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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Lee Embree Collection

Identifier: 2007-08-08
The Lee Embree collection contains photographs, textual materials, and audiovisual materials that relate primarily to Embree's 1936-1945 military service, including a small number of photographs taken by Embree of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, as well as documents his post-war activities ranging from 1945-2005.

Series I, Textual materials, includes Embree's military personnel papers, including his identification card as well as military orders and medal documentation. There are two (2) pilot log books, a 1935-1946 one belonging to Embree and a 1918-1921 one to Lucius L. Jones with a note written by Embree, "This book was given to me by mother. She said I was named after him. Lee Embree." Underneath a pencil notation states “Lee’s Mother’s Brother.” There is also a diary documenting Embree's arrivals and departures of oversee deployments from March 16, 1943 through June 20, 1945. A small scrapbook includes various clippings from unidentified publications about Embree's military service, as well as a small amount of military orders.

Additional materials in this series include a typed manuscript, "The Military Career of Lee R. Embree, May 1941-January 1, 1942," and a small amount of ephemera that includes five (5) postal stamps featuring the Isle of Man, a photocopy of a rough draft of the December 8, 1941 speech given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Congress after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a photocopy image of Embree and his first wife, Betty, smiling after he was awarded the Soldier's Medal, a photocopy of a June 4, 2001 speech delivered by Embree at Choice School, Port Angeles, Washington (State), a Blue Angels poster, and a postcard featuring members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.

Series II, Photographs and negatives, which makes up the bulk of the collection, includes a total of fifty-nine (59) negatives, two hundred ninety-two (292) loose photographs, and a photograph album containing one hundred forty-one (141) photographs, most likely taken by Embree during and after World War II. The negatives are 4x5" and include originals as well as duplicates. There are three (3) color negatives; the rest are black-and-white. The bulk of the photographs are in black-and-white and are 8x10", though there is some variance in sizes. Many images have captions providing contextual information and many also include stamps and/or numbers on the image. Some duplication occurs.

Box Two, Folder 1 includes nineteen (19) black-and-white photographs taken by Embree at Hickam Field, Hawaii during the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The prints, which are primarily later photographic and digital reproductions rather than vintage prints, include detailed, type-written descriptions by Embree on verso. They depict Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and other aircraft damaged by Japanese pilots, both on the ground and in flight, military personnel, and one (1) snapshot which appeared on the December 29, 1941Life Magazine cover depicts smoke billowing from theUSS Arizona after being hit by attacking Japanese aircraft.There is also one (1) photograph taken in 1991, when President George H. W. Bush visited for the 50th Anniversary. It was taken by Embree, in the exact same spot as the famous photograph, and shows Air Force One on the ground. Additionally there is one (1) photocopy of a photograph of two men directly after their release from the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, Santa Tomas Internment Camp.

Box Two, Folders 2-3, includes loose photographs, which are a mix of snapshots and portraits, that broadly depict World War II military personnel both involved in recreational activities and engaged in military operations, such as deployments, driving tanks, and manning weapons. Along with American troops, Italian, Chinese, and German forces are featured. Primarily American miltary tanks, aircraft, and ships are also depicted as well as notable figures such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Josef Stalin, and Winston Churchill. Identified locations include Hawaii, the Philippines and Italy. There are some photographs, likely souvenir shots not taken by Embree, in the European Theater. Additional photographs include aerial shots, and a snapshot of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Box Two, Folders 4-6, is comprised of photographs related to Embree’s work at Edwards Air Force Base photographing rocket test projects from 1953-1961. These items were originally housed in an album with a spine label, "Photo Album of Camera Locations of the Rocket Test Sight [sic] At Edwards Air Force Base" and cover label, "USAF Publications." Subjects include 1/3-sized model rocket silo, rocket test tracks, aircraft, including the Bell X-5 and Douglas X-3 Stiletto, and effects of experiments on the involved cameras, such as melting and breakage.

Box Two, Folder 7, includes eleven (11) photographs, including five (5) images that were made into calendars featuring an aircraft or scenic view, one (1) image features twelve aircraft, including the North American B-45 Mitchell and Lockheed T-33, on the tarmac and six pilots standing in front of the aircraft, including Chuck Yeager and Fred Ascani; a partially obscured view of the Martin (Glenn L.) XB-51 (Model 234), and an image showing a [Mr. Magoo?] character chasing a flying object with the letters UPA in the right hand corner. Additionally, there are three (3) copies of an image taken in March 1956 by Pat Clark of Warner Brothers. One copy has an inscription on verso, "USAF and Warner Bros. personnel while on location at Edwards Air Force Base during the filming of "Toward the Unknown."

At the end of the series is a brown leather photograph album with one hundred forty (140) photographs and one (1) clipping from an unidentified publication. Most pages include 1-2 images glued or taped to the page. The bulk of the shots are aerial photographs, many depicting air fields all over California, Arizona, Washington (State), Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. Aircraft are featured, in flight, including in formation as they fly through the Grand Canyon, and on the ground, including the Douglas B-18 and North American O-47. There are a very small amount of candid images featuring Russian pilots Mikhail Gromov, Sergei Danilin, and Andrei Yumashev, as well as six (6) publicity shots from the MGM movie, "Test Pilot."

Series III, Audiovisual materials, includes eight (8) 3x5" floppy disks, most labeled "Lee’s Memoirs," a CD-ROM labeled "Lee Embree Memoirs, 11/05 last date," and seven (7) audiocassettes labeled "Lee Embree Memoirs." There are also five (5) VHS tapes, one (1) labeled with handwriting, "6/6/01 Lee Embree then Schula[tah?] Chan 4 – 11 PM,” and four (4) labeled with studio production label "Termite Art Productions, Studio City, CA" with "CNN" written on tape cases. Their title labels are as follows:

  • "Unsolved History: Myth of Pearl Harbor Intl Version, Hr. 1 of 2, TRT: 52:58, 12/19/03"
  • "Unsolved History: Myth of Pearl Harbor Intl Version, Hr. 2 of 2, TRT: 47:28, 12/19/03"
  • "Unsolved History: Myth of Pearl Harbor Intl Version, Hr. 1 of 2, TRT: 52:58, 12/19/03" with "unedited version!" written on tape case
  • "Unsolved History: Myth of Pearl Harbor Intl Version, Hr. 2 of 2, TRT: 47:28, 12/19/03" with "Lee at 1:24.22.03, 1:25.22.25, unedited version." written on tape case
  • Dates

    • 1918-2005 (bulk dates 1939-1945)


    Language of Materials

    All materials are in English.

    Conditions Governing Access

    This collection is open for research and is accessible in the Dahlberg Research Center by appointment. For more information contact us.

    Please note: The archives does not have the equipment on-site to allow researchers to view or listen to some of the materials. If interested in copies, please consult the repository about availability and current reproduction fees. Be advised some items may have deteriorated beyond recovery and no longer be available.

    Conditions Governing Use

    The Museum of Flight (TMOF) Archives is the owner of the physical materials in the archives and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from TMOF archives before any publication use. TMOF does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.


    1.75 Cubic Feet (1 full-width legal size document box, 1 full-width letter size document boxes, 1 flat box, 1 flat file and audiovisual materials)


    Lee R. Embree (1915-2008) was born in Iowa, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1936, and was assigned to the 38th Reconnaisance Squadron as an aerial photographer during World War II. Embree was at Hickam Field, Hawaii during the 1941 Pearl Harbor bombing and took several photographs. The collection contains photographs, textual materials, audiovisual materials, and a scrapbook that relate to Embree's military service and photography as well as his post-war photography activities.

    Biographical Note: Lee R. Embree

    Lee Embree was born in Iowa in 1915 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1936. Embree was assigned to the 38th Reconnaissance Squadron as an aerial photographer. On February 22, 1941 Embree married Elizabeth Gene "Betty" Lain.

    On December 7, 1941 Embree was a passenger on a four-engine Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, flying to the Philippines from California. The trip included a refueling stop at Hickam Field near Honolulu, Hawaii. Embree, who was being permanently transferred from Albuquerque, New Mexico to the Philippines, brought his Speed Graphic camera with him for the trip. He took photographs of the Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. Some of Embree's historic photographs later appeared in Life Magazine, Time Magazine and other publications.

    Embree remained based at Pearl Harbor as an aerial photographer until February 1942 and then was stationed in Fiji for the following nine months. He became a combat photographer with the Army Signal Corps and served in a number of locations and theaters throughout the Pacific, including New Caledonia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Guadalcanal.

    Embree enlisted in the Air Force Reserve in 1945. He retired as a Major from the military in 1957 and continued working in photography. He also became involved in the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. Embree and his family lived and worked in Southern California for many years and moved to Port Angeles, Washington in 1988. Embree's wife, Betty, passed away in 1998 and he married his second wife, Violet "Vi" Timm McRoberts, in 2001. He died at his home in 2008 of a kidney infection.


    Biography derived from collection materials, donor information, and "Lee Embree," Wikipedia (


    The following items are on display in the Personal Courage Wing World War II Gallery:
    • USAAF flight scarf, helmet, and goggles
    • Soldier's Medal
    • Dog Tags
    • Speedgraphic camera
    • Life Magazine, dated June 1, 1942


    Additional box of archival materials added September 11, 2008. No further accruals are expected.

    Existence and Location of Copies

    Materials from this collection have been digitized and are available at The Museum of Flight Digital Collections.

    Separated Materials

    The following materials have been separated from the archival component and are kept in Objects storage:
    • Military pins, medals, ribbons, patches, plaques
    • Medicine kit
    • Slide rule
    • Pocket watch
    • Uniform: jacket, hat, pants, shirt, overcoat, necktie, belt, helment, and boots
    • Flight jacket, goggles, sunglasses, duffle bag
    • Tape measure, compass, knife, and change purse
    • Light meter
    • Camera, camera case


    Guide to the Lee Embree Collection
    Completed - Level 3
    L. Czechowski, J. Parent
    Description rules
    Language of description
    Edition statement
    4th Edition

    Revision Statements

    • August 29, 2014; May 1, 2018: This finding aid was revised to reflect updated DACS and Museum of Flight Standards.
    • November 2018: Finding aid migrated to ArchivesSpace.
    • April 2019: Additional subject terms were added.
    • May 2019: Corrected date information for photograph album.

    Repository Details

    Part of the The Museum of Flight Archives Repository

    9404 East Marginal Way South
    Seattle Washington 98108-4097

    The Museum of Flight | 9404 E. Marginal Way South | Seattle WA 98108-4097 | 206-764-5874
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