A scanning project worthy of a 'Band of Brothers'

By Daniel O'Leary posted 11-22-2011 00:05


I opened a letter that has sat untouched for the last 70 years. Musty, brittle, and faded, I pried the paper from its well-worn sleeve. For the past few days, I’ve repeated this ritual hundreds of times as I’ve meticulously prepared and scanned the letters from my maternal Grandfather, Bob Mann, a WW2 Veteran. Most are written to my Grandmother, who passed her time during the war assembling parts of B-29 bombers, and writing letters daily to “her Bob” on the front lines. They tell stories of fear, love, triumph, tragedy, and adventure. He would sit in a foxhole and read comic books, and write letters home to his sweetheart; dreaming of a cottage on a tranquil lake to occupy his thoughts and take his mind off the constant sniper and artillery fire.

This letter is dated June 22, 1944, a few weeks after the invasion of France.People know me as someone who lives in a paperless office, and enjoys a paperless lifestyle, in fact I don’t own a printer. So you might be asking, why I have held onto this particular paper. My grandfather’s letters from the war tell a profound story. He was part of the invasion of France, liberated Paris, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, freed Belgium, and smashed the Eagle's Nest. That would make a great movie, right? Correct, and HBO turned his division’s story into ‘Band of Brothers’. I had heard some of this growing up, but now digging into his letters; it became totally real and personal for me.

“Don’t worry too much – the Germans may be tough but they don’t come at us with invincible and bullet proof skin. We shoot to kill like they do, and the chances are even, although I do believe we have them worried more or less. Did you know too that I’m the Army’s secret weapon- they never heard of me yet! Ha! Ha!”

Clearly, a sense of humor and pride runs in the family.

To help me with this project, Canon sent me 2 scanners to test, a P-215 portable scanner, and a DR-C125 desktop scanner. I originally thought that given the age and condition of the paper and the contents, I’d have to use a flatbed scanner and painstakingly prepare and scan 1 page at a time of thousands. After a quick chat, I was assured that the DR-C125 was built to handle fragile and delicate paper. 

My pulse was racing as I fed the first letter into the document feeder. Would it eat it and make for awkward conversations around the family dinner table? To my delight, the machine whipped into action, neatly separating each page, bringing the words to life on my screen. Using the integrated ImageFORMULA scanning utility, the process was a breeze. Page by page, note by note, the documents assembled themselves into perfectly arranged PDFs. I did a fist pump at my computer as technology revived the words locked on the page for the last 70 years.

Once I had a few pictures and letters scanned, my first message was to my Mom on Facebook when I shared the incredibly well reasoned and mature status update with the photo below; “Liberating Paris, suck it Hitler.”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll complete this project, and pending family approval share all of the letters online for others to enjoy as well. Thanks again to the fine folks at Canon for providing the scanner for this project and helping me recapture a piece of my history.

If you can't see the images below, you can view the entire gallery here. 

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