Back in 1935, three 5-year-old boys, all living on Gabby Avenue in North Franklin Township, became buddies. They went to school together and graduated from Trinity High School in 1948. Two years later, as the United States became involved in the Korean War, they joined the Air Force together. And 64 years later, they’re still friends.
“Smoke – that’s Paul Stainbrook, and nobody ever called him Paul – is the best friend a guy could ever have,” said Ed Ullom from his home in Harrisburg.
It was in the living room of the Ullom family’s home on Dewey Avenue in Washington where the photograph of the three in their military uniforms was taken in the fall of 1950, when they were home on leave after finishing basic training.
“The Air Force broke us up,” Ullom said. He was eventually sent to Europe and stationed at four bases in England. He married Jenine Roland in Disne, France, in December 1952. The couple had four children, Garth, Brigette, Monique and Liane, who was killed in an auto accident 25 years ago. Jenine died two years ago.
Ullom began working at car dealerships after the service and went into business with Vance Andrew to form the Van-Ed car dealership. He sold out to Andrew in 1969, moved to Europe for 15 months and then returned to Harrisburg to run five dealerships until his retirement.
Stainbrook’s path was different. After high school, he enlisted in a one-year program in the U.S. Navy and was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier. Because of his experience, his basic training in the Air Force was abbreviated and he graduated as an Airman First Class, the insignia of which is just visible on his sleeve. He was sent to Korea.
“I was a gunner on a B-29 bomber,” Stainbrook recalled. “On Oct. 23, 1951, we were shot down by MIGs and anti-aircraft fire. Four of us bailed out and were picked up in the Yellow Sea, then taken to Seoul, and later to Osaka, Japan.”
Stainbrook was injured in the leg by shrapnel.
“There were 13 of us aboard, and four were picked up. The others did not survive.”
After the war, Stainbrook worked for Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., from which he retired. He and his wife, Marlene, a retired nurse, have a son, Paul (Craig), and a daughter, Dana Stainbrook, who was quick to respond after seeing her father in this week’s Mystery Photo.
Jim Ritchey was assigned as a clerk-typist with the Atomic Energy Commission in Albuquerque, N.M. “We took the A-bomb up to Canada and loaded it on B-52s, when there was a fear there would be another war,” Ritchey said by phone from his home in northern Michigan. “I spent a year there and then went to South Dakota.”
After the service, Ritchey began work for Kresge Corp. and moved from the area when he was transferred to Lavonia, Mich., to manage the Kmart there. He worked for the company for 31 years until retiring. He raised two sons, James and Christian, and a daughter, April, on his own.
Paul Stainbrook said he was shocked at seeing the Mystery Photo, especially because he had seen the same photo a week earlier when he was looking through a few pictures tucked into his 1948 high school yearbook.
One thing remains a mystery, however. We still don’t know who the photographer was.
Stainbrook assumes it was an Ullom family member, but that doesn’t explain why it would have been included with many other photos of Washington made from 4-by-5-inch negatives, many of which seem to have been taken by a professional photographer. This collection was donated to this newspaper’s archive by Wheeling writer and photographer Jim Thornton, who bought the negatives at a flea market. We’ll be publishing several more of those photos throughout the year in an effort to solve that puzzle.
Look for another Mystery Photo in next Monday’s Observer-Reporter.