Friday, November 12, 2010

Sometimes the heros do come home.

Today is Veterans Day and here at the Daily Ambush, like nearly every other paper I've worked at, we were tragically messed it up. Although what we did was better than the first plan.
We ran a story about several WWII vets and plan A was to just run mugshots of them all. That is a bad idea.
So, I had the privilege of talking with B-17 pilot Rufus Grisham while I made a portrait of him. I never miss a chance to talk to WWII vets. I love these guys and the stories they have to tell. I think I might have about 15hours of recordings of their stories. When it was time for me to leave I thanked Mr. Grisham and told him I always enjoy talking to heros. He replied, "I'm no hero. The heros didn't come home."

That is the portrait I made of Mr. Grisham. He is reflected in his framed citation of the Distinguished Flying Cross he earned by flying his busted-ass aircraft safely home after dropping bombs in the Battle of the Bulge Dec. 27, 1944 . To me, and I'm betting the eight other guys on the mission, this makes him a hero.
According to the citation: Grisham's B-17 was hit by enough flak to knock out engine four, reduce engines one and two to 3/4 power and blow out the left landing gear. 
According to Grisham the most he could get out of the engines was about 1800 rpm when the normal speed is around 3700 rpm. This reduced the maximun airspeed to 150 mph. "The B-17's stall speed is 130 mph, so we didn't have much room for error," Grisham tells me. 
So, Grisham is flying a blown-open soda can that is a mere 20 mph from becoming a human-filled boulder --2500 feet in the air back to England from Germany. Folks, I can pedal a bike to speeds over 25 mph easily. 
"I forget my wife's birthday sometimes, but I'll never forget Dec. 27, 1944," Grisham told me. 
Aside from the printer in the right corner, I really like this porttrait. Sure, it's a bit of a gimmick with the reflection and all, but I was able to get so much in the frame that explains who this man is that I don't need to say much about him. There is the model B-17, a photo of him flying a plane, and photo of him and his crew in England and a photo of the only guys left from that crew and oh yeah that impressive medal.
Mr. Grisham is one of those guys who you talk to and think after, "man, I haven't done crap in my life." All these WWII vets seem to be like that for me.

I appreciate everything these guys did and what military people are doing now. The military is a difficult, dangerous job requiring you to put up with a lot of bull.
From left Pvt. Eric Flores, Spc. Andrew Chavez and Sgt. Patrick Miller sit in the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle during a live-fire training exercise at training table 12 on Fort Hood.

Sitting in a Bradley fighting vehicle for hours in central Texas in July is bull. All Chavez wanted to do was get done with training and get home to his girlfriend so he could propose marriage to her on the 4th of July.  All Flores wanted was to find his gloves so Miller would stop yelling at him about not having them. All I wanted was a little more light, some fresh air and the 10 pounds I sweated off back.

First Cavalry Division helicopter pilot CW2 Derek Hudson hugs his 8-month-old daughter, Allora, for the first time while his wife, Tish, holds his glasses and his 2 year-old daughter, Larissa, plays with a toy airplane behind them on the grass at Cooper Field at 1st Cavalry Headquarters on Fort Hood.

Meeting your daughter for the first time in person when she is eight months old is bull. It's pretty obvious that CW2 Hudson doesn't care about anything else in the world at all at this precise moment. I waited a long time before I went to talk to him and his family. 

This is Jesse Peralez, he joined the Marine Corps right from high school. I was hoping to follow him through training and document his life, but I messed it up and our contact wasn't really as good as it should have been. Here he is getting a taste of what Boot Camp will be like. Having some guy scream in your ear about discipline through pain is bull.

Sgt. Lonnie Tettaton holds Cpt. Rowdy J. Inman's ceremonial flag until it is presented to his family while Dr. Sam Canine leaves the chapel at the end of a memorial service at Harper-Talasek Funeral Home in Killeen. Inman died Dec. 26, 2007 in Iraq while serving with the Third Armored Calvary Division.
And what Veterans Day blog post would be complete without talking about those who sacrificed everything? Getting killed when you are on a Military Transition Team is extreme bull. No person deserves to be killed by the people he is trying to help. Nothing speaks to how much respect I have for veterans more than how Cpt. Inman's life ended. He died in a firefight, fighting along side Iraqi soldiers. An internal investigation found one of the Iraqi soldiers in the unit Inman was training and fighting with had ties to local militia groups. I didn't know Inman, never met him. I do wish he could have died an old man, after telling some newspaper photographer 50 years his junior about how he earned the bronze star.

I wish all service personal could die of old age, but when we remove the human cost from war we also remove the consequences and turn it into nothing more than a video game. If that happens our leaders will be able to commit even more atrocities and it is for that reason that a military death is never in vain.

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