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Quarantine leads local military expert to story behind chaplain's World War I pandemic efforts 

By Bryan McKenzie
via the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper (VA) web site

CHARLOTTESVILLE — All he wanted was a little COVID-19 distraction, but the century-old photo of a military chaplain took an Albemarle County man on a 102-year time trip to a different state during a different deadly pandemic.

The sepia-toned photo of a man in a World War I-era uniform sits in a swivel frame meant for a tabletop. His round face sports an enigmatic smile, and his round-rimmed glasses peer from beneath the brim of an officer’s cap topped with a U.S. Army insignia badge.

Art BeltroneArt Beltrone of Albemarle County used his stay-at-home time to research a photograph of an Army chaplain who turned out to be a hero of the 1918 influenza pandemic.Across the mat, in expansive and fluid cursive, is the inscription “Florence, May God Bless You.” It is signed “Regis Barrett, OSB, Chaplain, U.S. Army.”

“I’ve had it for several years,” said Art Beltrone, a local military historian, collector and appraiser of military artifacts. “I obtained it from a Northern Virginia collection of military collectibles, and I liked it because it’s a photo of a chaplain and those are difficult to find, especially from the First World War era, because the chaplain corps was small.”

Beltrone said the photo, its dedication and signature caught his eye years ago.

“This one was signed and so it had a connection to an actual person, and that’s always a nice thing. It was in a nice, large frame with a swivel base, so it obviously meant a lot to someone,” he said. “It fascinated me.”

Beltrone is a man driven by fascination. His discovery of canvas bunks festooned with graffiti scrawled by soldiers, sailors and Marines aboard the General Nelson M. Walker, a Vietnam-era troop ship, led to the nationally known Vietnam Graffiti Project, which preserved the hopes, fears and jokes of men going to war.

In the time of COVID-19, with everyone warned to stay home as much as possible, Beltrone found himself with a lot of time and home projects on his hands. He began to see the portrait of the chaplain in a different light.

Read the entire article on the Richmond Times-Dispatch web site.

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