twin-rotor helicopter known as the HRP or “Flying Banana” made by the Piasecki Aircraft Company. Frank Piasecki himself was the pilot and he almost crashed.

I had the duty the day the war ended in Europe and missed the celebrations that night. I made up for it the next day. Afterwards, I covered the first Navy Martin Baker ejection-seat tests from various aircraft over Lakehurst, NJ. After dummy testing, we finally did our first live shot with a real person - LT Furtek. The test was flown at 3000 feet. DUMB, DUMB, DUMB! The LT didn’t kick clear of the seat until 1000 feet, had to open his reserve chute, and barely got a full chute before he landed. I got the whole sequence on film. I never liked to ride in the nose of a B-25 after that. When the LT went down, so did the B-25 to get the pictures.

Philadelphia Navy Yard in Aug 46 where a Martin-Baker test rig had been installed

Frank Piasecki flies the "Flying Banana"

Needless to say, the pictures convinced everyone 10,000 feet might be a good minimum test altitude.

I met my wife, Doris, just before the war in Europe ended and we married prior to the Japanese surrender. We raised a family while I continued my naval service to 20 years flying in everything from B-17s to blimps to jets. I took a lot of pictures. I later worked for RCA near Cape Canaveral and developed and printed all the footage taken by the Astronauts in the first 7 years of the space program. After a stint doing hi-speed photography of Dragon missiles for McDonnell-Douglas, I moved to Norfolk and the photo lab for Navy Fleet Intelligence. Can’t much talk about that…

CWO2 Lee Strausbaugh retired to Fairfield Harbour, NC, in 1985. He was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his actions in southern France.