Story and photos by Jamie Harris
The Patriot’s Portrait is nothing new. Many photographers across the country do this in some form or fashion. I too have had a desire to start a similar event in my home town. Not for me at all but for the opportunity to give back to those who greatly served and sacrificed all for this country. The impact of emotion that comes with sharing these pictures are enormous. To see the eyes of these veterans light up when they see these images for the first time is all the reward I care to receive. My whole business is based on providing lasting images. Not to sell the customer a CD or thumb drive of digital files. How many of us have old 3-1/2″ floppy discs with unprinted images in them? What do we do now? Even today CD ROMs are being phased out of computers. The only sure way to preserve these captured images is to print them.
I was watching a documentary a couple of years ago about the civil war. Towards the end of the program the narrator talked about the passing of the last soldier that fought in the civil war. Albert Henry Woolson died on August 2, 1956. Yes 1956, 10 years before I was born there was a surviving member of that great war. It hit me that time is short and feeding fast and even faster for those who are present survivors of WWII and the Vietnam War. February 27, 2011, we lost our last Veteran of WWI. Frank Woodruff Buckles lived a long 110 years. Most veterans aren’t so lucky to have that many years on this earth. So, in my eyes time is of the essence. I wanted to capture a memory of our aging, honored and decorated solders while I have this opportunity.
The Patriot’s Portrait was birthed this year and I was able to capture the beautiful faces or 61 veterans in our community. While 61 was a nice number to start off with, it’s only a drop in the bucket of what we have here in Person County and the surrounding areas. The make shift studio was set up just inside the doors of Brookland Eats Restaurant. My studio is above with a long flight to stairs to the second level. I asked the manager of the restaurant if I could use a small portion of the restaurant so any aging or disabled veterans came to the event they wouldn’t have navigate the stairs or worse, not come because of the obstacle. They were gracious to help and even became a holder of the gallery of veteran pictures the was displayed during Veterans weekend. Renee Barker with Legacy Builders oversaw the “Wall of Honor” and the display of the portraits.
The idea of having the event at ground level paid off. I was able to photograph many Veterans we would have missed if it were held in the second-floor studio. And if that happened I would have not had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ellis Pleasant. I had never met Mr. Pleasant but knew he was coming. His sister, Searie Pleasant, called about a week prior to the event and asked about the location. She was concerned her brother would not be able to make it if the event was in my studio. She said her brother had lost his legs in Vietnam and wanted to be a part of the Patriot’s Portrait. Her mind was quickly put to ease as I explained the location and very gentle access to the front of the restaurant. The first day of the 2-day event Mr. Pleasant was one of only 12 that came that day. I was greatly surprised when he walked through the doors and not rolled in by a wheelchair. Mr. Pleasant walked through the doors with aid of his prosthetic legs and 2 old fashioned wooden canes and a big smile. I truly believe Mr. Pleasant could have made it up the stairs if he had too. His sister was obviously looking out for him. His firm hand shake was also a surprise as he was told by the doctors of the MASH unit they would have to take his right arm as it was also severely damaged by the land mine that took his 2 legs, 30 days prior to his coming home. Mr. Pleasant refused to sign the consent form to take his arm. He told them they are not taking anything else. The scare is just below his elbow is and loss if his legs didn’t slow him down. His daily chores continue as he spends much of his time on his John Deere tractors working on his farm and raising cattle. He keeps the church yard mowed as well and asked me to guess what he does when is snows. Not knowing what to guess, thinking to myself maybe he finds time to relax, he quickly replied, do donuts in the snow with the 4-wheeler.
I personally presented his portrait to Mr. Pleasant only because I had not heard enough of his story. He and his lovely wife of 50 years, Linda, told more stories of how they first fenced in their property for cows not too long after his recovery and even built their own house. What a wonderful couple and story of lasting love and perseverance. Capturing his stern face, because you’re not supposed to smile while in uniform, according to Mr. Pleasant was quickly broken with joyous grins and laughter as we joked during our few minutes of photography. Like Mr. Pleasant and with so many other veterans I met during this event I truly believe that smiles are enduring, memories are haunting, but life is truly what you make it to be.
On January 25, 2018 Jamie Harris Photography is hosting a focus group meeting to explore the opportunity to expand this local event into regional, state and possibly national organization that provides an 8×10 keepsake portrait to every Veteran possible.