This picture is a postcard, on heavy stock. It would appear that maybe Sobol had a number of these made up. Based on Sobol's appearance in this picture and in the next one, I would guess that this was from about 1915 or thereabouts. I have no idea whose uniform he's wearing here, or if he actually was a soldier. It certainly doesn't look like an American uniform. [Actually, it is. See below.] Reading the history of that area at that time, it could have been damned near anyone. The area Grandma was from was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (right on the border, in fact). The Russians were just the other side of the river. Poland was in on the fighting. And in the chaos surrounding the collapse of Austria-Hungary at the end of the war and the revolutions in Russia, there were two independent Ukrainian states declared; the border between the two was right where Grandma lived.
The fact that the picture is clearly taken in a studio makes me wonder if perhaps this was a joke photo. [Joke, costume, almost definitely something like that.] But then, I suppose portable cameras were a rarity at that time in that place.
There is no caption on the back of this photo, just a blank postcard.
People I asked on the Info-Ukes genealogy mailing list mentioned that it's hard to see any insignia in this scan that would help people identify which army the uniforms are for, so I've scanned in selected portions of the photo at high magnification in hopes that it will help.
In June 2001, I participated in a "ethnic day" put on by my local genealogical society where people could come in and ask questions about how to research their families. I was the "expert" for Ukraine and Italy. I found myself sitting next to Mark Conrad, who was the expert for Russia, but who, more importantly, is an expert on military uniforms. He offered to look at the picture, and came up with an answer.
It didn't take him long. Within an hour or so of the end of the ethnic day, I had the following in my e-mail from Mark:
It's a 100% no-doubt-about-it USofA uniform on the right, the 1902-pattern enlisted man's uniform to be exact. Dark-blue hat and tunic, light blue pants. Worn up to 1917 when we entered the war and the colored parade uniforms went into storage never to be seen again.
This refers to Sobol's friend's uniform. There's more:
But was this fellow really in the army? His uniform FITS WELL, but his hat is sloppily worn, and the aiguilettes (a marksmen award) are suspiciously loose. There's other folks who really know weapons, but to me that thing looks like an old Civil War muzzle-loading musket without its sling. A real soldier would a) not be allowed to carry his rifle into public, and b) have a sling. Find some gun nut to confirm this.
About Sobol specifically:
The fellow on the left would be an "officer," but many, many of his "uniform's" details are wrong, starting with the hat that looks more like a firechief's than anything else. His aiguilette is obviously not regulation army use. The lace on his cuff is totally bizzare for US military at this time. So I don't even think he's national guard, much less an actual army officer.
Bottom line - absolutely American, but with studio props and smelling of either costume get-up or some kind of marching band/civic/fraternal/patriotic organization.
(Emphasis in the above is mine.)
Since originally posting the picture, I've found that Sobol came to North America in 1912, before World War I, so he wouldn't have been in Austria-Hungary during the war. My guess is that Sobol and his friend had the picture taken to send to relatives back home (hence the postcard stock) to impress them.
Mark had specific comments about some of the items I scanned in at high resolution.
I'm grateful to Mark for his help in clearing this mystery up.
This photo is another postcard, and I have two of them, one with writing on the back, the other without, but both with the postcard stuff on them.
The caption on the back reads: "From left: Mike Szary, Vince Sobol, Wladek Szmygelsky". Penciled in after that is "1919 pik". I can't tell for sure, but Szary may be the other person in the soldier photo.
This third photograph is undated, but may have been taken at the same time
as the previous one. It is also on postcard stock with postcard markings. There's
no caption. Sobol is in the back row, second from left.
Next--Unknown people, 1939