Why Veterans ... Why Military?

My maternal grandfather served in WWII, and my father served in the Air National Guard many years before I was born. However, as a child I was instilled with a respect for, and consistent interest in, America's history and those who paved the way for the liberties we now enjoy. Combining that with being raised near two Air Force bases and one Army base, I gained a great love, admiration, and respect for our country, and for those who have served, and those who are now serving, to protect and maintain our freedoms. Like our founding fathers, our service men and women come from all walks of life with diverse backgrounds and professions. In a way they are just like you and me, ordinary people, except for one significant difference. At some point they signed on the dotted line—willing to lay down their life for you, me, and values that America embraces. I cannot dismiss the fact that throughout the history of the United States of America, our service men and women have, in essence, given up a portion of their freedoms so that we may enjoy ours.

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13

When one joins the military they may not expect to die for their friends (countrymen), although they are very aware of the probability. Yet, I believe that to be willing to leave the circle of family and loved ones, the comforts of home, and to allow the government to dictate where they go and live in order to fight and preserve this great country, and possibly die doing it, is truly a noble sacrifice. Whether they live or die in the service of our country, it is a sacrifice that all too often goes unnoticed and under-appreciated.

The initial reaction I get when asked about my photography is often filled with visions of the trendy portraiture or dream wedding. To this I always smile and then I explain that while I do photograph portraits and weddings, the bulk of my photography is directed towards the military, it's veterans and their families, preserving the history of those who have answered the call of duty. I can expect one of two reactions to this explanation. One being the exclamation of "oh, that's nice" accompanied with a blank stare as the visions of the flowing white of wedding dresses or high school seniors artistically posed on train tracks dissolves. The other reaction being a heartfelt expression of patriotism and gratitude for our service members and veterans and a desire to know more about what my photography encompasses, sometimes accompanied with a personal story or two of their own.

The purpose of my photography is to bring, while a small minute way, an awareness to others, not to glorify war, but to shed light on the lessons learned but more specifically focus on those brave and not so brave (in their own words) souls & families that faced not only the reality of war, but the lasting affects both good and bad in their own lives and the legacy they have left behind for the generations to come. All of these men and women served and sacrificed for causes much greater than themselves. Some causes they agreed with and some they did not, but each accepted the call to serve. Ultimately it is my attempt to put a face and story behind the soldier and their families so that we as citizens may know whose blood and sacrifice we freely live off of each day, and while we try to avoid war at all costs "there are things worth fighting for" Norman Schwarzkoph.

What I do with photography I owe to three persons. The first being God above who has created me with a passion for history and photography, a love of mankind and a desire to learn more about those who came before me. Second to my own father who provided opportunities and conversation about and instilled within me a great respect and interest in the people and events that have created the history in the world you and I live in. The third person to be mentioned and should not be overlooked, would be Jon. I worked for Jon when I was in high school.

More importantly I remember Jon's story, and I owe much of what I do to Jon and his service as a Vietnam veteran but also his willingness to speak to me about it. As a young high school student I chose to interview Jon about his experiences in the Vietnam war as part of an extra credit project for History class. It has only now occurred to me that at the time it had been less than 20 years since his experiences "in-country" when I was some fledgling baby in diapers while he was fighting his way through the jungles of Vietnam. For me Vietnam was stuff written in history books and while I loved history, the war in my history book seemed to have happened a century ago. I think for most kids that's just what it seems like unless you are living it or living the consequences, or until that history is brought to life from one who was actually there.

In some naive way I assumed I would sit in Jon's living room and listen to some simple war story about fighting, returning home and life goes on....the stuff Hollywood makes it out to be. After all Hollywood sums up a lifetime of experiences in a few hours of entertainment right? What we don't see is the lasting effects or knowing the consequences that come with those experiences. At the same time I remember this eagerness to hear the reality first hand. For me, I've always wanted to know about the faces behind the dates and places in history, the real person, the real story, the real experience. Who were they?

And so the interview took place. A bright eyed teenage girl listening to the reality of one man's experience in Vietnam unfold. The horrors, the tears, the friends lost, some dying in his own arms, and the sleepless nights that continued even 20 years after the war and a nation that turned its back on one of its own.

I don't know what either of us thought the outcome would be. What stirred in me, having already been interested in history and the personal stories, was the realization that there was so much more beneath the places and dates in history books. I felt that people should know, and while I did not embark on a path to capture stories at that time, I continued to soak up history and information from those who were there. I wanted to know what it was like and how it shaped who they are.

Years later, from a war that Jon has tried to forget, I have spent remembering, which has propelled me into what I do today with my photography. When people learn they begin to care. When they care they stop taking for granted the freedoms we have and those who fight for them.

Click on the following link to enjoy a photographic tribute to our military Front Echelon Military Tribute

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