NEW BEDFORD — For 30 years Standard-Times readers got to see the SouthCoast from behind the lens of Edward Milton Silvia. In the 1950s and up through the 1980s Silvia captured a wide variety of images. From people like John F. Kennedy and Bozo the Clown to riots on Kempton Street or kids catching pollywogs at Buttonwood Park, Silvia's story-telling images amounted to over 100,000 photographs.
Before he joined the Standard-Times, Silvia was in the U.S. Army Air Force.
And now his military uniform and other items are on permanent display at the Fort Taber-Fort Rodman Military Museum.
“We usually turn away uniform donations, mostly because we have so many of them,” said Bill Niedzwiedz, president of the museum. However, given Silvia’s longtime career at the Standard-Times, and the other items donated with the uniform, Niedzwiedz gladly accepted the donation and got to work setting up a display.
He contacted Matthew Brouillette, the Veterans Service Officer in Dartmouth, to get copies of Silvia’s military records.
“He was instrumental in getting us the information,” Niedzwiedz said.
Silvia served during World War II from 1942 to 1946 according to his discharge papers. He was 27 years old when he signed up.
Neidzwiedz said there were no specific jobs for photographers in the military, so Silvia was assigned to the Signal Corps managing communications and information systems. He trained at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey. His discharge papers referred to him as a radio telegraph person.
Silvia spent his military career stateside, but Neidzwiedz wasn’t able to trace his exact whereabouts after he left training.
“Where he went from Fort Monmouth, we have no idea,” Neidzwiedz said. At one point Silvia was in Mississippi because one of the photographs among the items donated shows a young Silvia in his uniform standing beside a sign for the Jefferson Davis Shrine Beauvoir House in Biloxi.
“He’s got all kinds of photos in here, but we don’t know if he took them or not,” Neidzwiedz said.
Among his awards and medals, Silvia received the American Campaign Medal World War II, the Good Conduct Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the World War II Honorable Discharge Device.
Silvia was the only child of Edward C. and Eva Huette Silvia. He married Alice E. Kubel, who predeceased him in 1990 at the age of 73. Silvia died in 2006 at the age of 90. They didn’t have any children.
Just how the uniform and photos were given to the military museum is an interesting story.
Silvia lived on John Street in New Bedford and was the neighbor of Jeannette Francis. When Silvia died having no heirs, he left his house to Francis.
“They painted together,” said Patricia Lecuyer, Francis’s niece.
Lecuyer said her aunt, now 94, had recently moved to a long-term care facility, and as her home was being emptied, Silvia’s uniform and the photos were found in a cedar closet.
“We didn’t want to throw it away,” Lecuyer said.
Lecuyer said some of his paintings were also in her aunt’s house.
“We found a relative on his wife’s side of the family,” she said, who will take the paintings. “It should go to family.”
“He was in his 50s and I was in my 20s, but I had trouble keeping up with him,” wrote the late Hank Seaman in a 2006 Standard-Times column following Silvia’s death. Seaman worked at the paper with Silvia. “I always called him one of the youngest men I knew because he had such a zest for life. He also had an iron will. If Milt wanted to do something, no force on earth would change his mind.”
Seaman said Silvia was also a wonderful painter and “played a mean saxophone.”
Silvia photographed under the name E. Milton Silvia, but he was known simply as “Milt” by those who worked with him.
The Digital Commonweath website said of Silvia, “A photojournalist extraordinaire, his love was the photo essay. When men were building the Braga Bridge in Fall River, he climbed to the top of the towering steel with his camera and shot the workers below. He documented immigrant families from the last days in their villages in the Azores, to their landings at Logan Airport and their emotional reunions with family members.”
Silvia was offered opportunities to work for bigger newspapers in New York and Boston, but he chose to stay in New Bedford. He was once quoted as saying, "My years at the Standard-Times were the best years of my life. I love the New Bedford area. Once you have the sea in you, it’s hard to let it go."
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