Mystery of SLO military parade photo solved. Here’s what Tribune readers found out

·4 min read

I recently came across a photograph that was perfect for the Photos From the Vault column.

It depicts a military parade in downtown San Luis Obispo circa World War II. But there was one problem — there was no caption information.

With my deadline approaching, I wrote what could be observed and inferred from the photo, crosschecked with reference sources, and reached out to The Tribune’s readers for help.

At least 10 people responded via social media and email to solve the mystery of the missing caption.

Together, we found the needle in the haystack.

The caption, which ran in the Telegram-Tribune on Tuesday June 12, 1945, reads as follows:

“AN ARMY DUK … demonstrating that it is equally at home on land or sea, moves up Higuera Street, as it spearheaded the Purple Heart Parade Saturday. It shows above with the orchestra from the Morro Bay Naval Amphibious Training Base. Following is a second Duk in which are riding a group of Camp Fire girls dressed in red, white and blue. The parade was a highlight of a four-day state convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart which was held in San Luis Obispo ending Sunday. Ahead of the Duk was a mounted color guard.”

The Tuesday June 12, 1945 Telegram-Tribune caption reads: AN ARMY DUK…demonstrating that it is equally at home on land or sea, moves up Higuera street, as it spearheaded the Purple Heart parade Saturday. It shows above with the orchestra from the Morro Bay Naval Amphibious Training Base. Following is a second Duk in which are riding a group of Camp Fire girls dressed in red, white and glue. The parade was a highlight of a four-day state convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart which was held in San Luis Obispo ending Sunday. Ahead of the Duk was a mounted color guard.
The Tuesday June 12, 1945 Telegram-Tribune caption reads: AN ARMY DUK…demonstrating that it is equally at home on land or sea, moves up Higuera street, as it spearheaded the Purple Heart parade Saturday. It shows above with the orchestra from the Morro Bay Naval Amphibious Training Base. Following is a second Duk in which are riding a group of Camp Fire girls dressed in red, white and glue. The parade was a highlight of a four-day state convention of the Military Order of the Purple Heart which was held in San Luis Obispo ending Sunday. Ahead of the Duk was a mounted color guard.

The depth and talent of the local history community is represented in people who took the time to write and share their memories and images — including Bob Sarber, Brad LaRose, Matthew Herlihy, Jim Milbury, Brandon Bond, Warren Wulzen, Jim Gregory, Nancy Loe, Pam Parsons and Laura Sorvetti.

The last five folks on that list found clippings in the Telegram-Tribune covering the event, the Military Order of the Purple Heart State Convention.

Jim Milbury suggested using the clock time and shadows to determine the month the picture was taken.

I recall someone taking the time to reconstruct the date of the Ansel Adams’ classic photo “Moonrise, Hernandez.” Unfortunately my math skills are not up to that task.

Matthew Herlihy found an article in a July 1945 Cal Poly publication called Mustang Roundup that recorded the U.S. Navy’s activities at the then-college.

The Mustang Roundup July 1945 edition covered Navy activities at Cal Poly during World War II.
The Mustang Roundup July 1945 edition covered Navy activities at Cal Poly during World War II.

It talked about the Purple Heart Parade extending for five blocks downtown, running down Monterey Street past Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, then heading back up Higuera Street. The cover photo shows rifle-holding U.S. Navy sailors standing attention as the flag is raised outside the clock tower building on campus.

Dale Thompson wrote to say he saw the war parades downtown as a graduate of San Luis Obispo High School and Cal Poly.

Researchers shared their secrets to finding the articles.

Nancy Loe noted that the six-wheel-drive amphibious vehicle depicted in the photo is a DUKW. “Once I figured that out, it was easy to search for,” she wrote.

“Newspapers are my best source,” Pam Parsons wrote. “I used to go to the library and read old papers on microfilm — or the History Center (of San Luis Obispo County) to read their actual copies. Now I have an online subscriptions to Newspapers.com and have access to Newsbank.com, plus the free California Digital Newspaper collection.

“The CDNC, Newspapers.com and Newsbank.com have most of the early San Luis Obispo papers,” she added, “and Newsbank.com has the more recent papers. I am looking at one of them on almost a daily basis.”

“I also have a subscriptions to Newspaperarchive.com and Genealogy.com bank,” Parsons wrote. “They all carry different newspapers and it’s surprising how much news I can find on happenings in San Luis Obispo in other town newspapers.”

San Luis Obispo hosted a Purple Heart Parade in downtown in July 1945. The Mustang Roundup July 1945 edition covered Navy activities at Cal Poly during World War II.
San Luis Obispo hosted a Purple Heart Parade in downtown in July 1945. The Mustang Roundup July 1945 edition covered Navy activities at Cal Poly during World War II.

If you want a deeper dive into the Purple Heart Parade and related events, the Telegram-Tribune ran articles on the Friday and Saturday before the picture was published.

You can pay to view them via online services or take a trip to the San Luis Obispo City-County Library or Cal Poly’s Robert E. Kennedy Library to see them on microfilm. Cal Poly might need a call ahead to retrieve the microfilm, it was stored offsite the last time I checked.

It’s not surprising that the picture in question got separated from its caption.

The engraving process in that era was not flexible. It took time and the halftone plate could not be resized. That is why photos from that era seem to be locked onto a page with buckets of type slopped in around them.

Photos would often run days after the event.

Plus, the Telegram-Tribune had no staff photographer at the time.

Until the 1960s, the newspaper relied on local commercial photographers to share a print or waited for reporters’ snapshots to get processed.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to solving the mystery.

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