Portraits of Honor: photographing the last of the WWII veterans

Tips & Techniques

This is a year for monumental anniversaries of events in American history—particularly the WWII 75th anniversaries of the D-Day invasion, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. With those in mind, I started a project in April photographing WWII veterans, knowing that the numbers still surviving are dropping rapidly each day.

Army Airborne Sgt. James Schmidt

I called the project WWII Portraits of Honor. I simply wanted to use my talent as a photographer to give something small back to as many WWII veterans as I could meet and provide them and their family with a nice portrait. And I want to help educate people on what these specific members of “the Greatest Generation” did for us.

An uncle I never got to meet was killed in WWII. I had an interest in, and loved reading about, WWII heroes when I was a kid, but I didn’t personally know any veterans. Then I saw a local veteran, 99-year-old Marine Corps Col. Carl Cooper, being recognized for his service at halftime of a football game while proudly wearing his dress blues uniform, and I just knew that he would be perfect! I tracked him down through some contacts I have, and he was happy to let me photograph him at his home.

USMC Col. Carl Cooper

It only took that first portrait session for this to go from simply a project to a true passion for my life.

To meet these men and women and hear their stories first-hand has been amazing, and I find that most are quite willing to be a part of the project and share stories of their time in the military. There have been veterans who were fighter pilots, bomber pilots and gunners, infantrymen, medics, a nurse, radio operators and more, who fought in Europe and in the Pacific.

Some were at Pearl Harbor when Japan attacked, at Normandy when the beaches were stained with the blood of over 4,000 Americans, at the Battle of the Bulge, in the jungles of Burma and the Philippines, liberating Jews and POWs from concentration and prison camps, at Hitler’s ‘Eagles Nest’, and over the skies of Japan when one of the atomic bombs was dropped.

The sacrifices and bravery of these veterans cannot be repaid, but my gratitude will continue always. And I will continue to do this project as long as I can get to the veterans.

Army Airborne Sgt. Don Minshew

Army Air Corps Lt. Earl Miller

Navy Pilot Lt. Dick Pace

John Beard

Joe Gossen

Frank Emond

Army Tech Harold McMurran

Army Sgt. Ray Lambert

Army Sgt. Cloyce Drake

Army PFC Major Wooten

Army PFC Hilman Prestridge

Army PFC Brad Freeman

Army Cpl. William Wright

Army Cpl. Gabe Kinney

Jeff Rease and Army Air Corps Lt. Bill Massey

About the Author

Jeffrey Rease is a professional photographer in Birmingham, AL specializing in commercial, portraits and landscape work. You can find more of his work on his website and follow him on Instagram. To keep following the WWII Portraits of Honor project, head over to its website or Instagram.

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