Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Doing Her Part To Serve During War

Maxine Brones

Age 92
Born in Maple Hill, (Emmet County) Iowa in 1922
Now lives in Armstrong, IA
U.S. Navy Reserve WAVES World War II Veteran

With a family military history going back to World War I, Iowa native Maxine Brones also wanted to serve her country at a time of need. World War II was heating up and men were needed at the battle fronts, so Maxine put down the scissors, combs and curling irons of her beauty operator career and joined “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service,” or WAVES in April 1943. 
My Dad had been in the Navy during World War I, so he encouraged me to go in the Navy,” Maxine recalls. “My Mom didn't like it, and my brother was too young to go in, but she came to Naval Air Station Norfolk to see me.”

WAVES was established on July 30, 1942 as a wartime division of the United States Navy Reserve that consisted entirely of women. Up until this time, women were not allowed in the military. A large proportion of WAVES did clerical work, but some took positions in the aviation community, medical professions, communications, intelligence, science and technology. WAVES could not serve aboard combat ships or aircraft and initially were restricted to duty in the continental United States.

Maxine was among the first group of women to train and serve as WAVES. “I was 21 years old when my mom and sister put me on the train in Esterville, Iowa and I had orders to stay on all the way to Hunter College in New York,” where she did her basic training. “All the way there we picked up more girls. By the time we got there that train was loaded.”

Within their first year, WAVES was 27,000 women strong.
Maxine spent two and a half years in the Personnel Department at the Norfolk, Virginia Naval Air Station, before being transferred to NAS Glenview, Ill. “We relieved the men for sea duty. That was our job. I handled the honorable discharges and transfers of the boys. That was a busy time of the war,” she says.

Maxine says the most memorial part of her time spent in the Navy was the friendship and the bond between the women. “Some were rich and some were poor. It didn't matter.”

After nearly three years in WAVES, Maxine returned home to start up her own beauty shop. Maxine recalls one woman asking her why she didn't get a man while in the service. “I was there to serve my country, not get a man,” she says proudly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Carroll L. Monsen

Age 82
Born in Rake, Iowa in 1934
Now lives in Esterville, Iowa
U.S. Army Korean War Veteran

Carroll Monsen grew up during some pretty tough times on the family farm in Iowa. “We didn't have electricity on the farm,” he remembers. “I walked behind a team of horses, mowing 20 acres of hay.”

Monsen was 19 years old when he “had a little riff with my brother and dad on the farm. The next day I went to town and volunteered for the Army.” That was in November of 1953. He would find himself in the Korean War by April of 1954, spending a year and a half there with the U.S. Army.

“I drove Jeep for the Combat Engineer's company commander,” Monsen recalls. “One day he asked if I could cook, so I became a cook.” Cooking didn't exclude him from other duties. “When the sirens went off, I grabbed a 50 caliber machine gun.”

Monsen was also in charge of taking enemy prisoners to the stockade when they were brought in from the front lines. “The commander said to me, 'If they try to escape, kill 'em.' That really stuck in my mind,” he says. “I'll tell you, that's a weird feeling to have him tell me to do that.”

Another war memory for Monsen was when he was told to take a case of hand grenades up to the hills. “The pins in those grenades had almost rusted though, making them very dangerous,” he recalls. “The commander told me to just set them out up there and leave them. He didn't want me to try and set them off. He said if I did, I would have been the first guy in orbit!”

Ranks were frozen at the time for many soldiers, including himself, so Monsen left the Army in September of 1955. “They tried to get me to re-enlist, which would give you another stripe
, but I said no way. I got a bunch of milk cows waiting for me back home.”

Story and photograph © 2015 Joseph Kreiss Photography

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Jack C. Kauffman

83 years old
Born in Rolfe, Iowa in 1932
Now lives in Swea City, Iowa
U.S. Army Korean War Veteran

The horror of being on the front lines during the heat of the Korean War- said to be the bloodiest war of all time - has haunted U.S. Army veteran Jack Kauffman his entire adult life.

“Every morning I wake up with Korea on my mind,” admits Kauffman who enlisted in the service in 1950 and was a machine gunner with the Army Combat Engineers. “I have flashbacks during the night. I can't sleep with anybody, I kick them out of bed.”

Kauffman's first wife couldn't take it and divorced the disabled war veteran. “I got married again in 1969, but my wife has to sleep in another bedroom. She tried at first, but I accidentally hurt her during one of my flashbacks,” he says. To this day, the smells of certain foods also trigger his war flashbacks. “Some foods, like squash, reminds me of when we were trying to eat on the battle field with the smells of the dead bodies.”

The Swea City, Iowa veteran continues. “I'd seen a lot of crap over there. War is terrible when it's bloody like (Korea) was on the front lines. I was on foreign duty 19 months and 10 days. I served under General MacArthur. I came home a different person.” Kauffman tries to fight back the tears, but they come anyway. “My mom noticed and said I wasn't the same boy who left home to go to war. I said, 'Mom, I'm not the same.'”

Kauffman says he contracted tuberculosis in Korea, plus suffered from back and leg injuries. He was treated in a Minneapolis hospital for the TB once he arrived back stateside. Unfortunately, his young daughter contracted the disease from him.

Kauffman says he continues on-going treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome at the VA hospital. Yet he continues to push through and live as normal a life as he can, under the circumstances. He still gets together with his fellow vets on occasion and even attends meetings of the Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 254.

© Photo and Story Joseph Kreiss

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Enlargements of the veterans are available

I've had a few people ask, so I think there might be some interest...Yes, enlargements of the veteran's portraits I've made, as part of the "Portrait of a Veteran" Photo Project, are available for sale. As soon as a photo, or photos, are posted here and on the "Portrait of a Veteran" Photo Project blog, they will also be added to my photography website where you can purchase them and have the prints shipped directly to your home or business.

Sale of the prints will help fund this project.

Please go to:

Click on the "Portfolio" link on the left side of the homepage. Open the 'Portrait of a Veteran' folder and there you will find the latest images.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Something Unexpected

Something unexpected is taking place behind the scenes. It's something I didn't even think about. Something that could happen because of the "Portrait of a Veteran" Photo Project. 

Once a veteran's portrait session is shot and "in the can," and their story and images are edited and done, I post them on this blog, of course. Plus, I post the photos on several places on Facebook: the Portrait of a Veteran page, and my Joseph Kreiss Photography page - both on FB.

My most recent post of Korean War veteran Melvin George drew an interesting comment from one excited Facebook viewer. It was a distant relative of that veteran. His niece. She said in the Facebook comment that she hadn't seen their Uncle in years! Suddenly, across the miles, families are brought back together! It's happened with others, too. Many friends and community members are all coming together to love and support our area veterans. Our HEROES! 

It's a true blessing for me to know that families and friends are getting reconnected though this photo project!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Melvin George

Age 85
Born in Chester South Dakota in 1930
Korean War Veteran
Lifetime Member of the Disabled American Veterans
Currently lives in Fairmont, MN.

Melvin George relies on his cane and the helping hands of others to sit down and get up out of a chair these days. He's a bit bent over and takes slow, deliberate steps as he walks. He needs his hearing aides to follow a conversation. But at 85 years old, and a recipient of a Purple Heart medal during his days at war, he still has a twinkle in his eyes and sports a pretty broad infectious smile.
It was 1952, and George was 22 years-old when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After basic training he was sent to fight in the Korean War. George was in Korea from 1953 through 1954. The Fairmont, MN. resident jokes about the way he got his Korean War “job” as a radio telephone operator. “Some of the guys were getting shipped home and the lieutenant came up to me and told me I was going to be the new radio operator. I would be the guy who called in the mortar rounds (targeting the enemy),” he remembered. “I told the lieutenant that the radio man duty was a sergeant's job. He said, 'Don't worry. You'll be a sergeant in no time.””

Another one of George's wartime duties was to guard the Korean prisoners of war that were brought in from the front lines. “I was a guard and I had to be really careful with the prisoners. You didn't know if they were going to jump you.”

After his stint in Korea, George headed back to the States and settled in Fairmont. “I wanted to be an auctioneer, but never made it,” he laments. Instead the former soldier became a finish carpenter and worked in that trade until his retirement.

George is a lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans and a member of the Korean War Veterans Association Chapter 254. 

Photos and story © 2015 Joseph Kreiss

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Three Wars For This Marine Veteran

Richard Hall

Age 86
World War II/Korean War/Vietnam War Vet.
Born on the family farm in Dunnell, MN in 1929
Currently lives in Dunnell, MN

When you meet Richard Hall, and take just one glance at this veteran of three major wars, you know he's a U.S. Marine. He's still has that steely look in his eyes. And as they say: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

Hall admits his most favorite movie is the 1949 John Wayne classic Sands of Iwo Jima. “I was in that movie (as an extra).” he proudly says.

Hall was just 17 years old in 1946 when he joined the Marine Corps. World War II was just winding down, but Hall received military credit for being part of the military during that war. He trained at Camp Pendleton to operate amphibious tractors and other military vehicles. He worked moving troops and supplies on and off LST's, or Landing Ship, Tank. These ships were designed in 1942 to land battle ready tanks, vehicles, soldiers, and supplies directly onto enemy beaches. “We carried everything. We even worked with submarines,” he recalls.

His outfit also shipped out to Alaska in 1947 to guard fuel convoys crossing the isolated wilderness areas.

In 1950, at the age 21, he was called back into service to fight in Korea with the Marines with "Dog Company" 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Division. Hall manned a 30 caliber light machine gun and spent 13 months in Korea. His company was based and fought at the “Punch Bowl” area on the Korean front lines. “We were on the front 133 days,” Hall remembers. “That was longer than any outfit in war history.”

“It was very, very cold. The wind was always blowing, the ground was frozen, and our food rations were frozen. And if there wasn't any trees or wood on that hill, you didn't have fire to cook your food.” But the aging Marine stops there with the war story reminiscing. "No way do I want to start on this," he says. You sense by looking into his eyes there are a lot of painful memories of the wars fought still locked-up in his soul.

After his tour in Korea ended in 1951, Hall stayed in the Reserves until being called up in 1964 to go to Vietnam. His MOS, or “Military Occupational Specialty,” job code in 'Nam was as a crew chief on a Marine UH-34D Sikorsky helicopter gunship, known as the “Ugly Angel” or “HUS” by fellow Leathernecks. “I flew 94 combat missions in Vietnam,” he states. The UH-34s were used extensively during the Vietnam war. (Note: A bloody combat mission of one such UH-34 gunship crew was featured in a LIFE Magazine photo essay in 1965 entitled “One Ride with Yankee Papa 13.”)

Hall ended his tour of duty in Vietnam in 1965, then was stationed in South Carolina for a while before finally heading back home to Dunnell, Minnesota. “I've been half way 'round the world, and there's no better place than Dunnell.”

Photographs by Joseph Kreiss © 2015

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Trying To Keep The Focus

The responses continue to flood in regarding the Denny Theesfield photos and my "Portrait of a Veteran" Photo Project. Thanks for all the suggestions of veterans for me to photograph. There are a lot of amazing people around the area, and our great country for that matter. I wish I had the funding, gas money, and time to travel all around Minnesota and Iowa photographing these proud Heroes.

But, this project is just getting off the ground and it went soaring beyond my wildest expectations almost from the git-go! Wow! 

The original "focus" of the "Portrait of a Veteran Photo Project was to honor the local veterans of Martin County here where I live in the Fairmont, Minnesota area. It didn't take long until I expanded the reach of the project to include north-central Iowa as well. As much as I would love to pack up my photo gear and hit the road to Nebraska parts of central Iowa, even California as suggested by many of the wonderful people responding to my posts, I have to draw-in the scope, back to the immediate areas of south-central Minnesota and north-central Iowa. 

Don't Stop Providing Veteran's Names

When you suggest a veteran, please provide their name and phone number or email address so I can get in touch with them easily. I don't have phone directories to places outside of my local phone book coverage area. And with the vast number of names received so far, it will save me much time and research if you can include the basic contact information. Also, it's much better if you can approach the veteran first about the idea, to “break the ice,” so to speak. That way they don't receive a phone call for some stranger (me) asking to come to their homes to take their photos! Lol

Plus, this bears repeating – There is absolutely NO COST OR OBLIGATION to the veteran or his family to have me come to make a portrait of them. Right now, I'm doing this all on my free time and any expenses I have, like for gasoline, or wear-and-tear on my photo equipment, are out of my pocket. I want to establish a large collection of veteran's images and share their stories with the community.

The list of submitted names of veterans grows daily...and if I had the means, I'd devote all my time to this project. Many of the older vets from WWII and Korea are passing on. Time is of the essence to document these individuals before it's too late. Many of the younger veterans wounded or suffering from the ill effects of war are also passing away much too soon, as well.

Anyway, I continue to welcome all your suggestions of veterans for the photo project. It's so cool to see the love and respect you have for the veterans in your lives. And I will try and respond to your notes and messages as soon as possible. But, at this time, I am pulling in the reigns and will only be able to contact and photograph the local area veterans within about a 30-mile radius or so.

This is going to be a long-term project, at least a year...maybe more. We'll have to see and play it by ear. I certainly don't want to leave any veteran out. I want to include as many vets as possible and as my time allows. As I stated before, my dream is to have the project underwritten so that I can spend more time making and compiling these photos. 

Free Photo Book

The end goal is to have a traveling gallery show of the portraits. I want to be able to displaying the collection enlargements at area schools, banks, VFW posts, National Guard Armory, etc. I also want to get a beautiful coffee-table-style book published of all the stories and photos of these veterans. I want a book to go to each pictured veteran's family free of cost as a keepsake to remember and honor their special veteran – Their Dad or Mom, their husband or wife, their uncle, cousin, brother....

I'm working on lining up new portrait session appointments from the list of names I've gotten so far from my Facebook 'Joseph Kreiss Photography' page. So, if I don't get back to you right away, I will. I set aside a couple mornings a week for my photography work, plus I have other clients and publications to take care of, as well as my "Day Job," too.

Thanks again from the bottom of my heart for all your love for the veterans and support for this special photography project.!!!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dennis “Denny” Theesfield - 

Combat Wounded Vietnam Veteran

Born in Fenton, Iowa 1945
Lives in Armstrong Iowa with his wife Sharon

 As I build my list of veterans to photograph, and complete the photo sessions and interviews, I will post the results here on this blog site. Mr. Dennis "Denny" Theesfield is my first interview for this project, and what a guy to begin this journey with! This veteran is a true local hero and cherished community treasure. His name was given to me by his niece after I posted an introduction to my 'Portrait of a Veteran' Photo Project on my Facebook page:  

What a way to start!! Response to a post on Facebook with Denny's photo has 'blown-up' my comments section. I've NEVER received so many likes, comments and shares as I have with the photo of Mr. Theesfield!

With every veteran I have the honor to interview and photograph during the duration of this photo project, I will post the story of that veteran and a selection of pictures to this blog. My hope and dream for this project is to be able to take the collection of images and stories and turn them into a beautiful coffee table style book.

Here is Denny's story and a few images I made of him at his northern Iowa farm.
Iowa native Dennis Theesfield was 24 year-old farmer working the family acreage when he was drafted into the U.S. Army July 2, 1968. They shipped him out to Fort Lewis in Washington State for basic training, then on to Fort Benning, Georgia to attend NCO school.

After a stint in Fort Polk, Louisiana, the Army sent him back to Fort Lewis to wait out his orders to ship out. He headed to Vietnam in 1969 arriving at Cam Ranh Bay with an E-6 rating. He was stationed at Củ Chi Base Camp (also known as Củ Chi Army Airfield) in the Củ Chi District northwest of Saigon in southern Vietnam. Theesfield had only been in 'Nam about three months when, on October 25th 1969, while leading a squad of soldiers with the 32 Bravo Infantry, was critically injured after a landmine exploded where he and another soldier were walking.

“We should have died,” he recalls. He and the other soldier were airlifted out, strapped into a stretcher hanging from the outside of a medi-vac helicopter and taken to a Quonset hut field hospital. “It's was just like you see on (the television show) M*A*S*H. He survived, but was left paralyzed from his injuries. He still carries a piece of the land mine's shrapnel lodged in his spine.

He received a medical discharge from the Army in May of 1970 and came back home to the farm and community he was born and raised in. Theesfield soon was back working at the local hardware store and back on the tractor, even though confined to a wheelchair. “I farmed for 24 years out of a wheel chair,” Theesfield states matter-of-factly. With the help of neighbors and friends, Theesfield devised ways to lift himself off his wheelchair and up into the tractor seat using an electric winch, chain and straps. Others helped adapt the controls of the tractor and combine to allow him to operate them without help. Nowadays, his wife Sharon and his nephews help farm and maintain the heritage 80 acres.

“I loved the service,” Theesfields says proudly. “I'd go back again right now if I could.” But, he adds, the U.S. politicians “wouldn't let us fight,” a common complaint voiced by many Vietnam veterans. “There was a lot of things we couldn't do over there. That war would have been over a lot sooner if we could have fought it they way we should have,” the wounded warrior says.

Theesfield is still actively involved with the Armstrong, Iowa Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and a member of many other veteran's groups and organizations.

Please take a moment with me to honor this local American Hero.

If you are a veteran, or know of a veteran who is from Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa, please let me know. I would like to honor as many our area vets as I can with a portrait session. The pictures will be included into a photographic image collection that I hope to turn into a book honoring those who have served... our area military heroes.

There is no cost involved for our veterans, other than an hour or so of their time.

If you, your business or community service group would like to join in to honor our local veterans and help contribute funding or in-kind services or supplies to help this project reach it's goal, please contact me.

Drop me a note on Face Book at, via this blog, or to my email address: 

All Images © 2015 Joseph Kreiss Photography

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Beginning of a Heart-Felt Photo Project

Thanks for stopping by this new blog to honor our military veterans from Southern Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Things are just starting to get rolling with my "Portrait of a Veteran" photo project. I had my first photo session today with a great man and disabled Viet Nam veteran from Iowa. More on that later.

Please allow me to set the scene for this effort on my part. No, I'm not a veteran myself. My son is a veteran, having served in the U.S. Air Force as a Crew Chief on a large refueling aircraft, flying all across the globe, including duty time in the Middle East. My dad wasn't able to enter the military due to a serious injury to his back, but his brothers all served during the War. My mom witnessed first hand the attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii that sent the United States into the fray of world war.

As a photojournalist, my job has been to record moments in the lives of people. Having worked for newspapers for many years, I have photographed many aspects of military life in the various communities I lived and worked in. As a person who is seeing retirement age looming off in the near future, I wanted to have a cause, a purpose in my photographic life for many years to come to use my cameras for the good of this area of the Midwest I now call home.

While sitting on my front porch this past July 4th, looking at one of our town's beautiful lakes, I felt like God laid the idea on me to do something for the veterans of this area using my talents as a photographer. A photographic project came to mind. A project where I would try and photograph as many local vets and service men and women as possible. Then with that amassed collection of interviews and images, put together a traveling gallery exhibit and a coffee table-style book.

I will need your help to make this all happen. I'm seeking donors and underwriters who are willing to join me in honoring our heroes and make this project happen. If you feel compelled to help, drop me a line. I would love to come to your office, business, community service club or organization, or just over a cup of coffee, and talk to you about my vision and how you can help.

I already have one donor who is committed to help fund a small part of the project, in which I'm very grateful. But more funding is needed to help cover expenses, publish a high quality book and print large photos for a traveling gallery
show. In kind donations are also welcomed.

The one thing I really need are veterans to interview and photograph. I hope that as the wheels of this project begin to turn, the momentum will start to pick up and word of mouth of the project, through this blog, Facebook, my website, and the community, will help spread the word and get more local veterans to share their stories and allow me to document them as a tribute to their service to our country.

I will offer up more details on the project in the days and weeks to come. And again, please drop me a note if you, a family member, co-worker or someone you know in the community is a veteran who have served out country. I'm keeping the area to south-central Minnesota and north-central Iowa...our local communities.

Thanks again for your interest in the "Portrait of a Veteran" Photo Project.