ATHENS, Georgia (Tribune News Service) – Al Lester touched a key on his computer and a photo of a young boy in pajamas with a happy smile appeared on the monitor.

Somewhere, that kid – his late 1960s photo – is now a man who wants that photo and the hundreds of other slides Lester believes were taken by the boy’s father.

“I would like to be able to return the slides to the child,” Lester said recently at his home in Athens.

Most of the photos in a collection Lester owns today were taken during the Vietnam War. Although he examined the photos carefully, he could not give a full name to this mysterious aviator who was a skilled photographer.

Lester can only determine from the numerous photos that he served in the US Air Force in Vietnam in 1968.

A friend of Lester’s, Michael Joyce from Athens, had originally bought the box of slides from the Salvation Army thrift store more than two decades ago when it was in a building behind a Wendy’s restaurant near Prince Avenue. The Kodak slides were in a locker that Joyce had bought.

“He gave it to me about six months ago,” said Lester, who is retired from the University of Georgia.

Since that time, Lester began examining the color slides and felt obliged to return the photos to the little boy who, if alive today, would be in his fifties. The photos suggest the man had an assignment that did not send him to the battle lines, as his pictures are mostly scenes from the cities or military airports in South Vietnam, although many show the trappings of war.

Lester also believes that one young woman in a group of photos taken in Hawaii was from the man’s wife. Many show her posing happily for the pictures.

Lester only has theories as to why the photo box was sold in a thrift store.

“I suppose he was killed in the war, or divorced, or the slides were somehow lost,” Lester suggested. However, if the photographer was alive, he would be in his 70s.

The strongest clue to the man’s identity is a photo of him in uniform with a name tag that reads “Pitera”.

But despite computer searches for this name on various military websites, Lester could not find a person who would suit the aviator.

Lester made copies of the slides on his computer using a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 film scanner.

“Whoever this man was, he was very proud of his photos,” said Lester, who shared some of the photos on Facebook and other websites in hopes that someone would recognize the man. So far nobody has.

Lester believes the man is most likely not from Athens, but possibly from the surrounding counties.

There are more portraits below the photos, including one of the grandparents who he believes could be the man’s father or father-in-law.

The set photos in Vietnam fascinated Lester, who is himself an experienced amateur photographer. Photos were taken in several locations including Saigon, Bangkok, Pleiku, Da Nang and others, along with the family photos in Hawaii.

“The more I saw, the more I was amazed. It showed everyday street scenes,” said Lester, while he was sitting at his computer and studying the photos. “The more I looked, the more I wanted to find the son.”

(c) 2021 the Athens Banner Herald (Athens, Georgia)

Visit the Athens Banner-Herald (Athens, Georgia) at www.onlineathens.com

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One of the photos from the Vietnam War that the man Al Lester from Athens, Georgia, wants to return to the photographer’s family. Most of the photos in a collection Lester owns today were taken during the Vietnam War. Although he examined the photos carefully, he could not give a full name to this mysterious aviator who was a skilled photographer. (Facebook)

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