This year was one of the busiest years with a camera in hand, which I have ever had. At the same time, I can say with pleasure that it was the most fun year I have EVER had with a camera.
Inland Northwest Honor Flight began flying WWII Veterans to Washington DC in April of 2010, and I asked to be a part of their effort. My idea was to document each day of the veterans Honor Flight experience in digital images, and then provide each veteran and his/her family with a video (integrated DVD slideshow) of the entire three day experience. My idea was graciously accepted by Tony Lamanna, who heads the Inland Northwest Honor Flight project.
My next step, now that I was on the hook, was to take a look at local highly skilled photographers, and invite them to commit to helping me photograph the entire Honor Flight event which occurred each month for the entire year. I was very successful in attracting great regional photographers, and in total we have averaged ten Honor Flight photographers over the course of the year (since April). This bunch was not just good with their cameras, but extremely reliable in every way possible. We always had someone to fill in when one of the HF photogs was unable to make a shoot because of work, illness, or vacation. The beneficiaries of the HF crew labors were the WWII veterans and their families.
The Honor Flight process involves a morning departure from GEG on day one, and a visit to the military/war memorials in Washington DC on day two. On day 3, the WWII veterans and their guardians (usually family members) fly back to GEG for a show unlike anything they have ever seen. Literally hundreds and hundreds of people show up for the Honor Flight returns, and there are bands playing, flags waving, and tears flowing. Patriotic bedlam is the term I use for this show, and when the veterans pass the last TSA checkpoint and see the masses, they break into tears. In the beginning (April) the photogs also broke down in tears, and it might still happen…if certain members “fess up.” Yet we learned where to be, to document every important part of the three day event, so that we were there to “catch the moments.” Tears, cheers, and smiles, we wanted to be there for them all.
To our knowledge, there are no other Honor Flight Hub locations in the United States (there are several hubs like Spokane is) that shoot the entire three days, and then turn around and produce a video for each and every participant, every single time an Honor Flight is scheduled. The videos are produced by me, in my office, after I get the edited images from each photog, of each portion of their 3 day shoot. In April, the videos began at about 24 minutes, and in November, the video ran just over an hour. Videos (DVDs) are formatted for viewing on the veteran’s television/DVD player at home. Many are not computer savvy, and we wanted to make this as easy as possible for each of them. All videos are synched with background music, and without fail, families cry when they watch them. We call this result, “happy tears.”
Every photographer who has ever participated in their first Honor Flight is hooked on the project. Our “merry band of photogs,” has never had this much fun with a camera, for any project…let alone a community service undertaking of this size. Some months require 3-4 shoots at GEG, beginning with Southwest Airlines departure schedules. Some shoots have been accomplished as late as 10:30 PM (for a late arrival of a veteran who suffered a heart attack in DC), and almost all departures from GEG are at 10:30AM. Photogs get to GEG at or near 0830 to start the departure shoot (usually done by noon), and at least two hours before the arrivals on day 3. Some shooters have to accompany the veterans through TSA, and also onto the aircraft to shoot the departures. On arrivals, one photog has to be at the aircraft door when it opens and as the veterans deplane. Almost all other shooters are out in the crowds shooting virtually everything they can capture. The tears and cheers and bands start playing just as the first WWII veteran makes the last turn into the lobby area. It’s hard to keep that many people quiet, but we found it can be done. Many incoming passengers from other airlines refuse to leave the airport until after the veterans come off their plane, and military members from all branches of service show up, in uniform, for the arrivals. Incredible, every single time is all we photogs can say about all of this. None of us have ever seen that many US flags waving in any airport, let alone our own.
2011 will bring another year of Honor Flights from GEG, and each of the photogs is having “Honor Flight withdrawals.” We do not fly again until April, as we did this year, so we have a few months off. Then the photographic fun starts again.
Our slate of Honor Flight photographers includes myself and;
Josh Burdick, photographer
Ron Trees, photographer
Greg Hustad, photographer
Kevin Liechty, photographer
Robert Chiappe, photographer
Mike McNab, photographer (normally shoots day 2 activities)
Stephanie Yanuszeski, photographer
Kent Henderson, photographer
Annette Barton, photographer
Danielle Maldonado, photographer
I have added one more photographer as a result of working with her at the Northwest North Pole Adventures shoot a week or so ago. She requested to become a part of the photography team after the Honor Flight photographers were mentioned at the children’s recent North Pole event at GEG. Carol Trost will begin shooting with us in April, 2011 for the first Southwest Airlines departure of the year for our veterans and family members (guardians).
Yes, all of this takes each photographer a lot of time. Not just shooting, but scheduling your day/week/month, to be available for the three day experience. Editing takes time, and quickly choosing at least 60 edited images apiece for the video takes time. Producing the video can be mind numbing, but each video from an individual flight has to be in the hands of the families before the next Honor Flight begins.
Information on Inland Northwest Honor Flight is available at:
Photography for sale to each veteran and their family is also now available online at: http://inwhonorflight.smugmug.com/
Some of our WWI veterans have passed away before they were able to make their scheduled Honor Flight. Yet, for those who are able to make their flight, the value of having highly skilled photographers there to capture their event, will last their families a lifetime.
Is it all worth it?
You have no idea how satisfying all of this is to every single photographer. If we do nothing else with our camera systems, we know we can capture the smiles and tears of the WWII veterans who made our existence today possible.
Merry Christmas everyone.
John D. Moore, CPP
Inland Northwest Honor Flight