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Navy Photographer Shoots Portraits of WWII Vets Earlier than It is Too Late

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Navy photographer Mickey Strand, who served for twenty-four years earlier than retiring in 2009, has captured portraits of greater than 115 World Battle II veterans since 2017. Of these, solely 10 to fifteen are nonetheless with us at present, which reveals the urgency of transferring ahead earlier than it’s too late.

Strand additionally information interviews that he converts into biographies on his venture’s web site, Veterans Portrait.

Strand had beforehand captured portraits within the Navy, however his fashion was the usual flat lighting of a navy headshot for nearly every thing till a mentor gave him some recommendation.

“This mentor tasked me with arising with one portrait per week,” Strand tells PetaPixel. “He requested me to attempt new stuff and experiment with lighting and posing something however the requirements I had set for therefore a few years.

“He additionally stated I ought to discover a topic that I used to be fascinated with, to speak with them and get to know them a bit. This manner, I might be in search of a real portrait of the topic and never attempting to make a photograph however be taken by a second.”

Chuck and Annie Muler have been married for over 68 years and met again at school earlier than the struggle. They have been married earlier than Chuck shipped out and Annie went to Corpsman college. They each served in their very own model of an Military-Navy recreation.

Strand began a basic portrait venture in 2016 however narrowed its focus to World Battle II veterans in 2017 after a go to, shoot, and exhibition on the Mount Miguel Covenant Village (an assisted dwelling group) for Veterans Day in November of 2017.

Touring for Portrait Shoots

The portraits have all to this point been shot in California—a full day in Ventura, CA, 4 days on the California Veteran residence in Los Angeles, and three days within the California Veteran residence in Chula Vista.

Dr. John West Enlisted within the US Military in Jan of 1944 as an 18-year-old Non-public. He attended Parachute Faculty, now the Fundamental Airborn Course, at Ft. Benning GA, after which served as a Medical Technician (fight medic) within the 505th Brigade of the 82nd Airborne. Dr. West jumped with the 82nd Airborne into Germany simply after the Battle of the Bulge, Ardennes Counteroffensive. Dr. West was awarded a Bronze Star and left the Military as a Sargent in 1946. Dr. John West used his GI invoice to attend medical college, persevering with his lifetime of service. He turned a health care provider after which a surgeon. He retired in 1999 and constructed a clinic in China to assist Cambodian and Vietnam refugees. He served at his clinic with the workers for a number of years
Dr. John West (left) holds the print with photographer Mickey Strand

One portrait of veteran Sgt. Wallace Chavkin, US Military, a pharmacy tech in Europe was shot in Palm Seashore, Florida. Strand was talking at a convention on the Palm Seashore Photographic Heart and a good friend of a good friend launched him to the veteran’s daughter. The Heart then let Strand use their studio.

“I hope to start out touring and capturing throughout, but it surely comes all the way down to funding,” explains the veteran Navy photographer. “I can discover veterans and organizations to assist find vets, but it surely comes all the way down to financing on the touring facet, so I work nearer to residence for now. However I’ll hop on a airplane if the chance arises.”

Tales of Struggles, Sacrifice, and Camraderie

Stand says that his topics are all heroes irrespective of the place or how a lot they served. However he has met some very famend navy individuals. He has met just a few POWs, many Flying Cross recipients, Purple Hearts, after which there’s Cmdr. James Forester, a survivor of the USS Wasp (CV-7) sinking.

The photographer says he’s blessed to study those that served and what they needed to endure to get us to the place we’re at present.

Garland Cheeks – Navy – SM1. born on June twenty seventh, 1920, Steward’s Mate 1st Class, Garland Cheeks served within the US Navy aboard the transport ship the usMenard (APA-201) an assault transport that embarked troops and cargo. Aboard the usMenard, they transported Marines to Okinawa and returned wounded to their residence base within the US. He married his highschool classmate, Lenora Cheeks and so they had 3 youngsters. They performed in a band collectively, trombone and clarinet respectively. After he was discharged he open a Barbershop in Chicago, Illinois.

“We now have not arrived, however we’ve come a great distance,” displays Strand. “I photographed Garland Cheeks, Steward’s Mate 1st Class, who served on the USS Menard (APA-201), an assault transport.

“Stewards like Garland ready and served meals to the officers and maintained their quarters and uniforms. He recounted that he and the opposite stewards, “all Black”, needed to stand whereas consuming as a result of no desk being supplied for individuals of colour.”

Joe Ray Gonzalez, Non-public First Class, recalled to Strand his first night time in a foxhole on Okinawa and the companionship of his fellow Mexican service members “who all banded collectively” and helped him by means of this robust first night time.

Juan Estrada joined the Military, nonetheless a Mexican citizen, in Dec of ’43, as an Infantryman. “I at all times carried a rifle, at all times.” It was not till 1946 that Juan turned a citizen of the USA. Juan served with the third Armor, thirty sixth Infantry Division by means of the North of France into the Rhénanie to safe its liberation from German occupation. He remembers his unit was simply full of children. “We have been all simply youngsters.” Juan spent 3 months in France on cemetery duties portray crosses for the fallen. Juan Estrada obtained his second Bronze Star in September 1945 for floor fight operations in Europe in addition to his Fight Infantry Badge. He spent many days in a ahead recon unit in Germany having many small skirmishes with the younger German troopers. He retired after 39 years of service.
Noboru Seki (Don) – Military – CPL served within the US Military with the 442nd Regimental Fight Workforce, L firm, a segregated unit comprised of Japanese American service members. They superior from Marseille France to the Vosges Mountains. His unit was assigned to take the city of Bruyères, France. The Germans had the excessive floor and surrounded the thirty sixth division from Texas. They took heavy casualties preventing uphill however acquired the thirty sixth out. 4 days later in Bifffontain France, Don misplaced his arm throughout a heavy machine-gun assault. He was taken to a subject hospital the place they saved his life however his arm was too far gone. He recuperated stateside at Brigham Younger hospital, in Salt Lake Metropolis, for 9 months studying to make use of his new prosthesis.

“I photographed Corporal Noboru Seki (Don), who served within the US Military with the 442nd Regimental Fight Workforce, L firm, a segregated unit comprised of Japanese American service members,” recollects Strand.

“Throughout a heavy machine-gun assault, Don misplaced his arm within the Vosges Mountains [France] whereas saving the surrounded thirty sixth division from Texas. Veterans have been kinder and extra selfless than their nation has been to them.”

Some members who can nonetheless put on their uniforms typically do to a session. Many herald a photograph from their service years, and it’s a chance for Strand to create then and now pictures. Different topics pose with issues which can be significant to them, comparable to navy photographer Joe Renteria posing with an assortment of cameras.

Joe Renteria served as Fleet Admiral William Halsey Jr.’s photographer all through World Battle II and documented the atomic bomb checks. Strand maintained a friendship with him for years till he just lately handed at 104.

Navy Chief Photographers Mate Joe Renteria was born in July 1917. Joe is a retired Navy PHC and retired after 20 years. Joe started his service in 1936 within the US Military, first serving for 3 years with a heavy machine gun unit. He was not proud of the Military, so on the finish of service, he walked down the corridor and joined the Navy. Joe served in Aviation at Pearl Harbor, flying with a PBY unit looking ahead to the Japanese ships earlier than transferring to Pensacola for Photographers A faculty to grow to be a Photographers Mate. Joe served as Fleet Admiral William Halsey Jr.’s photographer all through WWII. They hopped from island to island the place Joe, due to his flight expertise, flew aerial picture missions along with his favourite KS 20 Navy aerial digicam documenting the atomic bomb checks. After the Navy, Joe was the Head of the Photograph division at San Diego State College for one more 33 years.

Renteria was in all probability essentially the most energetic 104-year-old Strand had ever met. He used to have lunch or espresso with him not less than as soon as a month when Renteria invited him to a veteran lunch group.

Arthur Pierce – USMC – SSgt was born Jan eleventh, 1925, and served throughout WWII within the US Marine Corps (USMC) from March twenty second, 1943 – June third, 1943. Artwork served as an aviation radar technician at Naval Air Station Imperial Seashore, CA. Artwork labored within the radio and radar shack (restore facility) the place they examined and repaired plane radars for night time flight coaching for the F-6 Hellcat Fighter and later the F-7 Tigercat. Artwork got here again into the service through the Korean Battle and served from Feb 1950 – Sep 1951. Artwork stayed within the Radar subject serving with a beacon crew deploying to Korea for 12 months.

Strand loves it when vets present up and inform him tales. After all, among the neatest pictures have been in uniform, however he has photographed veterans in every thing from costume uniforms to Hawaiian shirts.

The oldest topic who has sat in entrance of Strand’s digicam up to now was 100 and three years outdated. Just a few of us have been 95 once they first posed in 2017, however they might be 100 at present.

Strand has solely been in a position to sit and gather ten portraits of World Battle II girls veterans. He has 4 extra from later service however says he would like to seize many extra.

Barbara Komlenic – USMC – SSgt served within the US Marine Corps, USMC, for six years as a MOS-055 Clerk, Common (Administrative and Clerical). Barbara was stationed at Headquarters Marine Corps, Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, North Carolina. There she was the secretary for Common Rey. Barbara was promoted to the rank of Employees Sergeant earlier than the top of her service. Earlier than she left the Corps, she met her husband Daniel, who served within the USMC as a Captan. Mrs. Barbara shared a photograph from her boot camp commencement for this picture.
Lillian Sanders – Navy was born on December nineteenth, 1924, and served within the US Navy as a WAVE – Ladies Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. She labored primarily with different girls who have been serving. She acted as a bunch chief for the women in her unit. Her duties included caring for the women on the ranch. That is the place Lillian was given the nickname TigerLil.
Mary ‘Tippy’ Paine – USMC – SGT born on Could eleventh, 1920 served within the US Marine Corps and was given the nickname, Tippy by her associates. After Bootcamp Mary was meritoriously promoted to Sargent and served in Washington D.C, for her first yr within the Corps. Mary served as a recruiter concentrating on encouraging extra girls to affix the Marine Corps. After her first yr, she transferred to the west coast to be nearer to her household. Her orders introduced her to the Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Station, at Mojave, California. Mary met her husband Jack Haney USMC, on the air station earlier than he shipped out for Guadalcanal.

“I take actually crappy notes,” confesses Strand. “I used to be having hassle with the caption write-ups early on, so I wanted assist. I acquired some steerage from some bloggers I do know, and so they urged an interview reporters’ recorder. So, I acquired the Zoom H1n and did the subsequent occasion. It was a easy, easy-to-use device that was a game-changer.”

Wellington Kwan – Military – 2LT born Dec thirteenth, 1922 served with the usArmy from Jan 1943 – Oct 1947 as an enlisted man rising to the rank of SSGT with the Sign Corps earlier than accepting a fee to 2nd Lt with the sixty fifth Fight Engineer Division. He fondly remembers flying over the Himalayas in a B25 to get to his first responsibility station with the Sign Corps. He served in Chongqing, China the headquarters of the Allied Forces in China throughout World Battle II as a switchboard operator and telecommunications specialist. Wellington met Hellen Hwa and married his GI Bride in Dec 45 earlier than transferring to Shanghai. He reported again to Japan and served in Osaka, Japan on the Kanoka Barracks with the occupational forces for over a yr.

The audio recordings helped, and somebody requested if Strand was capturing a video of the interviews. He had a spare digicam and tripod, so he did the video recordings. However they’re simply to assist him with taking notes. He listens to the interview whereas enhancing the member’s portrait because it places him again to the chat he had that day. It helps him pull a greater {photograph} from the information that his digicam recorded because the member recollects a second of their service. Generally he listens to them time and again.

Capturing the Portraits

“I schedule a 2-hour block within the studio in order that we’re not rushed,” Strand says. “If I’m on the member’s residence, the appointment is often an hour. Most people who can come to the studio share a narrative or two and their service information in about 20 min, and the portrait taking is often 20-30 min.

Ret. Maj. Walt Little USAF was a Navigation Officer who was initially drafted in 1942. Throughout WWII he primarily carried out duties as a Truck Driver within the US Military. He served for one tour within the Military and after his first tour of responsibility, Main Little joined the US-AAC as a Cadet on the Aviation Cadet Coaching Program in Santa Ana California. He reported to Navigation college and later taught the operation and administration of the Norden Bombsight system in California. His coaching duties included flying college students up and down the coast within the B-25 Mitchell bombers.
Maj. Walt Little speaks to Mickey Strand throughout his portrait shoot

“Nonetheless, some veterans love to speak, and I’ve shot some veterans with a lot of reminiscence, photographs, or memorabilia for over an hour. But it surely’s a chat session with most veterans, and time flies by.”

Strand says he captures 100 to 200 pictures in a session. Initially, it began with 20 to 30, however “pictures are free nowadays” as a result of transition from movie images to digital. He at all times captures the seated official picture however tries to not prohibit his capturing. He tries to let the veteran create a picture particular to them. The photographer is ready to be amazed by every one that blesses him by sitting down in entrance of his digicam.

“I attempt to keep out of the best way and let the topic chat,” says Strand. “Inform shops and gaff. There’s a second about half a second after somebody laughs that their face is so glad, and their eyes open again up and relaxed; it’s magical.

“Some members want me to seize a somber, reflective second. Generally once they keep in mind a fallen good friend. I’m grateful once I discover out I’m the primary particular person they’ve shared the story with. So, I attempt to be current and be prepared.”

“I begin on the tripod with just a few customary poses,” explains the retired Navy shooter. “I set a very good look with my Nikon Z7II and use a wi-fi distant, so I can nonetheless get photographs from in entrance of the digicam. However I invariable seize the digicam and alter over to a different lens, at present loving the brand new 105mm [Nikon NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S], and begin to let the portrait session take me into the topic.

Gustav “Gus” Swiersz PFC served within the US Military from July 1943 – Nov 1945. Gus was drafted into the Military at 20 & served with the twenty eighth Infantry Division, 112th Regiment in Europe. Non-public First Class Swiersw served with the twenty eighth through the German Ardennes counter-offensive often known as the Battle of the Bulge. He recounts being separated from his unit and behind enemy traces through the combat. He and his unit fought repeatedly for 9 days. He was subject promoted a number of instances and attained the rank of Employees Sergeant in-country earlier than he returned to the US. Throughout the struggle. Gus spoke a number of languages and was assigned to help with the liberation of slave labor and POW camps in Germany. His Regiment was awarded a Presidential Unit Quotation for actions through the Battle of the Bulge, Dec 44.
Constance Cucura – Navy – S2c born Feb twenty seventh, 1923, served within the U.S. Navy Ladies Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) Corps, from 1st Oct 1944 – fifth Apr 1946. Constance attended Navy WAVES boot camp in San Diego at one of many faculties that have been sharing area to coach WAVES in fundamental navy procedures earlier than transferring on to superior coaching. Constance was a Seaman 2nd Class (S2c) as an workplace clerk in transportation at Naval Air Station, North Island in San Diego CA. She labored on the air tower and assisted with transportation efforts for the Navy transferring individuals round the USA.
The Eisenhower Basis @ikessoldiers despatched me [Mickey Strand] some nice behind-the-scenes pictures from my Veteran Portrait Sequence shoot in Ventura. That is exhibiting W2 Navy WAVE vet Constance Cucura her portrait

Moreover the Nikon 105mm, he additionally shoots with the Nikon NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S. He began the venture along with his Nikon D750 after which took tons of of portraits along with his Nikon D850. Strand discovered “that factor” to be a workhorse, however he loves the brand new mirrorless system.

Strand will shoot with any mild as he has been by means of the gamut of lighting within the final six years. He began the venture with a Calumet Journey (Bowens Gemini) mild system with two 750W heads and a 500W. Then he tried LED with a second-hand Westcott Skylux 1000W three head system, which he nonetheless makes use of sometimes. He at present makes use of a Paul C. Buff DigiBee DB800 3 head system. He likes that the LED [400W equivalent] is daylight balanced for video or nonetheless capturing, and he has flash for when he desires that too, and it’s fairly inexpensive.

Frances Emma Terrazas – Navy – HM was born on April 2nd, 1922, served within the US Navy and labored as a medical information administrator on the Naval hospital at Port Hueneme airbase in Oxnard Ca. She had labored in medical information earlier than becoming a member of the Navy on the county hospital in Los Angeles the place she spoke, learn, and wrote in Spanish and English. Frances served for less than 13 months and was launched as a result of her father turning into in poor health. He and her 11-year-old brother wanted her help to see to their wants so she was discharged. Frances had 3 brothers and so they all served throughout WWII.

Strand was educated to fill the body however does crop sometimes. He likes to print in 16×20,” and that’s not the facet ratio of the sensor/movie. He’s conscious that every one the photographs might be printed method larger than he’ll be capable to.

“The prints are all in B&W or chromatic greyscale as a result of it speaks the loudest for this work,” says Strand. “However I used to be taught that to get the most effective B&W pictures, you must begin with the most effective colour picture. So, I edit the ultimate print in colour after which do my B&W conversion. Every consumer will get the B&W closing picture and typically the colour picture if it talks loud sufficient to me.”

A Profession as a Navy Photographer

Strand’s father was an newbie photographer who had a basement darkroom in Racine, Wisconsin. He gave Strand his Minolta SR-T 101 when he acquired his new Minolta X-700. Strand helped his father shoot his aunt’s wedding ceremony when he was about 12. He labored with the highschool yearbook workers, took picture courses, and was a newspaper workers member. These extracurricular occasions constructed a love for the craft.

Bernard ‘Ski’ Waskowski – USMC – Main born on September twenty fifth, 1927, served in the USA Marines from 1945 to 1967. He served primarily in-country in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. He served with the first and 2nd Division for the USMC and the first, 2nd, and third USMC Air-wing. Throughout his time in service, he served as a provide officer. Ski recounted that his favourite reminiscence whereas being in-country was admiring stunning samurai swords and driving his motorbike by means of the cities.

He joined the Navy and was lucky to work within the picture lab and have a images profession on his first ship.

“I joined the Navy for the possibility for one thing new and thrilling,” says Strand. “Journey and abroad journey, to a child who was not tremendous and fascinated with going the standard college route. I figured it gave me an opportunity to develop and be taught, and being the oldest of eight youngsters, not quite a lot of faculty cash was round. So, I made my method in life, identical to my of us did.”

Strand says the Navy used every thing from aerial reconnaissance cameras in pods on the stomach of plane to medium format Bronicas & Mamiyas.

Estelle Strichartz – Military – T5 served as a Technician Fifth Grade in WWII within the US Military, Ladies’s Military Corps “WAC”. She served as a Topographical Draftsman within the Pacific theater of operations. Estelle served for two years & 2 months from 28 Sep 43 till 27 Dec 1945. Her service within the Pacific began in Australia mobilizing till her unit acquired concerned within the Liberation of the Philippine Islands. She was engaged on deciphering enemy maps and the creation of topographical fight map updates for Allied forces. Estelle is sharing a photograph of her in Australia with two Koala bears. Estelle was awarded the American Marketing campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Asiatic Pacific Marketing campaign Medal with 1 bronze service star, a Good Conduct Medal, and a Philippine Liberation Marketing campaign medal with 2 abroad service bars.

“However the on a regular basis capturing workhorse of my days was the Canon F1,” says Strand. “I put too many rolls of movie to depend by means of considered one of these.

“The Navy moved to Nikon within the early days of digital with the joint Nikon Kodak DCS methods. My first contact of digital was an early DCS100. Once we went full digital, the Nikon D1 had simply come out and was an important substitute for movie cameras, and used all of the Nikon glass we had for the DCS methods. So, I’ve been Nikon from then on.”

Mickey Strand at Veterans Portrait Sequence present WWII veterans of San Diego, Nov 2021 at Nelson Photograph in San Diego

Strand retired in 2009 after 24 years of energetic service as a Photographer’s Mate Chief Petty Officer. He was deployed many instances from the ’80s to 2009 on many platforms, from plane carriers to missile cruisers, with navy, marine, and armed forces personnel items, however he tries to Keep in mind Everybody Deployed (RED). He says everybody served, and so they can inform their tales to 1 one other once they meet up.

Richard “Dick” Wells – USN – LCDR born Sep 14th, 1931, joined the U.S. Navy in 1953 at 22 years outdated with an undergraduate diploma to grow to be a pilot. Richard, already married, attended Officer Candidate Faculty (OCS) in Newport, Street Island for one yr. After commencement, he and his spouse moved to Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, the place Dick attended flight coaching. The college was about eight months, adopted by superior flight coaching in Kingsville, Texas. They then moved to California when Dick obtained orders to VF-53, the Iron Angels at Naval Air Station Miramar. There he flew the Grumman F-9 Cougar and Vought F-8 Crusader, each carrier-based fighter plane. VF-53, assigned to Profession Air Group (CAG), deployed onboard the usTiconderoga (CV-14) in 1960-61 on a Western Pacific operations deployment (Westpac). This deployment was through the pre-conflict operations in Vietnam. Dick ended his energetic responsibility service in 1961 however remained within the reserves till 1968.

The Way forward for the Venture

Strand has no clue what number of World Battle II veterans are nonetheless alive. Should you served on energetic responsibility earlier than September 2, 1945, and have been 18 years outdated then, you’d be 95 at present. Strand has photographed a staggering variety of veterans who served at 16 or 17, dropping out of highschool to enlist, however that also makes them 93.

Lots of the veterans he has labored with have lived into their 100s. It’s unimaginable to consider these heroes who gave a lot and lived extraordinary lives.

Strand doesn’t understand how lengthy his venture will lengthen into the longer term.

William Murray – Aircorp, was born on Aug twenty fifth, 1926, and enlisted within the US Military Air Corps proper after Excessive Faculty in 1944. William stayed within the Military Air Corps as much as and together with serving through the Korean struggle.

“I suppose typically I’ll run out of World Battle II veterans to {photograph}. I’ve labored on new sub-lines of the general veteran’s portrait collection with Korean struggle and Vietnam Battle Portraits, and I’ve performed two small print reveals for them. Possibly sometime, the venture will evolve into a type of veterans’ tales.”

You’ll be able to see extra of Mickey Strand’s work on his web site, Instagram and a Google 360 Tour.


In regards to the creator: Phil Mistry is a photographer and instructor primarily based in Atlanta, GA. He began one of many first digital digicam courses in New York Metropolis at The Worldwide Heart of Images within the 90s. He was the director and instructor for Sony/Common Images journal’s Digital Days Workshops. You’ll be able to attain him right here.


Picture credit: All photographs equipped by Mickey Strand.



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