Memorial Day, it’s the unofficial start of summer. BBQ’s, going to the shore (or the beach), ice cream and watermelon. For me and many others, however, Memorial Day is a day of reflection and remembrance. It is a day to pay tribute to those who we have lost and the incredible sacrifice so many have made.
Anyone who knows me well knows I have this unquenchable passion for history. I am fascinated by it and can’t get enough of it. Being a photographer, I love to collect and analyze old photos. It is my way of holding onto that history and the lessons we can learn from it. One of the most important and sentimental collections I have is my grandfather’s World War II photographs.
My grandfather (or pop pop, as I lovingly called him as a child) was a handsome soldier. He passed away when I was 13 years old. I knew that he had fought in the war, but I was far too young to understand and ask him about his experiences. It was only after his passing that we discovered his collection of photos. I was amazed and inspired by everything he captured. I analyzed the photos for hours and felt this new connection to my grandfather that I never had before.
This photograph is my favorite. Someone took a photo of my grandfather taking a photo and gave it to him.
I have followed in my grandfather’s footsteps many times. When my grandfather wasn’t serving, he was an assistant fire chief for the local fire department. He even proudly served as a volunteer at an all-black fire company. That bond between brothers, risking your life for each another must have been an incredible source of inspiration and pride for him. When I joined the fire department while in college, my parents took me to one of his old stations. In the hallway was a photo of my grandfather. The guys there remembered him and shared stories. It was awesome!
I never gave much thought to where my passion for photography and technology came from. I’ve tinkered and played since I was a little kid. When I saw the above photo, I almost cried. I guess I took after him more than I thought.
Part of what my grandfather did during the war was operate the radio broadcast and communications. I have several photos of him behind the mic, reading announcements.
He documented everything: who he was with, the places he went, the things he did. He really did lug that big camera around with him everywhere. I even have photos from the day his group captured a German U-boat. It was amazing to see a photo of the U.S. and German soldiers standing around smoking together.
When people ask me why photography is important or why am I constantly taking photos, I tell them it is a piece of history. It is a living testament to the life you have led that can be shared with the next generation. They are, in essence, a memorial of you. How incredible is that?
I cannot begin to explain how important these photos of my grandfather are to me. I cherish them and the history that comes with them. Today, I look at them fondly and proudly hang my American flag in honor of both of my grandfathers and all the men, women and service animals who have fought and given up so much.