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“World War II Through the Lens of William D. Willis: a photographic exhibit” was on display from August 2016 through July 21, 2017 at the Middletown Historical Society located at 216 N. Broad St. in Middletown, Del.
Images featured in the exhibit were selected from the William D. Willis World War II Photographic Collection which includes more than 600 photographs taken by Dover, Del. native William D. Willis and his colleagues who served as official military photographers during service in Western Europe between 1943 and 1945. The collection surfaced after Willis’ death and was brought to the attention of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs which accepted it into the permanent collections of the State of Delaware in 2012.
Several photographs from the collection had been presented to the public through a series of displays created by the division’s Collections, Affiliates, Research and Exhibits (CARE) Team and exhibited at Legislative Hall in Dover between March 2015 and February 2016. Photographs from these displays were combined to create “World War II Through the Lens of William D. Willis: a photographic exhibit” that was on view at the Seaford Historical Society between Feb. 13 and May 31, 2016.
The exhibit featured selected Willis photographs augmented by related items of local interest supplied by the society and by private lenders including household objects that focus on Delaware’s contributions to the home front, gardening tools that highlight victory gardens, and sporting- and game-items that helped to provide popular recreational activities on military bases. The exhibit was organized according to the following topics: William D. Willis’ military service as a photo technician, war production, Delaware’s wartime contribution to the homefront, agriculture, military base life, and United Service Organizations (USO) shows.
William D. Willis (1919–2001) was born in Dover, Del. After graduating from Dover High School in 1939, he worked as a mechanic in an automobile-repair shop in his home town. On May 16, 1941, he entered active duty in the U.S. Army where he received training in Army Air Forces motor mechanics at Fort Devens, Mass. Pfc. Willis served as a mechanic for a year after completing his training and was then transferred to the position of photographic technician with the 9th Photo Technician Unit, taking and developing pictures and handling various phases of laboratory work pertaining to negative processing. He departed for the European Theater of Operations on Aug. 9, 1943 and served there until Sept. 26, 1945. For most of his service, he was attached to the 20th Fighter Group at Kings Cliffe, England.
The division’s partnerships with the Seaford and Middletown historical societies are components of the agency’s Affiliates Program which utilizes professionals from the division staff—including exhibit designers, curators, editors, museum managers, trades-people, archaeologists and historians—who work with history- and heritage-based organizations throughout Delaware to develop joint programs and exhibits, including potential display of items from the state’s collections. “World War II Through the Lens of William D. Willis: a photographic exhibit” was curated by Carolyn Apple, a retired Dover physician and CARE Team volunteer who has been deeply involved in the Willis collection from processing its initial donation to researching, documenting and curating photos; writing display text; and assisting in the installation of the exhibit.