Finding Elizabeth's Soldiers

(Rochester, NY) – David Solomon has spent the past two years on a mission: Finding homes for 100 portraits of American soldiers drawn in Europe during World War II. The mission has not only been a success, but has rallied volunteer researchers from as far away as Hawaii. In his new documentary Finding Elizabeth’s Soldiers, he chronicles his ongoing efforts to find the soldiers or their families. Told in a travelogue style, taking viewers from Philadelphia to San Francisco, Finding Elizabeth’s Soldiers airs Sunday, May 22 at 11:30 p.m. on WXXI-TV.

Solomon first introduced Miss Black’s story in November 2013, in Portraits for the Homefront: The Story of Elizabeth Black. As a member of the American Red Cross Clubmobile unit, the Pittsburgh native proposed a fascinating plan to sketch soldiers, sailors and airmen on the battlefields of Europe, sending the portraits home to worried families in the United States. After Miss Black’s death, copies of about 100 portraits were found among her memorabilia. Having told Miss Black’s story in the first program, the second documentary focuses on Solomon’s portrait connection project.

In the new documentary, Finding Elizabeth’s Soldiers, Solomon interviews the only known female sketched by Miss Black during the war. The portrait was identified only as “Lulu.” However, through considerable detective work, Solomon and the researchers found 95 year old Mary Louise Weller Chapman in Berkeley, CA. Mrs. Chapman reminisces fondly about Elizabeth in the new documentary. Her original portrait, sketched in England in 1944, had been destroyed, but Solomon was able to provide her with a high-quality copy of the sketch.

Other stories include:

  • Myer Bernstein, 89,  remembers being sketched by Miss Black. An Army medic who had just treated troops after a particularly brutal battle, Bernstein was sent for rest at a field camp, where he was chosen by Black to pose for a portrait on February 7, 1945 in Holland.

  • The family of the late Paul “Bud” Ross did not know his portrait existed. Bob Dyer, columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, saw the portrait of a man from Akron on WQED’s website gallery at www.wqed.org/elizabethblack and contacted Solomon to learn more. Solomon “fast-tracked” efforts to find Mr. Ross’ family and eventually put the sketch into the hands of Ross’s three daughters, Deborah Mergenov of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Denise Dollinger of Uniontown, Ohio and Linda Lytle of Akron.

  • George Damon (now deceased) was sketched by Elizabeth Black on October 17, 1944 in France. Solomon and the researchers tracked his son, Rick Damon, to San Bruno, CA. Solomon provided the Damon family with a copy of the portrait, but his call prompted Damon to explore his long deceased grandmother’s keepsakes, where he found the original portrait.
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