She remembered most of the faces and could recite the names: friends, boyfriends and even casual acquaintances who floated into her life and out again. There’s the portrait of her father and hammy stills of her sisters playing mirrored images on opposite sides of an ornate frame. She saw her 20-year-old self playing tennis and serving waffles to GIs during World War II.
“It’s like seeing an old friend,” Janice Anne Duncan said of the photo album before her.
Photo by photo, Duncan on Friday revisited a life lived more than 70 years ago. She hadn’t realized it, but a treasured photo album she assembled as a young San Francisco resident had mysteriously found its way to a Mountain View homeless encampment, where Mountain View Police Department Sgt. Wahed “Wally” Magee and Community Outreach Officer Mike Taber discovered it in August.
“To be honest, I started looking through it there and kind of like enjoying the photos and realizing we needed to get it out,” Magee said.
The police department launched a nationwide campaign to uncover the album’s rightful owner, but the search didn’t gain much traction until Community Services Officers Jodie Pierce and Leslie Hardie used the names printed on the backs of photos to conduct census searches on ancestry.com. Eventually they tracked Duncan to an address in Sunnyvale, but the home sold in July. The listing agent connected them with Duncan and her younger sister, Nancy Rose, who recently moved to live together at a Los Gatos retirement home.
Taber couldn’t sleep the night before the department presented the album to Duncan and Rose.
“I’m a big history buff, and I was very, very interested when I saw this photo album,” he said. “When you think about the histories in the photos, and unfortunately, a lot of the men were getting ready to go off to war, so you don’t know if this might be the only picture that’s left of this person that might have died during the war. They were very much friends.”
One image shows “Bob,” a soldier pictured at Camp Roberts. While flipping through the album Friday, Duncan and Rose told the Mountain View officers how a sniper killed him just before World War II ended. And there are entire pages chronicling Duncan’s romance with “Chuck,” the sailor she dated for a time. She knows he eventually became an engineer, but they lost touch.
Duncan and Rose estimate they last saw the photo album 35 years ago. They don’t know how it became lost, but it’s possible the family accidentally parted with it at an estate sale.
“We’re so grateful to you for being so determined to find us,” Rose told the officers as they parted.
“I think if any of us had a book that had this many memories in it, we would want it back,” Taber said. “So I think that’s what really drove all of us to get it back to you.”