Studying the birds after a war

Our partnership with the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience has introduced me to some of the most interesting people of the Greatest Generation. I added a new one to my list this week as I loaded a set of photographs from Dr. Oliver L. Austin Jr. Students working for Dr. Annika A. Culver digitized this small set of images from the collection earlier this year for a museum in Japan. A student described them over this summer and now they are available in DigiNole (and later this year, will be available in DPLA).

Nihonbashi Takashimaya Department Store
Nihonbashi Takashimaya Department Store, 1946-1949 [original record]
Dr. Austin sounds like he was always up for an adventure. In 1931, he received Harvard University’s first Ph.D. Degree in Ornithology. As a seasoned sailor whose family owned a summer home on Cape Cod, Austin felt that he could be of service to the US Navy, and volunteered for sea duty in World War II, a somewhat unpopular posting prior to the Battle of Midway when the Japanese were still a formidable presence in the western Pacific Ocean. In 1942, when he was 39 years old, he went to naval headquarters in Boston and received his orders in late July. After three months of communications school, he was assigned to the USS Tryon, an evacuation transport, or armed hospital ship, headed for an embattled contingent of Marines in New Caledonia. Deck service was followed by duty in Admiral Bull Halsey’s communication pool and as communications officer on a gas tanker to forward bases. While in dock, he collected over 2,000 bird and bat specimens in “no man’s land” of the Pacific Theater’s roughest battles, including Tulagi and Bougainville, and even discovered two new bat species in Guadalcanal. After two years in the Navy and earning Lieutenant Commander rank, Austin was transferred to “military government school” at Princeton University to prepare him for service in the future occupations of Korea and Japan.

Dr. Oliver Austin
Dr. Oliver Austin, 1945-1952 [original record]
Dr. Austin headed the Wildlife Branch of the Fisheries Division in the Natural Resources Section (NRS) for Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) from September 4, 1946 to December 31, 1949. He was honored as one of only two members of the US Occupation of Japan who received a personal commendation for meritorious civilian service by General Douglas MacArthur. Austin implemented reforms of game laws and created wildlife sanctuaries as well as public hunting grounds to help conserve and manage Japan’s wildlife and natural resources. During his nearly four years in Japan, Austin left behind almost 1,000 well-preserved color photographic slides of postwar Japan under reconstruction. Highlights include American expatriate life, ordinary Japanese families in Tokyo and the countryside, and Japanese veterans purveying street entertainments. These sorts of images are included in the materials now available in DigiNole.

Later, in 1955 and 1956, Dr. Austin was invited to work as an Air Force scientific observer on the US Navy’s first Operation Deep Freeze, a preparatory expedition for the International Geophysical Year. In addition to his work on the expedition, Austin conducted research on Adelie and emperor penguins, skua, and seals, implementing a bird-banding project for his ornithological work.

More images from this collection are available through a project hosted by the WWII Institute and hopefully we’ll add more into DigiNole in the future.

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