Glynda Wood knew she was sitting on a treasure trove of World War II history from the time she was a little girl.
Her father, the late Grady Sain, was a bombardier and photographer in the U.S. Army air force — the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force — and was based in Italy during the war. The pictures are historical gems Wood knew she needed to preserve for the ages — pictures of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini walking together, Mussolini and his mistress’s corpses after they were killed and snapshots Sain took of Winston Churchill, Humphrey Bogart, Bob Hope and Irving Berlin.
Wood recently spent about six months on a 135-page hardcover book called “World War II: The Young Photographer.” The book is filled with photos — some her father took and some she believes were confiscated from German soldiers — and the stories he used to tell about them.
“So many people have a story that needs to be told,” said Wood, a retired Douglas County teacher and school administrator. “I have a young friend and her dad was in Vietnam and they have lot of pictures. But you don’t have time to sit down and put them together and tell the story. I finally had time, so that’s why I did it.”
The book is ultimately a family history that Wood wanted to preserve for her own children, grandchildren and cousins, nieces and nephews. The book begins with the story of how her mother, Eula Mae, and father met in rural Tullahoma, Tenn., during the Great Depression. Grady Sain was 15 and making hamburgers and Eula Mae was 13 when they fell in love.
Once Sain went off to war in 1941 at age 18, he had with him what Wood believes was a leather Bellows camera that folds in and out. Most of the remainder of the book is devoted to her dad’s pictures, which he kept in a scrapbook after the war that Wood grew up calling simply the “Airplane Book.”
On board the B-17 bomber planes he flew as part of the 97th Bombardment Group, Sain took photos of bombs descending toward their targets — a Daimler-Benz car plant that made tanks during the war and an exploding train carrying German ammunition among them.
“I just stood over the hole and took the pictures,” Wood recalls her father telling her.
Some of the more interesting photos in the book are pictures of Mussolini, the Italian dictator, and Hitler. There is a picture of the two Axis leaders walking together on what appears to be a German ship. There are several graphic photos of Mussolini, his mistress and bodyguard after they were all shot. One photo captures the three hanging by their heels in a town square.
“Daddy used to tell me he was hiding behind a tree, and I’m thinking, ‘No you weren’t,’” Wood said.
Instead, Wood thinks her dad got hold of the pictures after a bombing raid on an Axis position in North Africa that left the Germans fleeing without many of their possessions.
Sain also took a photo Winston Churchill while the British prime minister was visiting the 97th Bombardment Group.
“There’s Winston Churchill,” Wood said, still amazed her dad was there with a camera to capture the image. “You’re talking about a child here because he was. You’re looking at a 20-year-old.”
Wood added a speech by Churchill and another by President Franklin Roosevelt to her book to give the photos historical perspective, especially for some of the younger children in the family who are in middle school.
There are other historical speeches, maps Wood collected and other bits of history scattered throughout the book. Sain also took pictures of several celebrities who visited American troops on United Service Organization tours, including actors Bogart and Hope and musician Berlin.
One of the things that still amazes Wood about her father’s three years overseas during World War II was that he got to sightsee. He has pictures of the Capri — an island off the Italian coast her dad talked often about. There are pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt, Casablanca, The Vatican and even a rodeo.
“In the middle of all this horrendous world stuff, we have a rodeo in 1944 in Foggia, Italy,” said Wood. “I guess life goes on.”
Sain didn’t write much down, but while Wood was principal at Fairplay Middle in 2000, her father spoke to a class of eighth-graders who were studying the Holocaust. After Sain passed away in 2007, Wood found the notes he made for his speech and included them in her book.
While putting the book together, Wood had all of the pictures reproduced for handling. Some of the pictures are 70 years old and haven’t been preserved. Now that they’re all put together in book format, she said she and her brother haven’t decided what to do with the originals.
“We don’t want them split,” she said. “We don’t want some of them in one direction or another. This is preserved for the family. But the pictures themselves, we’re thinking about possibly donating them to a museum — a World War II museum or a college museum.”