As a child in Opelousas, Neal Bertrand was fascinated by photos his father took during World War II.
The black-and-white prints — some 3-by-5s, others 2-by-2s, about 600 in all — captured images that a young Army Cpl. Curtis Bertrand saw in the South Pacific.
“He never had any kind of qualms about answering my questions,” Bertrand said. “He always answered questions fully.”
In 2009, nine years after his father died, Neal Bertrand and his son, Jeremy, began digitally scanning the pictures to preserve them. Then, an idea: Why not make a book of the photos? Since Neal Bertrand’s business, Cypress Cove Publishing, produces cookbooks, he knew how to make it happen.
“I didn’t know if there was a market for this, so I went to Amazon.com and typed in keywords like ‘World War II photos’ … and I tried to find books similar to mine, and, lo and behold, they had a very high sales ranking,” he said. “That was encouraging.”
The result is “Dad’s War Photos: Adventures in the South Pacific.” It contains nearly 400 of the photos his dad took, as well as other images from his father’s childhood on a farm in the small community of Mallet, located between Opelousas and Eunice.
Since Bertrand could not consult his dad, he relied on memories of their conversations about the photos, information written on the back of the prints and the official record of his father’s unit, the 863rd Engineer Aviation Battalion.
Curtis Bertrand’s job was to lubricate the heavy equipment the battalion used to build roads, airfields and bridges. He was shipped overseas in May, 1943, and the book follows him to Australia, New Guinea, Biak and the Philippines until his return home in December, 1945.
Neal Bertrand mixes remembrances of his father’s comments with the official record, other research and monthly updates of what was happening elsewhere in the war.
But the star of the book is, of course, the photos.
Curtis Bertrand was not on the front lines, so most of his photos are not of battle scenes. But the battalion was close enough to the fighting for him to take photos of dead enemy soldiers, and the Japanese aircraft that attacked the airfields they were building.
The photos show how this battalion lived, from the serious to the mundane to the humorous, including photos of Bertrand and other soldiers in grass skirts, like a scene out of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific.”
“That always gives a chuckle,” said Neal Bertrand, who shows some of the photos when he speaks to civic groups.
Along the way, the soldier was part war historian, part National Geographic photographer.
The book includes almost 70 photos of American warplanes, centering on the iconic artwork painted on the aircraft, and 60 photos of New Guinea natives.
The book, which costs $19.95, has been on sale since June 1, Neal Bertrand said. More information is available at DadsWarPhotos.com.
“I wrote ‘Dad’s War Photos’ to honor my father, that’s true, but hope it will give younger generations, especially those whose forefathers served in the Pacific, some insight into how far-reaching the war really was,” Neal Bertrand said.