There are times in an archive when a truly special item shows up. The photo above is precisely that. In late 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower traveled to Japan after that nation’s surrender to Allied forces, which brought an end to World War II in the Pacific. This photograph was taken moments after his arrival when, having just disembarked from the C-47 that flew him there, he clasped hands with General Douglas MacArthur.
But what makes this photo so special? Note the several photographers in the background lowering their cameras. Their assignment was to take the official, press-released shots of this greeting. This photograph, however, was taken from the opposite side where, presumably, no other cameramen were standing. The man who took this picture, PFC Paul S. “Pete” Williams, was the driver that would later chauffeur MacArthur throughout the Pacific. You won’t find this photograph in the Library of Congress or the Eisenhower Presidential Library. It was the sole property of Private Williams, taken from the unique angle of a foot soldier witnessing history. Now it resides at the Southwest Collection among many of Private Williams’ other World War II photographs.
Pete Williams toured Japan extensively as part of MacArthur’s entourage. When the General visited the ruins of Hiroshima, Pete was there. This photograph is one among many that he took while surveying the atomic destruction from MacArthur’s vantage point.
Not all of Williams’ photos documented military matters and mass destruction. In fact, fully half of his snapshots were of his and his comrades’ antics, as well as daily life in Japan such as this image of smiling fishermen proudly displaying the best of that day’s catch.
The Paul S. “Pete” Williams Papers, 1945 are available for interested researchers to view, as are the papers of his brother, Elijah Williams. Our Reference Department is always happy to arrange access to the collection, as well as many of our other materials.