Note to readers: This series features the behind the photograph stories of images from the past year. These are not always my best photos but they are photos that have some meaning to me. Of course, sometimes that meaning is simply the photo was one of my best images.
To say I love shooting portraits of veterans would be like saying Santa likes milk and cookies. There is something about veterans that draws me and I want to honor those men and women for what they have done for me. I can only do that with a camera so I will put forth my very best effort when I am photographing veterans.
Dempsey McLemore jumped into Normandy on D-Day with the 82nd Airborne Division. I don’t have time to tell you the story in this blog but read a book. Seriously! These men did something that is beyond courageous. He and thousands of other paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines during the night before the invasion ships were to land troops on the beaches of Normandy. Their job was to cut off the German troops at the beaches and prevent reinforcements from coming forward and they were to secure key features such as bridges so the invasion force, once landed, could move inland. It was a daring operation carried out by daring men. McLemore was one of those men.
Put yourself in his shoes for minute flying into the target area. You would be sitting in the back of a transport plane flying through the black night when, suddenly, anti-aircraft fire begins erupting all around you. Planes are hit. Some planes disgorge their troops before they reach their drop zones. Other planes are blown to bits, men and all. When your door opens you stand in a file and go out the back door into the pitch black night illuminated now only by exploding munitions and tracer rounds being fired from gunners on the ground. When you finally hit the ground in one piece you have to find your unit in the dark on unfamiliar ground and then get organized and get into the fight. Congratulations. You are a soldier now.
McLemore accomplished all that. He was later taken prisoner by the Germans. He survived, came home, married, had a family and now is living out his days in Limestone County, Alabama. What can one say? Thank you Mr. McLemore seems a bit inadequate doesn’t it.
McLemore is now nearly blind and is mostly confined to his wheelchair but we managed to get him outside where I could get the sky in the photo. I had to have the sky. What else would be appropriate for a former paratrooper? I lit the shot with a strobe fired through a small softbox and used a second strobe on a stick, bare, to give just a tiny bit of separation on the back side. I then took another set of photos of this small, tattered American Flag I found literally laying beside the road and combined them in Photoshop. I thought the flag added just the right touch. Obviously, I set the opacity pretty low on the flag and used some Photoshop filters and toning to give the flag the appropriate look.
It would be great if we never had to go to war again. It would be great if no man, woman or child lost his life to a tyrant. It would be great if the nations and peoples of this world would just get along with one another. As long as we don’t, I am very glad that men like Dempsey McLemore exist. Freedom lives in men like him.