WINTHROP — Two years ago, an abandoned house in Orange, California, containing several hundred labeled photos tied to central Maine was about to be demolished. But the photos were saved and were recently given to the Winthrop American Legion.

Bob Dawson is seen Friday at the Alfred Maxwell Jr. American Legion Post 40 in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

It’s an especially meaningful discovery for legion members as Memorial Day approaches.

“I got a call from a gentleman in California about two months ago,” Winthrop American Legion Post Adjutant Robert Dawson Jr. said in an interview this past week. “He had traced us down based on a search of our American Legion Post in Winthrop.”

Eric Zaragoza of Huntington Beach, California — himself a Navy veteran and retired police officer who still works at his local station — said he found the photo after getting a call from a friend who works in construction. He told Zaragoza that the house was completely gutted and that he had to get rid of everything in the garage, and asked if he wanted to take a look at everything inside.

“While I was there I found that box,” he said. “It looked like a large cigar box that had photos and other memorabilia, but there wasn’t much more in there than photos. I told him he probably shouldn’t get rid of it, and he said he didn’t have time to mess with any of that stuff and that he was just going to toss it.”

Intrigued by the potential historical significance of the photos, Zaragoza took the box home, where it sat in his garage for about two years.


“We’re moving to Virginia,” he said, “so we’ve been clearing everything out. The box had been there, I’ve seen it off and on dozens of times. I finally opened it up and looked at it and I saw stuff from the American Legion Post in Winthrop.”

Alfred W. Maxwell, Jr., the Winthrop American Legion’s namesake, is pictured on the left in this photo from a 1942 Memorial Day Parade. It is believed to be the last photo taken of Maxwell prior to his death during the Battle of Guadalcanal in September of the same year. Courtesy of the Winthrop American Legion

Zaragoza is also a member of the American Legion, and was particularly drawn to the photo of Alfred W. Maxwell Jr., the Winthrop Legion’s namesake, during a Memorial Day Parade in 1942, exactly 80 years ago, as it was one of the clearer pictures. He then reached out to the Winthrop American Legion and sent the photos.

A box full of hundreds of photos then arrived in mid-April, and are currently in possession of Post Historian Valerie Guevara.

Guevara plans to meet with the Winthrop Historical Society within the next few weeks to discuss and catalog the pictures.

“The vast majority of the pictures are personal in nature,” said Dawson. “There were several sleeves that referenced the American Legion Post and Alfred Maxwell Jr.”

Members of the Winthrop American Legion believe that the photos were owned by Russell Mundi, a close friend of Maxwell’s.


“We believe that Russell Mundi Jr. moved to Orange, California, and that the pictures may be his,” said Dawson. “The house that he lived in had been abandoned for several years and the pictures were found about two years ago during demolition.”

As of Thursday, the Legion is in the process of trying to locate and contact Mundi Jr.

Alfred Winthrop Maxwell Jr. was born on Dec. 3, 1920. He grew up in Winthrop, graduated from Winthrop High School, and attended Hebron Academy. Maxwell enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942, at 21 years old.

Maxwell was one of 16,000 marines who left New Zealand in 89 ships for the Solomon Islands in July 1942.

A portrait of their namesake hangs Friday at the Alfred Maxwell Jr. American Legion Post 40 in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

And in early August, he was part of the the first amphibious assault of the Pacific Theater on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. Maxwell was mortally wounded, and succumbed to his injuries on Sept. 10, 1942.

Nearly six years later, his body was returned to the United States to the care of the American Legion Post, and is currently interred at the Glenside Cemetery in Winthrop.


Because his death occurred just months after the Memorial Day parade in the picture, Dawson said they now likely possess the last photo taken of Maxwell.

Zaragoza, however, did not know the photo held such significance, and was overwhelmed when he found out.

“I was in the military for 36 years,” he said, “and never in one day was I in harm’s way, and that’s the truth. It was a wonderful experience, and my hat is always off to those guys who sacrifice so much for us to have the life that we do. I had no clue that’s who that picture was; that’s great to hear.”

“(Maxwell) was the first Winthrop, Maine, casualty of World War II,” said Dawson. “His life and legacy echoes the main pillars of the American Legion.”

Alfred had two siblings. His younger brother, Robert, served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and died in 1990. His sister, Ann (Carlee), was an active member of the Winthrop American Legion Post Auxiliary and spent time working for Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson in Washington, D.C. She died in 2011.

An American flag flies Friday over grave of Alfred Maxwell Jr. in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Alfred was not married and had no children that the Legion is aware of. Dawson said they have not identified any grandchildren among this line of the family.

Dawson said the discovery was unanticipated, and that it brings significant historical value to Post 40. He said they are now working to document and tell his story, adding that they have just begun the endeavor.

“This is a significant gift to the post,” he said. “Over the years our memories regarding specific individuals fade. It’s not bad or intentional; it’s just the way life is. Most of our members probably only know that he was the first Winthrop son to be killed in action in the Second World War. Beyond that, he has been much a stranger. This photo provides the opportunity to change that dynamic.”

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