Theodore Van Kirk (1921 – 2014)


Just a week ago, the last surviving member of the famed Enola Gay, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, passed away at 93. The number of World War II veterans living today is rapidly declining; an estimated 1,000 die each day, taking with them millions of stories that will never be heard again.

In the last three months alone, five veterans I have photographed passed away. One of those five veterans was Dutch.

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The last ever

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I just finished an unexpected phone call that really brought things into perspective for me.  The call was concerning one of the veterans I had only recently photographed, his health has taken a downturn and I will be the last person who will ever photograph or interview him.  I always knew that mortality is something I would be reminded of frequently within this project, as many of the men and women I interview are no less than 90 years old, but now, hearing that I have the last ever recording and photograph of this veteran is a great honor but also a tremendous responsibility.  It is an honor to be welcomed into the homes of veterans and allowed to record their stories but I am also left with the responsibility to ensure that each story is saved and shared with future generations.

I have never taken my work anything less than serious but this event helped me see that, right now, I’m just not doing enough to preserve and share the stories of US military veterans.  I’ve been given a new focus and determination to take this project further and to include as many men and women as I can before it is too late.  So to the person who called me, thank you.  Thank you for the opportunity to meet and photograph your father, thank you for bringing things into perspective for me, and thank you for helping to ensure that the stories and voices of so many more veterans will be saved forever.

And to those veterans that gave me the time to meet them but have now passed, Bob Spinnenweber, Bob Breiling, Willard Bickel, Paul Gordon, and Wendell Freeland, I promise to not be the last to hear your story but the first of future generations to listen, in awe, as you retell your role in history.


One Truly Special 13 year-old

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a local thirteen year old boy, Tyler Kautzman, who wanted me to photograph a 5K race he was organizing.  I was intrigued that such a young kid was putting on a 5K, so I did a little research and I couldn’t believe what I found.

Tyler, it turned out, is a truly remarkable young man and at just 13, has built up an impressive list of achievements already.  Tyler’s story begins when he was only 8 years old.  Every 8 year old that I know of wishes of getting the latest toys for his birthday, but not Tyler.  Rather than get presents, Tyler wanted to give them.  His goal was to collect items to ship overseas to soldiers serving abroad.  After collecting over 400lbs of stuff, Tyler teamed up with The Yellow Ribbon Girls to ship everything to the soldiers.  A few weeks later, his care packages eventually ended up in the hands of (now SSG) Sgt. Eddie Greiner, and some of the other soldiers in the 82nd Airborne Division he was serving with.

What happened next though, is very special.

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Under Armour Project – Part 3 – Are You Ready?

Finally, it’s here, the last entry in my ongoing Under Amour Project series.  Today you’ll get to see all of the finished pieces created for the project, hear how the entire project did when presented in front of the men and women at MARC USA, and a very brief critique of what I would have done differently.

Before we start, if you guys haven’t read my previous posts about the project, I recommend you do so now.  The first post of the series gave a background on the project and what went into our decisions for the different aspects of the creative portion of the campaign.  The next two posts gave a look at the production of the different pieces created for the campaign including print ads and television commercial.

In my first draft of this post I had planned to go over each ad individually and give each a brief write-up but that quickly turned into an incredibly long and repetitive post.  Instead, I’m going to reveal each piece that was created for the project and give a general critique at the end.

So without any more delays….here they are:

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One Night, One Plane, and Four Men Who Flew It

Through my work with the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and photograph over 150 veterans from every branch of the military.  I’ve photographed men and women who have fought in every corner of the globe from Midway to Iraq and everywhere in between.  I love hearing their stories and learning about every aspect of the war they fought.  To me, every veteran’s story, whether it’s a combat experience or about the work they did as a cook, is part of our history and needs to be shared with everyone.  However, there is one group of veterans that is very special to me: Airmen.

Ever since I was in grade school I have been fascinated with anything that can fly.  I used to stare out my window and watch planes as they approached Pittsburgh International Airport, I’ve listened to live ATC streams for hours, accumulated more hours than I can count in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and on more than one occasion, called my friend when a cool plane flew overhead.  Simply put, I’m an aviation nerd.

To me, nothing is cooler than a military plane.  Today’s $100+ million fighters are nice, but they will never beat the sight of a World War II-era piston-driven aircraft like the P-51 or B-17.  Actually, I want to retract my previous statement…To me, nothing is cooler than a military plane, EXCEPT the men who flew aboard them.  When I meet a veteran who flew during their service, I want to drop whatever I’m doing and just listen to their stories.  I could sit there all day just listening.

The story behind this post began a few weeks ago with a simple “tweet”…

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This past Sunday, I was fortunate enough to have time to travel to the Westmoreland County Air Show at the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, PA.  For people living in Southwestern Pennsylvania, this is one of the only airshows around since the future of the 911th Air Lift Wing (which held an annual air show for years) in Pittsburgh, PA is unknown and there are no other air shows closer than an hour drive.

This air show wasn’t nearly as large as others I’ve attended but big things can come in small packages.  The show was filled with acts such as the AeroShell Aerobatic Team, Sean Tucker with his custom Oracle biplane, and the US Navy Blue Angels, but one of the best flights of the day was a fully restored P-51 Mustang and a B-25 Mitchell.  Seeing those two planes flying overhead was an absolutely incredible sight.  Just seeing one plane was amazing, so trying to imagine hundreds flying in formation like they did in WW2 was mind-boggling.

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Under Armour Project – Part 2.1 – Production

It’s been way too long since my last post about my Under Armour project.   I meant to wrap this series up weeks ago but got distracted by other jobs.  Anyway…let’s get back into it.

In my last post, I covered the production of our basketball, women’s and classroom ads.  Before continuing here, I highly recommend you check out that post and the first post of the series that covers the background for this project.

You read them that quickly? Let’s jump in then.

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Under Armour Project – Part 2 – Production

In my last post I gave an overview of my final project in college, which was to develop a new ad campaign for Under Armour.  If you haven’t read it yet, you can check it out here.  Today’s post will take you behind the scenes on the production of some of the ads for the campaign.

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Under Armour Project – Part 1 – Planning / Testing

I just officially wrapped up my life as a college student last Saturday when I graduated from Pitt-Johnstown with a degree in marketing.  My four years in college were some of the best so far and I took away a lot of lessons and experiences to apply in the “Real World.”  I typed a lot of papers and worked with a lot of groups but the largest project I worked on was also my favorite by far.

During my last semester at UPJ, I, along with several other group members, was tasked with planning and designing an entire ad campaign for a brand of our choice.  We ended up deciding on athletic apparel company Under Armour which was founded in 1996 by Kevin Plank in his grandmother’s basement.  The company’s unique moisture-wicking shirts caught on quickly and Under Armour now rubs shoulders against industry heavyweights like Adidas, Nike, and Reebok.

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48 Hours With the US Marines

Over the weekend, I was invited to Outdoor Odyssey, which is a multi-faceted nonprofit corporation founded in 1998 whose primary mission is to serve area youth with a mentor and provide a unique wilderness experience at its 500-acre camp.  In addition to providing guidance to local youth, the camp is also active with the Wounded Warriors program, which was the reason for my visit.  During the previous week, Outdoor Odyssey hosted several dozen US Marines who were recovering from various wounds they received in the military and now preparing to reenter civilian life again.  I was fortunate enough to spend most of Thursday and Friday with the men and women at the camp and in that short time, I was inspired, intimidated, honored, ashamed, and simply amazed.

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