Howard Greenlee, a Navy veteran who joined in 1954 and now lives at Belmont Village Senior Living Turtle Creek, stood in front of the white sheet as Thomas Sanders took his picture.
“Look at me for a few more,” Sanders said. “That’s good.”
Sanders, photographer and author of The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of World War II, travels to Belmont Village Senior Living communities taking pictures of veterans –– both residents and staff members –– for Belmont’s American Heroes Portraits of Service project.
Begun in 2008, the project originally focused on World War II veterans. Today, the project also includes those who served in the Vietnam War and the Korean War.
Sanders, whose grandfather is a World War II veteran, starts by photographing the veterans against a white background. Then, in post production, he replaces the white backdrop with “images from their war experience.”
If the veterans have photos of themselves from their service, he’ll superimpose one into the background.
“My goal is just to capture as much personality as I can,” Sanders said.
Patricia Will, founder and CEO of Belmont Village, said this project was started to highlight the importance of veterans and their stories.
“One of the things that we all realize as a society now is that we ought to be spending every part of everyday honoring the men and women who serve us so selflessly in the armed forces,” Will said, “and we also need to be capturing the stories of their service.”
In addition to the photographs, Belmont includes descriptions of the veterans’ experiences.
“As you move forward in time, the nature of the experiences is different,” Will said, “and we want to be sure that we don’t lose the stories that go with these incredible images.”
Lorena Grimes, director of communications, interviews the veterans. She first asks what branch of service they were in and the highest rank they received. She then asks them to tell their story “however they want to share it with me.”
“We kind of leave it as an open conversation,” Grimes said.
For the project, Sanders also photographs Belmont staff members who are veterans. Will said this “creates a certain unique camaraderie between those team members who served in the military and residents who served in the military.”
Kate Marshall, the memory programs coordinator at Belmont, served as a military police officer and later in the reserves. Marshall can connect with residents about their time in the military, adding that she always introduces herself to new residents who are veterans.
Marshall believes this project allows people to “understand the sacrifices that they and their families made.”
Recognizing that some veterans may not have told their story in the past, Sanders sees this project as an opportunity to “preserve history.”
“It’s important to honor them and interview them and give them the opportunity to tell their story,” Sanders said.