NEGAUNEE - When Robbie Powelson was asked to sort through boxes of photos by an Ishpeming resident, he never imagined the result.
"Paul Ameen Jr.'s daughter (Vicki Brassard) came over with two or three boxes of photos her father had taken," Powelson said. "She wanted to know what they were. And she wanted to know what to do with them."
Powelson helped her sort the photos over the course of several hours, finding images of Paul Ameen's of boot camp and his time serving in the European theater during World War II. Powelson suggested she donate the photos to the National Guard.
Dick Wills, right, and Robbie Powelson pose at Wills’ Negaunee home recently. World War II veteran Wills is holding the original photo of a group of soldiers from Ishpeming and Negaunee who posed together in 1945 in Belgium while Powelson is holding the Ishpeming Friends of the Library calendar in which the photo is featured this month. The photo originally ran in The Mining Journal in 1945, with Wills the only unidentified soldier in the picture. Now he’s the only survivor. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
"She thanked me for going through them, then told me I could take what I wanted from them," Powelson said. "I took a photo of her father, because I thought that was appropriate, then I had seen a photocopy of a Mining Journal article and the photo in it was in the box. So that's the other one I took."
The photo was of a group of 11 Ishpeming and Negaunee men, snapped at a gathering in Belgium in the mid-1940s, during the war. The Mining Journal story from Feb. 16 1945 identified 10 of the 11, with the final soldier marked only as "King?"
Powelson's wife, Liz, is a member of the Friends of the Ishpeming Carnegie Library and when that group was putting together its 2012 calendar, he recommended the WWII photo be featured in July.
"Then when I was on vacation around Christmas time, I get a phone call asking if I was Robbie Powelson and if I had given that photo for the calendar," he said. "It was Dick Wills calling me."
Wills was the unidentified solider in the photo and article.
Serving with what is now the 107th Engineers of the U.S. Army, Wills had been in the European Theatre for several years when he and his Twin City compatriots got together.
"I remember the photo being taken, very much so," Wills said. "I just don't remember the date. The days ran together when we were over there. But the day the photo was taken, we had a little social time together. It was most likely with some cognac, which I don't really like but I do remember posing for the photo, I remember that very much."
In fact, Wills has a copy of the original clipping, saved by his parents from the day it ran in the newspaper.
"My dad (Thomas) got up to go to work in the morning - back then The Mining Journal was delivered in the morning - and he saw it then," Wills said. "When my mother (Florence) got up to get the kids off to school, my dad had spread it out on the table for her to see."
The Friends of the Library calendar attracted the eyes of several people who know Wills and called to tell him about the photo being featured. Thus his call to Powelson.
The two talked for several hours during that initial phone conversation.
Powelson had asked Wills to help with a guess on the date the photo was taken.
"I assume it was October 1944 or in that area," he said. "We had moved from Luxembourg to Belgium that September."
"I really enjoyed talking with Dick," Powelson said.
Powelson had the original photo enlarged and framed and presented it to Wills.
Looking at it is a little bittersweet for the WWII veteran.
"Everyone else in it is gone now," he said. "Everybody but me."
With the calendar still for sale at the library, other friends of Wills' have found the photo.
"There are a number of people who have called me and said they recognized me," Wills said.
"Even with a mustache," Powelson asked.
"Even so," Wills said with a smile.
Anyone interested in the calendar, which contains a number of other local historic photos, can purchase one for $4 at the Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.