In My Buddy: World War II Laid Bare, a fascinating new book available from Taschen next month, editor Dian Hanson assembles images of Allied soldiers and sailors at their most unguarded. These personal snapshots—of World War II soldiers bathing, swimming, and posing naked—are selected from the collection of Michael Stokes, who has amassed over 400 such photographs by combing through estate sales, flea markets, and eBay. The photos, taken at a time when homosexuality was criminalized in the United States, are a record of the unselfconscious camaraderie between young men at war during a period when physical intimacy was less discouraged among straight men. Troops were encouraged by their superiors to form close “buddy” relationships, and these bonds were often cemented through horseplay.
“Between battles they were able to bathe in makeshift showers and in rivers, lakes and streams; to swim; catch a few rays, and just mess around like the kids they recently were. If someone had a camera they’d pose together, to remember their closeness, and if someone suggested they pose naked, well, that was just funny because they were guys and young and bursting with life, and eager to deny the closeness of death,” writes Hanson—whose title at Taschen is “sexy-books editor"—in her foreword.