Your life matters. I read a meme recently that said, “if you want to honor our fallen heroes, be the kind of American worth fighting for.” I took that to mean that each of us should be good citizens, believe in freedom and everyone’s equal right to the pursuit of happiness. I figured it mean to be a good person-positive, happy, and useful. It seems like oftentimes people begin to believe that they and their lives and talents don’t matter. But, to all of the heroes we remember today, all of our lives mattered. They mattered enough to go to war and die for.
I wanted to spend some time away on sabbatical and New Orleans is one of my favorite destinations. I fell in love with the arts and culture of NOLA the first time I visited 8 or 9 years ago. Since my sabbatical landed on Memorial Day, I wanted to create a patriotic photograph to present to you. I was determined to get something profound to give to you, and I figured the National WWII Museum would be the perfect place.
I wasn’t disappointed! Upon my feet hitting the pavement outside of the parking garage, I felt immediately patriotic in the surroundings. In my head, I thought I would capture a dynamic display of American flags and get some award-winning photograph. However, what I found was something I truly connected with, and put aside my aspirations for the red, white, and blue. My photography feels best when my subject is saying something to me, and this monument’s presence was overwhelmingly loud in its silent reverie. I was thankful I came across it, and to be brought “home” the true reason we have Memorial Day.
From the description, “The Squadron Leader briefs his fighter pilots before the mission, and the young pilots mask nervous anticipation with steely resolve. They muster the quiet courage needed to fly yet another mission in spite of heavy losses. The five lighter figures depict spirits of fellow pilots already killed on previous mission. They are gone, but not forgotten.
The sculptor, Fredric Arnold, drew from his personal experience flying combat missions in P-39s, roving the skies over North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. After six months of combat, Arnold was one of a handful of P-38 pilots still alive from his aviation cadet class. Following the war, Arnold vowed to convey the incalculable human cost of war and pay tribute to the more than 88,000 U.S. airmen killed during World War II. He created this mission briefing scene in clay and cast it in bronze, completing the seven-year project at the age of 94, just two years before his death in 2018.”
What I learned while taking pictures of this piece was that each character in the scene has a story. Upon talking to a woman who had close connections to the artist’s family, I learned a little about some of the spirits. Although not one of them represents one man in particular, they are inspired by true stories.
Spirit standing alone: This pilot is standing alone because as he went after an enemy, he broke out of formation and exposed himself to fire. He was shot down and perished.
Spirit touching soldiers of pilots on bench: This pilot had fallen the day before this briefing, and was there to encourage the rest of the team.
Spirit with crossed arms: This pilot is frustrated because he made a move in the air that got himself and another pilot killed.
Spirit consoling pilot with crossed arms: This is the man he got killed, consoling his comrade, saying something like, “it’s ok, sometimes these things happen”.
Mr. Arnold and one other pilot of their original group of 14 pilots survived combat, and the two remained close following the war. They vowed the “last one standing would do something to honor” their fallen buddies. He fulfilled that vow 70 years later by creating “Lest We Forget” Monument to memorialize his fellow WWII aviators. He died at 96, a lifelong artist who appreciated beauty wherever he found it, but went to war when the need arose.
I walked away with a deeper feeling of appreciation in my heart today, and I am thankful for Mr. Arnold for upholding his oath to his Squadron, and for his beautiful creation. Happy Memorial Day to all. Your life matters.