By Cade Martin
It always feels important when doing a portrait project to do right by my subjects, to capture the stories and layers of character revealed in the angles and lines of a face. I love the honest relationship between lens and subject. All of this felt like both pressure and possibility when presented with the opportunity to make portraits of D-Day Veterans with Frank Gilliam and team at Elevation Advertising for National D-Day Memorial Foundation’s 75th anniversary “Pass the Flag” campaign.
One the morning of the project, I left the hotel and discovered my car had a dead battery. I got a jump, drove to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, unloaded my gear and drove back through the mountains to a local garage in search of a new battery. I’m no stranger to the area, my parents grew up in the Virginia mountains, and I know the tight knit nature of the community there. When I pulled up to the garage, the tall, and wholly unamused, owner walked out to ask what I wanted – and why I was there. I said that I was going to photograph D-Day Veterans in Bedford. His demeanor changed instantly and he said quietly “They don’t make them like that anymore.”
The definition of a hero is complicated, situational and often personal. But here in the Virginia mountains, a place with an ingrained community history of grief and solemn pride tied to their neighbors and family members – heroes – who were lost or changed on the beaches of Normandy, the definition is straightforward. That the national D-Day Memorial is located in tiny Bedford, VA, is testament to the reverence and commitment to preserving their legacy.
Being reminded of that deep tie to this place, and knowing the power of a portrait, I drove back to our location ready to honor and photograph the D-Day Veterans at this memorial. It was also a chance for me to slow down and consider the definition of a hero, at a time when the flashiest, loudest superheroes dominate our box office landscape. This project gave me the opportunity to be present in the company of these heroes, and it was a privilege.
(Shown in photos, top to bottom, are Curtis Kennedy, Henry Gurney, Herbert “Bill” Sisk and Caroll Reeve)
Cade Martin is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.