Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Glen Davis 
Age 76 
Born 1940 in Lewisville, MN 
Currently lives in Fairmont, MN

U.S Air Force Cold War Veteran

 Glen Davis is part of a long line of military tradition within his family. Between himself and his four other brothers, they amassed a total of 99 years of military service between them.

Davis remembered three significant events beginning in 1958 that took place during his time in the United States Air Force. “Vietnam War had started, the Berlin Wall went up in Europe and the Cold War began with the Cuban Missile Crisis,” he said.

Davis remembered he celebrated his 19th birthday while flying to Germany to become part of the 497th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group (497 ISRG). The unit was based in Wiesbaden, Germany with the mission to support the tactical targeting program in Europe by furnishing photographic support such as overlays, aerial photography and photo interpretation.

Following his three-year deployment in Germany, Smith was stationed stateside at Turner AFB in Georgia as part of the 1370th photo mapping wing of the USAF. It was the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Davis spent hours upon hours in the darkroom processing reels of film recorded during high altitude flyovers of Cuba by U-2 spy planes. “It was an interesting job, but it wasn't really what I wanted to do,” he admitted. “I didn't realize it at the time how critical our job was to the security of the Nation. It was very tense time.”

Story and Image © 2016 Joseph Kreiss Photography

Thursday, October 20, 2016

James Smith

Born 1932 near Swea City, Iowa
U.S. Air Force Korean War Veteran

James Smith had just turned 21 years-old when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He was sent to Korea on a 9 month tour of duty right after completing tech school training.

Smith was stationed at the military's Seoul City Air Base as part of the Airways and Air Communications Squadron where he worked ordering radar and radio equipment parts plus supplies for his outfit.

Every night, just after dark, a North Korean plane would fly over our base,” Smith remembered with a smile. “He'd fly over and then disappear with out dropping a bomb or firing a shot. We had to get into the foxholes for cover in case he had some idiot idea to drop something on us.” Smith said the nightly flyovers went on for a couple months before the “visits” just stopped.

After his discharge, Smith came back home, worked for a trucking business, and was on the Owatonna, Minnesota police department before settling back in Swea City, Iowa to farm. Health problems forced him to hang up the plow for good.

Story and Image © 2016 Joseph Kreiss Photography

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Portrait of a Veteran Photo Project Exhibit at the Fairmont Opera House

A collection of more than 24 images from the on-going Portrait of a Veteran Photo Project are currently on display in the Arneson Gallery of Light upstairs in the Fairmont Opera House. During the past weekend (Sept.16 & 17), the Opera House celebrated it's 35 year anniversary of huge the renovation that turned the old theater into the performing arts and community showpiece it is today.

Many guests visited the gallery during the Friday and Saturday evening open house events to experience the local veteran's images.

Most who viewed the work were moved. One man fought back tears as he stared at a veteran's portrait. Another said looking at the faces of the veterans gave him chills up and down his arms. Others openly expressed gratitude for these local military heroes and the sacrifices and service they gave to our Country.

The exhibit continues through the first week of October 2016. The Gallery is open to the public weekdays from 9 am to 2 pm, and during public events and performances at the venue. 

A big "Thank You!" to those individuals and businesses who helped make this exhibit possible with generous cash donations.

Images and Stories © 2016 Joseph Kreiss Photography.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bernard Reilly

Age 96
Born in Lone Rock, Iowa on family farm in 1919
Currently lives in Swea City, Iowa
U.S. Marine Corps World War II Veteran

It was November 1941, just three weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, taking the United States in to World War II, when 21-year-old Bernard Reilly enlisted into the U.S. Marines. He was following his brother's footsteps.

After boot camp, Reilly joined up with the 10th Marines artillery battalion and headed to the South Pacific aboard the transport ship USS President Jackson. Reilly said the cargo ship was ill-equipped to defend herself against enemy attack. “So the Marines set up .50 caliber machine guns on the fantail,” he recalled.

“We came under attack and the Marine shot down a Jap(enese) plane, a torpedo bomber and turned away others. If it wasn't for the Marines we'd been swimming.” Reilly said. The skipper of the ship was so grateful he gave each Marine who had manned a gun a crisp $10 bill. “At the time, that was a half month's pay for us,” Reilly said.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Portrait of A Veteran Photo Gallery Exhibit to be Featured in September

Hanging day was Tuesday afternoon (8-30-16) for my Portrait of a Veteran Photo exhibit at the Fairmont Opera House 'Gallery of Light'. Show opens in a few days and will run through the month of September until at least the weekend of October 1. The show is part of the FOH 35th anniversary celebration during the month.

Thanks to area photographer extraordinaire Tom Dodge for his assistance in getting the veterans images exposure at the Opera House and helping to hang the show.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tom Westcott

Age 70
Born 1945 in Fairmont, MN
Currently lives in Fairmont, MN
U.S Army Vietnam Veteran

Tom Westcott joined the U.S. Army in September 1963, heading to Missouri for basic training. He finished basic and remembers the day well. “It was November 22, 1963. It was the day John F. Kennedy was shot.” As the nation was in mourning, Westcott entered 12 weeks of aviation (maintenance) school in Virginia before shipping out to Korea. “I worked on a variety of aircraft over there, including the single engine, fixed wing L19 “Bird Dog,” and the ten-rotor CH-21 Shawnee “Flying Banana” helicopter, among others,” he remembered.

By March of 1964, Westcott was back stateside at Fort Benning, Georgia's Larson Field to begin his work with one of the Army's true workhorses of the Vietnam-era, the C-7A Caribou twin prop engine cargo aircraft. “There were 35 Caribous stationed at Ft. Benning, and all flew to Vietnam in December of 1965.” Westcott headed over with the aircraft as part of the 135th Army Aviation Company, (258th Transportation Detachment), known as 'F-Troop,' named after the popular 1960s TV show. “We kept them in the air,” he said proudly.

Westcott was stationed in Vietnam at Qui Nhon in Central Vietnam for a while, then the large air base along the coast at Cam Ranh Bay. He spent a total of nine months in the Southeast Asia during the war and “flew nearly the entire length of Vietnam, but I didn't fly south of Saigon,” he recalled. “Our aircraft hauled everything from live animals, ammo, Agent Orange, furniture and even bodies.”

During a supply mission, one of their Caribou aircraft crashed in the jungle near Dak Pek. Wescott and a group of fellow Army aviation maintenance soldiers were sent in to try and repair the damaged plane. “We were in there for four days at an underground Special Forces camp,” he explained. Except for a couple of buildings up top, everything was housed underground in an elaborate complex of concrete bunkers, offices, and sleeping quarters, dug and built with the help of South Vietnamese.

“We got that aircraft repaired,” he remembered. “It wasn't pretty, but the Caribou flew back to base.” That mission earned Westcott an Army Commendation Medal.

When his tour in Vietnam was over, the Fairmont native headed back home and found a job doing sheet metal work for Johnny's Plumbing. In 1968 the U.S. Air Force came courting Westcott hoping to prompt a move to Youngstown, Ohio to work on various aircraft projects. “I had quit at Johnny's and was ready to move, but I needed to be in the reserves to take that job,” he said. “I turned down the job when I found out there might be a good possibility of being sent back to Vietnam.” Sure enough, Westcott mused, eight months later, that Air Force Reserve unit shipped out to Vietnam.

Westcott remained in the Martin County area and became a master plumber, working for 35 years with his Fairmont Plumbing company. Recently, Westcott has been busy in semi-retirement with his specialized valve testing firm. But he says he will “fully retire” as of December of 2016.

Image and Story © 2016 Joseph Kreiss Photography

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sigfred “Morris” Johnson

92 years old
Born in 1923 on the family farm north of Swea City, Iowa
Currently living in Swea City, Iowa
U.S. Army World War II Veteran

It was 1943 when Sigfred “Morris” Johnson was drafted into the U.S. Army. He first headed to Camp Dodge, Iowa (now Fort Dodge) then to North Carolina for training. His next stopover was the East Coast and New York, loading onto a troop carrier ship destined for the battlefields in Europe. That was in October of 1944. Johnson joined up with the 78th Infantry Division, 309th Field Artillery, Battery A and headed into combat.

“I served in three areas,” Morris recalled. “I was in the American, European and African theaters during my time in the Army.” When in the European Theater, the Iowa soldier saw action against the Nazis during the Ardennes Offensive (the Battle of the Bulge), as well as in the Rhineland Campaign and fighting in Central Europe which also included deployment to the North Africa / Middle Eastern theater of war.

Johnson was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroic service with military operation against the enemy on December 15, 1944 during a fierce battle at Simmerath, Germany. The official Army commendation told the story how Corporal Johnson, as a forward observer, worked to set up Army telephone communications for the 2nd Battalion, 309th Infantry Regimen. “Under enemy artillery and mortar fire, Corporal Johnson repaired breaks in the telephone lines caused by enemy fire,” keeping the channels of communications open with the American forces during the battle.

With his service to the war effort, John also received two Overseas Service Bars, and American Campaign Medal, European and African Middle Eastern Theater Ribbons, three Bronze Battle Stars, a Good Conduct Medal and a WWII Victory Medal. Johnson was honorably discharged in January 1946, saying goodbye to the Army at Camp Grant, Ill.

Returning home to Swea City, Johnson found work with a local “bottled gas” company, staying with that job for seven years. Love blossomed during his first year back home after the war and he got married in 1947. Johnson said he decided to take a civil service exam, and passed with flying colors. He was “appointed by President Eisenhower” as Swea City's new Post Master. Johnson served as the town's Post Master for 30 years, finally retiring in 1983.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Another Contributor!

A huge thank you to U.S. Bank for their recent cash donation to Portrait of a Veteran Photo Project! 

Donations to the project are helping get us another step closer to publishing a book of the veteran's images and stories, plus, the funding helps us continue to build the number of photographs included in the traveling POV gallery exhibit.

If you, your business, or community group would like to become a financial contributor to the POV Photo Project, or host the POV photo exhibit, please contact me at: 507-848-0287, email at: jeepinjoseph@hotmail.com or PM me at the Portrait of a Veteran Photo Project Facebook page.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Norbert E. Hines

Age 90
Born near Guckeen, MN in 1926 on the family farm
Currently lives in Fairmont, MN
U.S. Navy World War II Veteran

Like many farm boys during the war years of the 1940s, Norbert Hines joined the military to help in the war effort. Hines enlisted in the U.S. Navy in May of 1944, just before graduation from Fairmont High School. He was sent to Great Lakes, Illinois for basic training then out west to Treasure Island Naval Base in the San Francisco Bay to attend Navy cook and bakers school. 

Following that stint, Hines was sent to San Diego's Coronado Island in February of 1945 for training and assignment on the attack transport ship USS Fillmore APA-83. An interesting side note, the ship, a Gilliam-class attack transport, was named after Fillmore counties in Minnesota and Nebraska.

Hines admitted he had never been to sea before joining the navy. “I decided to enlist in the Navy instead of getting drafted,” Hines said. “I had heard stories from the Army guys of having to deal with snakes and having to dig your own bed every night to sleep.”

Hines eventually earned a deck division boatswain's mate rating and was put “in charge of everything on the top side of his ship,” Hines said. “That was quite a jump in pay,” he added. “As a boatswain's mate 3rd class I was making $100 per month. When I first went in as a seaman, I was only making around $25 per month.”

The ship hauled everything from gun boats to troops and various military cargo. Loaded to capacity with cargo and passengers, Fillmore sailed from San Francisco April 25,1945, bound for Lady Bay in the Philippines. Hines remembers the ship being tracked by a Japanese submarine. “We had to zig-zag to avoid them,” he recalled. “We were loaded up for the invasion of Japan, and hadn't yet heard word of the Japanese surrender. Boy, there were a lot of fireworks that lit up the sky to celebrate Japan's surrender,” Hines said. 

Hines and his shipmates made numerous voyages across the Pacific Ocean between the South Pacific, Pearl Harbor and Seattle, Washington carrying returning veteran troops and supplies.

One of Hines most interesting post war memories was being part of the 'Operation Crossroads' atomic bomb testing in the Marshall Islands during 1946. “It was right at the end of the war, and most of us had never heard of the atomic bomb,” he remembered. “The USS Fillmore was one of two ships on the site of the bomb testing. We were stationed about ten miles out from ground zero and were part of two different tests of the bomb.” 

The Navy anchored numerous ships at the test site, and some ships even had live animals on board. The veteran seaman still remembers the eerie sight of the tall mushroom cloud that rose from the horizon. He still has a faded and dog-eared photo of the bomb cloud right after detonation. What they witness once on-board the surviving test ships at ground zero was also something not soon forgotten, he admitted.

“We had to wait about ten-to-twelve days before we could go on board those ships to see what had happened,” he said. "The animals that were on board had died and were frozen in place from the bomb's massive radiation blast.” Hines said medics were always checking the men to see how much radiation was in our blood streams. The 90 year-old jokes that the radiation must of help him, since he's still feels healthy and is alive and kicking after his experience with the atomic bomb.

Hines was 21 years old when discharged from active duty in 1947. He joined the Navy Reserves and returned to the Fairmont, MN area after that. The Korean War was just starting but Hines never was called up. He got married in 1950 and remained in the reserves until April of 1952. 

Hines summed up his military experience serving his country. “I never did anything big. No honors, and I never got into combat. So, I guess I lucked out that way.”

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Art Elliott

Age 67
Born in 1948 in Detroit, Michigan
Currently living in Fairmont, MN
U.S. Army Vietnam Veteran, Army National Guard Veteran

The Vietnam War was still going strong in April of 1968 when 19 year-old Art Elliott was drafted into the U.S. Army. By September, Elliott was in Vietnam. He started out assigned to the 545th Transportation Company, but later ended up as part of Bravo Company as an infantryman patrolling a busy Vietnam port city; guarding ships and watching for the enemy.

A year later, Elliott was sent stateside to Fort Jackson, South Carolina until his active duty time with the Army came to an end. He made the decision to reenlist and the Army shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Germany, but his European tour of duty was short lived. Within a few short months, Elliott was headed back to the jungles of Vietnam. This time he became part of the 11th Army Armored Cavalry Blackhorse Regiment.

“We had tanks, APCs (armored personnel carriers) and the infantry with us,” he recalled. “It was a lot more stressful being at the front lines fighting. We'd set up ambushes against the enemy.” Elliott and his fellow Blackhorse soldiers were stationed at a “firebase,” or fire support base, which were temporary encampments widely used during the Vietnam War to provide artillery fire support to infantry operating in areas beyond the normal range of fire support from their own base camps. “They would always pick the muddiest places to set up a firebase,” Elliott mused.

He was sent back home in 1972 on emergency leave because of a serious health issue with his Dad. “I was close to getting out anyway. I only had about a month left in that tour of duty,” Elliott recalled. Once back in the states, Elliott was sent to Washington, D.C. so he could be closer to his ailing father. His new duty location was the Army's Walter Reed Medical Center, assigned to the motor pool. “I thought they were crazy. There wasn't much call for an infantryman at a hospital,” he joked.

The move brought him closer to his father, and closer to his future wife, Julie Lane, a Army nurse officer candidate and Granada, Minnesota native. The two happened to meet one day in 1973 at the hospital's mess hall, and they hit it off. Elliott was an E-5 (enlisted soldier) at the time, and drove ambulances and staff cars and also worked as a dispatcher at the motor pool. Julie recalled the rules that officers were not suppose to fraternize with the enlisted soldiers. She joked that “the enlisted men were more fun than the officers.”

Art was discharged from the Army and the couple eventually married in 1974. They wanted to raise a family, but it was difficult to remain on active duty if you were pregnant, so Julie opted not to reenlist after her initial enlistment was up in 1978. The Elliott's came to the Fairmont area, with plans to eventually work their way east again, but found jobs and stayed. They had finally settled down to raise a family in Martin County, but the pull of the military was still strong. The pair reenlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard after being persuaded by a recruiter at the 1978 Martin County Fair.

Elliott retired from military service in 1995 as a Sargent First Class, with an E-7 rating. Looking back over his military career, he is proud of his service to his country. When the Vietnam War was still going on, Elliott knew it was only a matter of time before he'd get drafted. “It was my duty,” he said. “I knew I was going to get drafted. I didn't fight it, I just went ahead and went in.” He is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, as well as the Vietnam Veteran's Association and the Blackhorse Association.
Sotry and Image © 2016 Joseph Kreiss Photography

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Thank You Donors!

A quick thank you to Portrait of a Veteran Photo Project donor Dee Hannaman. She stopped in to view the POV exhibit during Interlaken Heritage Days in Fairmont and dropped off a very kind cash donation. I also got a order for a reprint of one of the photos on display, as well. Every little bit helps fund the project and keep costs in line for this self-funded labor of love!

On a similar note, during the four hours the POV exhibit was set up last Saturday at The Visual Identity Vault on the Downtown Plaza of Fairmont (MN), we had more than 25 folks stop in to take a look at the images and read abbreviated versions of the veteran's war stories.

If you or your community group, organization or business would like to become a financial supporter of the Portrait of a Veteran Photo Project and the planned coffee table-style photo book, I would love to talk with you on how you can help. Please contact me at 507-848-0287, or email at jeepinjoseph@hotmail.com

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Wilmer Probst

81 years old

Born 1934 in Story County, Iowa

Lives in Truman, MN
Korean War and Cold War-era U.S. Army Veteran

Wilmer Probst was working as an Iowa farmhand in 1957 when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. After his basic training he was preparing to head to Korea when the Korean War ended. Without a war to fight, Probst was reassigned with the 1st Division 41st Artillery and shipped out to Germany.

“We had an Honest John rocket in out outfit,” he recalled. The Honest John was a large,truck mounted rocket with nuclear warhead capabilities. Army Honest John battalions were first deployed in Europe in early 1954. It was the very beginnings of the European Cold War in the wake of World War II.

Although his main duty was working as a parts supply clerk, Probst found himself learning to drive a tank, and getting behind the wheel of large Army cargo trucks, driving supplies long distances across that part of Europe. “We'd get sent on bug-out drives and have to bivouac until we were able to get back to our company,” he said. “ I remember having to sleep on the cold ground under my truck. I woke up many mornings with snow on the ground. I remember that well.”

U.S forces were stationed along the boarders of the eastern block counties such as East Germany. It was a time just before the Berlin Wall was built. Probst said U.S. Army and East German soldiers would put their weapons down and “we'd play cards with the guys from the other side. They didn't want war anymore than we did,” he said. Even though the two sides got along, Probst said U.S. Troops were now allowed to drive over the border into East Germany.

After serving for 2 years in the Army, Probst was discharged and join the Army Reserves, serving for another four years. Following his tour of duty serving our country, the native Iowan returned to farming.

Story and Image © 2016 Joseph Kreiss Photography