Pearl Harbor Veteran Isaac George

A while back, I received a phone call from a woman who lives in my hometown.  She had come across my portraits of WWII veterans that I photographed while visiting Pennsylvania, and wanted to pass on a name and telephone number of someone I may be interested in contacting.  She told me about Isaac George who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.  I’m always eager to meet any veteran, but to potentially have the chance to sit down and photograph someone who witnessed that day of our nation’s history really got me excited.  I wrote down his information on a piece of paper, put it in my desk, and planned to call him as soon as possible.  As soon as possible, however, wouldn’t be for nine months.

Every time I opened up my desk drawer, I would see that piece of paper with Mr. George’s name and phone number and think, “I need to get in touch with him soon.”  My schedule just wouldn’t allow me to take a long enough trip to Pennsylvania so I could meet with Mr. George.  It was also frustrating because this project means so much to me, and it had basically been put on hold.  Finally though, that all changed as I’d be back in Pennsylvania for three full days.  I gave Mr. George a call.

When I spoke with Mr. George on the phone, he explained that he doesn’t talk much about his experiences in the war.  When talking with veterans, I always make it a point to let them know they can share as little or as much as they wish.  It cannot be easy for them to rehash perhaps the most painful memories of their lives.  He agreed to sit for a portrait but wasn’t sure how much, if anything, he’d want to talk about.

I arrived to his home where he and his wife were incredibly welcoming, and we all sat down at a table covered with medals, maps, and a statement that Mr. George had typed out years ago about what he witnessed at Pearl Harbor.  We started talking briefly about his company and how he was a member of the 324 Signal Company in the 5th Air Force.  Mr. George then read the statement that he had typed some time ago.  Only a couple sentences into it, his voice began to shutter as the day’s events rushed from his memory.  As I watched and listened, he pushed his way onward and finished the statement.  That right there was something I’ll never forget.

Mr. George was at Hickam Field on the morning of the attack.  “As one plane came over very low, I noticed the red ball of Japan on its wings.”  Surrounded by explosions and enemy aircraft fire, he was ordered to report to the control tower and begin monitoring all radio frequencies.  The strafing planes made the task nearly impossible.

After the attack, Mr. George describes what he saw as better to be forgotten.  It wasn’t until four days later that he was finally able to contact his mother to let her know that he was alive.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor being one of the darkest days in U.S. history, I wanted the portraits of Mr. George to be slightly different than my previous veteran portraits.  I lit these portraits to have a slightly darker look than the others.  I used just one light to allow the fall-off to add to the overall mood of the portrait.

I’m especially happy with the portrait I took of Mr. George wearing his jacket and hat.  A bit of thought went into this particular shot.  I had him look to his right away from his metals to signify that his experiences in the war are something he prefers to keep in the past.  However, by wearing the jacket and hat, they signify that although those are experiences from the past, they are something that he carries with him every day.

Before leaving, Mr. George’s wife explained that he doesn’t even share his war experiences with his children.  It’s something that he just prefers them not knowing too much about.  To say that I’m gracious and incredibly honored for him sharing that part of his life with me is a complete understatement.

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