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


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

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

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

“This mentor tasked me with arising with one portrait every 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 mentioned I ought to discover a topic that I used to be eager about, to speak with them and get to know them a bit. This fashion, 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 in class earlier than the warfare. 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 normal portrait challenge in 2016 however narrowed its focus to World Warfare II veterans in 2017 after a go to, shoot, and exhibition on the Mount Miguel Covenant Village (an assisted dwelling neighborhood) for Veterans Day in November of 2017.

Touring for Portrait Shoots

The portraits have all up to now 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 Personal. He attended Parachute College, now the Primary 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 grew to become 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 employees 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 pal of a pal launched him to the veteran’s daughter. The Heart then let Strand use their studio.

“I hope to start out touring and capturing throughout, nevertheless it comes all the way down to funding,” explains the veteran Navy photographer. “I can discover veterans and organizations to assist find vets, nevertheless it 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 aircraft 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 folks. He has met a number of 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 find out about those that served and what they needed to endure to get us to the place we’re in the present day.

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 united statesMenard (APA-201) an assault transport that embarked troops and cargo. Aboard the united statesMenard, they transported Marines to Okinawa and returned wounded to their residence base within the US. He married his highschool classmate, Lenora Cheeks they usually 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 now have come a good 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 resulting from no desk being supplied for folks of shade.”

Joe Ray Gonzalez, Personal First Class, recalled to Strand his first evening 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 evening.

Juan Estrada joined the Military, nonetheless a Mexican citizen, in Dec of ’43, as an Infantryman. “I all the time carried a rifle, all the time.” It was not till 1946 that Juan grew to become 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 acquired 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 combating uphill however received 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 discipline 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 usually do to a session. Many usher in a photograph from their service years, and it’s a chance for Strand to create then and now photographs. Different topics pose with issues which are significant to them, akin 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 Warfare II and documented the atomic bomb exams. Strand maintained a friendship with him for years till he 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 awaiting 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 together with his favourite KS 20 Navy aerial digicam documenting the atomic bomb exams. After the Navy, Joe was the Head of the Picture division at San Diego State College for one more 33 years.

Renteria was most likely probably the most energetic 104-year-old Strand had ever met. He used to have lunch or espresso with him no 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 evening flight coaching for the F-6 Hellcat Fighter and later the F-7 Tigercat. Artwork got here again into the service through the Korean Warfare and served from Feb 1950 – Sep 1951. Artwork stayed within the Radar discipline serving with a beacon crew deploying to Korea for 12 months.

Strand loves it when vets present up and inform him tales. After all, a number of the neatest photographs have been in uniform, however he has photographed veterans in all the pieces from costume uniforms to Hawaiian shirts.

The oldest topic who has sat in entrance of Strand’s digicam to this point was 100 and three years previous. Just a few of us have been 95 after they first posed in 2017, however they might be 100 in the present day.

Strand has solely been capable of sit and accumulate ten portraits of World Warfare 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, Basic (Administrative and Clerical). Barbara was stationed at Headquarters Marine Corps, Camp Lejeune, Jacksonville, North Carolina. There she was the secretary for Basic 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 – Girls Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. She labored primarily with different girls who have been serving. She acted as a gaggle chief for the women in her unit. Her duties included taking good care of 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 mates. 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 received some steering from some bloggers I do know, they usually advised an interview reporters’ recorder. So, I received the Zoom H1n and did the following 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 united statesArmy 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 Warfare II as a switchboard operator and telecommunications specialist. Wellington met Hellen Hwa and married his GI Bride in Dec 45 earlier than shifting 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 info 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 aren’t rushed,” Strand says. “If I’m on the member’s residence, the appointment is normally an hour. Most folk who can come to the studio share a narrative or two and their service data in about 20 min, and the portrait taking is normally 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 talk, and I’ve shot some veterans with numerous reminiscence, photographs, or memorabilia for over an hour. Nevertheless it’s a chat session with most veterans, and time flies by.”

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

“I attempt to keep out of the way in which 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 blissful, and their eyes open again up and relaxed; it’s magical.

“Some members want me to seize a somber, reflective second. Generally after they keep in mind a fallen pal. 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 a number of normal 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 the moment 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. Personal First Class Swiersw served with the twenty eighth through the German Ardennes counter-offensive referred to 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 discipline promoted a number of occasions and attained the rank of Employees Sergeant in-country earlier than he returned to the US. Throughout the warfare. 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 Girls 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 schools that have been sharing house to coach WAVES in fundamental navy procedures earlier than shifting 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 shifting folks round the USA.
The Eisenhower Basis @ikessoldiers despatched me [Mickey Strand] some nice behind-the-scenes photographs from my Veteran Portrait Collection 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 challenge together with his Nikon D750 after which took lots of of portraits together 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 challenge 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 often. He at the moment 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 needs that too, and it’s fairly reasonably priced.

Frances Emma Terrazas – Navy – HM was born on April 2nd, 1922, served within the US Navy and labored as a medical data administrator on the Naval hospital at Port Hueneme airbase in Oxnard Ca. She had labored in medical data 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 resulting from her father changing into in poor health. He and her 11-year-old brother wanted her assist to see to their wants so she was discharged. Frances had 3 brothers they usually all served throughout WWII.

Strand was educated to fill the body however does crop often. He likes to print in 16×20,” and that isn’t the side ratio of the sensor/movie. He’s conscious that each one the pictures could be printed manner greater 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 photographs, you need to begin with the most effective shade picture. So, I edit the ultimate print in shade after which do my B&W conversion. Every consumer will get the B&W remaining picture and generally the colour picture if it talks loud sufficient to me.”

A Profession as a Navy Photographer

Strand’s father was an beginner photographer who had a basement darkroom in Racine, Wisconsin. He gave Strand his Minolta SR-T 101 when he received 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 employees, took picture lessons, and was a newspaper employees 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 lovely samurai swords and driving his bike 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 prospect for one thing new and thrilling,” says Strand. “Journey and abroad journey, to a child who was not tremendous and eager about going the standard college route. I figured it gave me an opportunity to develop and study, and being the oldest of eight youngsters, not quite a lot of faculty cash was round. So, I made my manner in life, identical to my of us did.”

Strand says the Navy used all the pieces 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, Girls’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 received 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 rely by means of one among these.

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

Mickey Strand at Veterans Portrait Collection present WWII veterans of San Diego, Nov 2021 at Nelson Picture 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 occasions from the ’80s to 2009 on many platforms, from plane carriers to missile cruisers, with navy, marine, and military personnel items, however he tries to Bear in mind Everybody Deployed (RED). He says everybody served, they usually can inform their tales to at least one one other after they meet up.

Richard “Dick” Wells – USN – LCDR born Sep 14th, 1931, joined the U.S. Navy in 1953 at 22 years previous with an undergraduate diploma to grow to be a pilot. Richard, already married, attended Officer Candidate College (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 varsity was about eight months, adopted by superior flight coaching in Kingsville, Texas. They then moved to California when Dick acquired 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 united statesTiconderoga (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 Mission

Strand has no clue what number of World Warfare II veterans are nonetheless alive. In the event you served on energetic responsibility earlier than September 2, 1945, and have been 18 years previous then, you’d be 95 in the present day. 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.

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

Strand doesn’t know the way lengthy his challenge 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 College in 1944. William stayed within the Military Air Corps as much as and together with serving through the Korean warfare.

“I suppose generally I’ll run out of World Warfare II veterans to {photograph}. I’ve labored on new sub-lines of the general veteran’s portrait collection with Korean warfare and Vietnam Warfare Portraits, and I’ve accomplished two small print reveals for them. Perhaps sometime, the challenge will evolve into a kind of veterans’ tales.”

You possibly can 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 based mostly in Atlanta, GA. He began one of many first digital digicam lessons in New York Metropolis at The Worldwide Heart of Pictures within the 90s. He was the director and instructor for Sony/Well-liked Pictures journal’s Digital Days Workshops. You possibly can attain him right here.


Picture credit: All photographs equipped by Mickey Strand.



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