Welcome to our third installment of photos celebrating WWII-era men of U.S. Navy pre-flight training at St. Mary’s College. These images of naked or jockstrap-clad cadets were taken at the school in Moraga, California when it was requisitioned for the war effort between 1942-1946. You can see more photos in our previous posts here and here.
Only the earliest photos – dated June 13, 1942 – feature the men completely nude. An anonymous person offers a helping hand as the men are photographed in profile.
All subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps. In all of the photos, the men stand behind some sort of grid fencing to better illustrate misalignment and spinal curvature.
The photos were taken to measure the fitness progression of each recruit as they underwent extreme physical training. Each picture was accompanied by an index card containing body measurements and physical achievement test results over the course of several months.
This allows for some contrasting images that Weight Watchers might want to consider emulating.
This installment focuses on photos of cadets as they underwent summer training in the California sun. The results speak for themselves. #tanlines
My collection of photos gathered from around the internet now includes close to 500 different cadets. I have taken my pastime a step further by researching the origins as well as the fates of these brave men. Those featured in this post passed away as young as 22 and as old as 94.
Whether the photos of these handsome young men are literal snapshots near the beginnings of their lives or tragically close to the end, all of the subjects are equally, timelessly captured here in prime physical condition, sun dappled as they trained to serve their country. Nearly 80 years later, we salute and admire their fine forms and dedication.
Dr. Lucas Murnaghan, a celebrated underwater photographer and orthopedic surgeon, passed away in his Toronto home on March 21, 2021. According to his longtime partner Antonio Lennart, Murnaghan succumbed to cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer).
In a Ted Talk posted last year, Murnaghan charted his path as an uptight overachiever following the family tradition by becoming a doctor, coming to terms with his sexuality and the circumstances that led him to become a full-time photographer and entrepreneur in recent years.
I started following Lucas on Instagram a couple of years ago. I knew nothing about him but his photographs spoke for themselves: stark, striking images that often played with what he described as “the balance between vulnerability and confidence, pride and shame, solitude and connection.”
When he began to promote his photography, his initial impulse was to hide his “day job” as a medical doctor, feeling that it prohibited him from being taken seriously as a photographer, or having an artistic point of view.
“I felt like I was entering the art world from the side door. Well, as it turns out, there is no front door. As an artist, that’s all we can do… gather up our entire lives and transmit it into our work. To do anything less than that is to not be honest with ourselves or our audience.”
I was a freshman theatre major at Syracuse University when I scribbled this in my journal one bright spring day in 1988:
I’m writing at Oakwood Cemetery, where we are sitting on the steps of the Brown Mausoleum. People might think it’s morbid to hang out in a cemetery, but I love it here – so beautiful and peaceful. If we were sitting in the Quad, with radios blaring and frisbees flying around, I couldn’t relax – it always feels like a fight is just waiting to break out. There’s no judgement here. Other kids walk by every so often but it’s very quiet. I’ve heard that drug deals go on here at night though.
So young. So innocent. So little insight. Then again, I was 19 years old and this was before that kid boiled John Crouse’s head.
Oakwood is an 160 acre cemetery adjacent to the Syracuse University campus. Their website advertises “a grand array of monuments and mausoleums which form a virtual outdoor museum of funerary sculpture and architecture while mirroring the lives of Syracuse’s Victorian families.”
The cemetery was an alternative hangout for us – actors and artists clad in vintage chic attire, toting journals, sketchbooks and cameras. We didn’t come to SU for the sports or fraternity life. The typical campus hangout spots weren’t always the best places to relax so we went to the cemetery. We were respectful, but not everyone else subscribed to the ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’ credo and this is why we can’t have nice things.
In October of that year, freshman art student Kevin McQuain thought it would be a good idea to steal a human head from a mausoleum “to use as a model for sculpture class.” He brought it back to his dorm – the nearby Flint Hall – and proceeded to try and clean the odious noggin by boiling it with bleach in a trashcan placed on the stove of the 3rd floor common area. Residents were alarmed by the stench and even more so when they discovered the source. McQuain and two of his friends were arrested.
Two factors helped this to become a national news story:
a) It was Halloween season.
b) It wasn’t just any old skull in the trashcan.
The vandalized mausoleum contained John and Catherine Crouse and their two sons. The Crouse family was a wealthy philanthropic clan that loomed large in the area for generations. A fair percentage of the city of Syracuse bears the Crouse name. John created the University’s Crouse College to honor his wife. Their son, John J. Crouse served as the mayor of Syracuse. All of the coffins in the tomb were vandalized, but the cranium in question belonged to John Jr.
From The Syracuse Herald, 10/21/88 and a 1920’s postcard for Crouse College:
By the time McQuain and his friends went to court in early 1989, national news outlets had lost interest, leaving reportage to the local Syracuse papers. McQuain pled guilty and was properly contrite under advice of council. The charges against his accomplices were dropped, yet all three received the same sentence: 200 hours of community service.
From The Syracuse Times, 1/26/89:
Universities tend to frown upon students who cook the heads of their benefactors. Following McQuain’s sentencing his scholarship was revoked. Follow up newspaper articles state that he left Syracuse due to a lack of funds, but he did complete his undergraduate education at Alfred University, which is not exactly the Dollar Tree of higher education. Perhaps it was best for all concerned that he made a fresh start outside of Onondaga County.
There is a 2002 follow-up piece from the Syracuse Post Standard that keeps getting… ahem… dug up… every few years and reprinted around Halloween. It’s about how poor Kevin McQuain got stuck with a nickname that he could not shake. His friends dubbed him “Skully.” And he decided “to embrace it.” He went on to form a Goth/Rockabilly record label called Skully Records, which he apparently still runs himself as a side hustle to his every day technical services job.
In 2015, he self-published a vampire/punk novel under the name Kevin Skully McQuain. He also designs t-shirts.
Somehow this unavoidable handle does not force itself onto his professional resume: it just leaks into his side projects when the macabre notoriety might help bump things up a notch.
But oh, how the nickname plagues him! He CANNOT escape it.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been called several things throughout my life that I have hated. I assume that you, dear reader, have had one or two nicknames as well. But I don’t know yours and you don’t know mine… because we did not hyphenate them into our names.
How contrite is a person if he is still trying to milk the last ounce of notoriety out of something he stupidly did over 30 years ago? If you made a mistake at 18 – and who hasn’t? – would you allow that thing to be the defining moment of your life? Would you still call yourself “Farty” because you once let one rip in gym class? Is that all ya got?
McQuain is married and a father now, and I can’t help but wonder: at what point in the dating process does one explain the origin of “Skully”? Third date? Over dinner? And what is the appropriate age to sit your child down to explain that you once desecrated a corpse? “Yes, Jayden, Skully-daddy did boil the mayor of Syracuse’s head, but listen…. that was a bad idea, ok?”
Back in 2002, McQuain said “That was a mistake I made when I was young, and I’m fortunate that it didn’t stigmatize me for the rest of my life.” And yet, at 50 years old, he still holds on to the “Skully” nickname, with the backstory tucked into the pocket of his aging punk-rock jeans, ready to whip out and exploit whenever he has a new artistic endeavor that might need a little publicity boost.
In 1988, Kevin McQuain walked out of Oakwood Cemetery with the head of John Crouse in a paper bag, intent on using it as a prop for his art. Over 30 years later, he still finds it quite useful.
The sun is shining, the grass is green The orange and palm trees sway There’s never been such a day In Beverly Hills, LA But it’s December the 24th And I’m longing to be up north…
That’s the rarely heard opening verse to Irving Berlin’s classic song White Christmas – originally released in 1942. The song popped into my head as I gathered these Christmastime photos of jockstrap-clad cadets in pre-flight training school at St. Mary’s College in California. Never mind that the school is actually several hundred miles north of Beverly Hills. It is still sunny California, where these strapping young men – many away from home for the first time – were training to go to war during the holidays.
Listings also turn up on auction sites, where the photos are often accompanied by the index card used to record the physical training progress of the cadet.
The earliest photos feature the men completely nude, but all subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fence to better detect posture misalignment and spinal curvature.
Fortunately for us, multiple photos of some cadets have surfaced, allowing for comparisons of their training progress:
And while there is a lack of ethnic diversity, there is a variety of body types.
My collection now includes over 300 jpegs of different cadets. Some did perish during WWII, but the largest majority that I have researched lived to ripe old ages. Any surviving cadets would now be in their late 90’s.
One thing these young men have in common, as they were documented in timeless photos of their physical prime: they were far from home during the holidays, training to fight for their country.
At this time of year, 75+ years later, cue up White Christmasas we again salute their fine forms and dedication.
I am not alone in saying that I always take comfort in the annual repetition of the holidays – revisiting holiday-themed music, film, television… and now internet posts as well. This feeling is in overdrive this year, as I occupy myself at home and skip other annual holiday traditions that involve leaving my apartment. The Rockefeller Center tree looks very nice on my television – and that view will have to suffice this year, thank you very much.
I feel bad for this year’s Rockefeller Center tree – sacrificed to become the most famous Christmas shrub in the world at a time when nobody is allowed to actually go near it. It’s the Just Sam of Christmas trees, which makes the displaced owl Ryan Seacrest.
I find it interesting that we immerse ourselves in certain pop culture favorites for exactly 6 weeks of the year and then pack them up in mothballs with the ornaments until next year. I mean, Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee and Johnny Mathis are rock stars from Thanksgiving through New Years. Are any of them on your 4th of July playlist? They aren’t on mine.
The film A Christmas Story has an even shorter (Elf on the) shelf life. We binge-watch the repeated broadcast for exactly 24 hours each year. I own it on Blu-ray and I’m not sure why: I have never opened it. To pop it in at any other time feels like a betrayal.
In keeping with this revisiting, blog posts of Christmas past are back to haunt you like A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge:
Unfortunately, due to copyright issues all the links are broken on my 60 Degrees Girl Group Christmas piece. This also keeps me from posting other episodes of the radio show – hopefully only temporarily, as I find a work-around.
However… I have this to share:
Way back in 2002, when Limewire was a thing and people listened to music on silvery discs, I started creating Christmas CD mixes that I would mail out or give to people. These were received with a combination of feigned delight, veiled indifference and deafening silence. None of these CDs had a pressing of more than 20 copies. I’d like to call them “much sought after” – but no, that’s not really the case, although every once in a while, someone really got into them and would ask for copies of other volumes.
And so, I’m offering this simple playlist…. for kids from 1 to 92. Unfortunately many of the tracks on these dozen CDs are not on Spotify, but I keep adding songs that would be on the current CD volume… if there was one. And now the playlist is over 14 hours of holiday tunes. I recommend listening on shuffle – there’s something to irritate everyone. Enjoy!
One of my socially distant pastimes of 2020 has been searching for jpegs of WWII U.S. Navy Pre-Flight Training photos. These images of naked or jockstrap-clad cadets were taken at St. Mary’s College in California when it was requisitioned for the war effort between 1942-1946. I first became aware of these black and white 5″x7″ triptych photos through posts on the Vintage Workingmen Beefcake Facebook group. Listings also turn up on eBay and other auction sites, where the photos are often accompanied by an index card which was used to record the physical training progress of each cadet.
It has been speculated that this was tied to a study on race purity/eugenics, as were the infamous Yale student posture photos. I choose to believe that it was merely a matter of recording alignment and physical fitness as part of the overall medical examination process.
Call me naïve, but if we are to appreciate the photos of these fine young men who were training to fight for our country, it’s a lot less icky to ignore a potential ulterior motive on the part of those taking the photos.
The earliest photos – dated June 13, 1942 – feature the men completely nude. When the subjects were photographed in profile, they appear to be holding hands with someone off-camera – presumably to help them obtain proper… positioning?
All subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fence to better detect misalignment and spinal curvature.
Most of the photos shown here were gathered from various sources around the internet with the subject’s name cropped out: God forbid someone ran across a picture of near-naked PeePaw and suffered conflicting feelings.
My collection includes nearly 200 jpegs of different cadets with the names intact. I have taken my pastime a step further by researching who these men were and where they ended up. As expected, some did perish during the war – just a year or two after these photos were taken. Others reenlisted for the Korean War and did not survive that conflict. But the largest majority went on to successful careers, families and lived to ripe old ages. Any surviving cadets would now be in their late 90’s.
Whether the photos of these handsome young men are literal snapshots near the beginnings of their lives or tragically close to the end, all of the subjects are equally, timelessly captured here in prime physical condition as they trained to serve our country. 75+ years later, we salute their fine forms and dedication.
Remember when the New York Times ran “Portraits of Grief” – a series of profiles of those lost on 9/11? They didn’t cover every single person who perished, but these were published daily for months and later compiled in a book – 1,800 individual stories. It was hard to grasp the number of lives lost.
We are now losing a 9/11’s worth of lives every 2-3 days. Over 190,000 people in this country have died. If the New York Times were to profile one person each day, it would take – are you ready? – over 520 years. And that’s if COVID “magically went away” and didn’t claim another life after today.
Where are these people being honored other than @facesofcovid? At the very least, why aren’t U.S. flags flown at half-staff? Is it because they die in solitude and not on a clear day, live on television?
To those who aggressively wave their flags and yell “Never forget” as an angry cry for revenge – still calling for the blood of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks even though we got them long ago – let us never forget this:
Trump dismantled the Pandemic Response Team that was already in place.
He threw out the Pandemic Action Plan given to him by the previous administration.
He purposely downplayed the virus and lied to the American people.
He continues to put concern for the economy over the safety of the public.
He continues to put us all in danger by ridiculing those taking precautions for their own lives.
Other things to never forget:
Remember that he invited Taliban leaders to the White House while simultaneously withdrawing our troops from Iraq.
Remember that he still has not condemned Putin’s bounty on the heads of U.S. soldiers.
Remember that he refers to service people as “suckers and losers.”
These are just the highlights.
Never forget what this traitor has done – and continues to do – to us and to the country.
I recently posted two San Francisco-based articles from the September 1980 issue of Blueboy magazine – one by Armistead Maupin and another by Randy Shilts. I was ready to move back to the east coast when I came across a third article – written by Dan Turner for the Nov/Dec 1979 issue of In Touch Magazine. It seemed to work as a literary triptych with the other two articles. Also… it looked somewhat familiar….
The flipped version of the shot below accompanied the Armistead Maupin piece in Blueboy. And no, those are not nude sunbathers on the roof – it’s an overlapping photo.
The shot below was from the Nov/Dec In Touch Magazine article. Same guys, same clothes or lack thereof. Some people have shifted around a bit, so it was taken at a different time on the same day.
Through internet magic, I did a little “Google map virtual walk” down Castro Street, which led me to the corner of 18th st. And there it is: the boys’ perch, 40 years later. The pharmacy is now a Walgreens:
I felt like I was slipping down the rabbit hole. Next stop: YouTube with a search of 1979 Castro Street Fair videos! Sure enough, there they were – captured in grainy home movie footage.
Theses guys were photographed more than the soldiers at Iwo Jima. Call it Gay-wo Jima.
Before I started to save videos and crop and edit and convert to gifs and blah blah blah, I took a step back from the edge. I felt that I had lost the plot at this point. Where were we? Oh yes.
In Touch Magazine.
Nov/Dec 1979, Issue #44.
San Francisco: Ever Onward.
Written by Dan Turner.
Cover model / Centerfold: Todd Denson.
There is also a New York-centric piece in this issue that I will be posting soon. I wanted to complete this three-part series first.
That last paragraph just hurts. How could anyone have known what the future held? In 1981, the author of this piece, Dan Turner was one of the first people diagnosed with AIDS. This was before it even had a name. He helped found the AIDS Foundation, People with AIDS and the AIDS Switchboard. He was the longest surviving person with AIDS when he passed in 1990 at age 42.
“…they are not just pretending to be the heroes they admired. They are becoming the heroes themselves.”
Terry DeCarlo was only 57 years old when he passed away earlier this week, yet he seemed to have lived multiple lives. His partner of 23 years, Bill Huelsman announced on Facebook that Terry had lost his battle with cancer on January 27th.
DeCarlo held many jobs over the years – his Instagram account lists Communications Manager of Broward County, Co-Hosting Out & About America and USAF Intelligence Officer in addition to his most prominent position as Executive Director of The LGBT+ Center in Orlando. DeCarlo became a national figure when the Pulse massacre occurred and led a grieving community through a tumultuous time.
He is seen here in an appearance on Rachel Maddow’s show:
All of his obits and online tributes – including this New York Times piece – have rightfully focused on his 20+ years of activist work in Florida, so it’s easy to forget that he first came to prominence as a porn star.
In the early 90’s DeCarlo was a fixture on the New York City gay nightlife scene, appearing regularly on the Robin Byrd Show to promote his adult films and ongoing residency at Show World strip club. One particularly memorable performance featured a giant live snake. (Insert python joke here)
He appeared in films alongside (although not necessarily in scenes with) porn legends Jon King, Joey Stefano, Karl Thomas and Mark West.
A partial filmography: Lunch Hour 2 (Catalina video 1992) 19 Good Men (Robert Prion, Bijou 1993) Put It Where It Counts (Robert Prion, Bijou 1993) What Men Do (Tenderloin, 1993) Solid Intake (Robert Prion, Bijou 1993) Leather 2 (Catalina video, 1994) Forever Hold Your Piece (Catalina video, 1994)
After he retired from performing, DeCarlo moved to Florida and focused on his activist work. Besides those previously mentioned, he also worked at other organizations such are Care Resource and the Broward House, helping to ensure that health care, medication, shelter and basic needs were available for all. He was an integral part of the White Party, AIDS Walk Miami, Dining Out for Life, the Smart Ride and countless other fundraising events.
He dedicated his life to helping others and will not be forgotten. My heart goes out to his partner Bill and their Wilton Manors community.
December 21st. I am never quite sure how to handle this day. Do I ignore it? If I acknowledge it, does it seem exploitative somehow? What level of grief is acceptable? We were the class behind them. We were their friends and co-workers, but we were not their BEST friends. We were the ones back in Syracuse. We did not go to London for that Fall semester – most of us had not seen them since the previous May. Of course, we were not family. But we did go through it. It happened to all of us. “We.” We all hung on to each other and we made our way through.
We sat a couple of rows back at the memorials. We were devastated, too, but how do you calibrate your grief? You feel what you feel. We were 19, 20 years old. And it has now been 30 years. There is still a scar on each of us somewhere. It does not matter how much you look at it or if you ignore it, talk about it or don’t talk about it. You still have it. All of us that went through it have them. Our own individual scars – each a little different. Some deeper than others. We have our reunions and little get-togethers but we do not discuss it. For the most part. There is no need to.
And I say to myself: I will address this one day. To explain to everyone else, really. All the people that have become a part of my life since then. 10 years goes by. 20 years. 25 years. One day I will address that scar. One day I will write about what it was like. What these people meant. How we found out who was and was not on the plane. The confusion. The anger. The unimaginable wave of sorrow. How we coped with it.
Ah, but then you get through the day… the week…. and you tell yourself, well… let’s just pack that away for another year. Focus on the holidays! I mean, really…. you were a few rows back. Your feelings are once-removed. What do you have to say that has not already been said so eloquently? What unique perspective do you think you are bringing to the table? Calibrate that. And then pack it away with the rest of the holiday baggage.
So I’ve cracked the door open just a bit on this 30th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. For Theo and Miriam and Nicole and Turhan and Tim. And for everyone that knew them.