While the original “story behind the picture” for My Favorite Things, pictured above, can be read on my old blog, I thought Memorial Day might be an important day to explain why my father’s camera was both so important to him and by extension, to me.
His ’68 Asahi Pentax must have added a significant amount of weight to his pack in Vietnam, yet he was – for the most part – never without it. I love his photographs from his time there…they are not what you might expect. He did not chronicle anything that most war photographers immortalized on film, because he was not a photographer. He was simply a young soldier, not yet old enough to vote, yet old enough to be flown over oceans and dropped into war. Not yet old enough to vote, but old enough to lead a group of men, many of whom were far older and experienced. Not yet old enough to vote, but old enough to give and follow orders no nineteen-year-old should ever have to give and follow.
He grew up. He aged drastically, so much so that my grandfather barely recognized him at the airport when he finally returned home. He went back again, for another tour, still carrying his camera.
His photographs are ordinary: men writing letters; men smoking; men, sun-baked and smiling in the vicious heat; ducklings scooped up from a stream, swimming in upturned helmets…little pieces of humanity captured under the most inhumane of circumstances. Many of those men in the photographs returned home. Many did not.
I think his camera helped him stay connected to the pieces he dare not loose, lest he come home in body but not in spirit. There are so many who did, so many who DO today, return, forever altered. I think, on Memorial Day, we should remember all the men and women who not only have died, but those who must go on living their ordinary lives even though they’ve been permanently changed by their experiences in battle. It’s a challenge far greater than many understand, and so difficult for their families. I’m thankful to them all.