This is one of my all time favorite CLOUD 9 pictures--out of hundreds of thousands that I have taken and out of many more hundreds of thousands that I have seen.
Since this is not a particularly "pretty" picture, "why" does this one "speak" to me or mean so much to me?
I LOVE this picture for the following reasons:
1) The amphibious helo assault carrier below is the USS Tarawa, LHA-1, which is now decommissioned. It is my understanding that legally, all US Navy warships are considered to be an extension of United States "land" or "territory", and, assuming that understanding is correct, that fact, if any, is loaded with a great deal of symbolic importance to me;
2) A large part of me wanted to be a U.S. Marine, and, simultaneously, while I regret that I never became one, I am also, paradoxically, glad that I never was one and never had to experience what U.S. Marines have to do, train for, and actually do, namely, close the last 300 yards and kill the enemy, in often gut-wrenching, miserable, horrible, conditions, the demand skill and courage to survive, etc.;
3) I was wearing a thick, nylon, high quality, gunner's belt webbing anchored to the floor of this U.S. Marine Corps Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight, as shown in this picture, above the USS Tarawa. Relying on the strength of that webbed nylon belt, and the metal anchor that secured me to the floor of this helo, I leaned out into the slip stream of the helo and looked back, and down, at the USS Tarawa, representing "United States territory--part of an American's Homeland," thankful that I was not a real Marine, being airlifted into a hot combat zone, at risk of being wounded, captured, tortured, horribly disfigured, and/or killed. I was thankful to, instead, be only a tag along civilian photojournalist, who a senior Marine Corps Public Affairs Officer and the Commanding General of the Third Marine Corps Aircraft Wing, trusted and allowed me to fly with Marines in Third MAW assets on a strict not to interfere basis. To this day, I deeply appreciate their cooperation!;
4) As I took this picture, from that moment, back in June 1985, to date, I often think of all of the Marines who rode in CH-46s, into combat, who never came back or who came back, with or without combat injuries, and the brave pilots flying them who flew into "hot" landing zones, with nothing but thin sheet metal separating them from the enemy;
5) Simultaneously, I just do not understand civilians who are so damn cowardly when it comes to standing up for their rights--or the rights of a fellow U.S. citizen. I just do not understand why so many civilians are so prone to lay down on their rights . . . and waste the shield that the U.S. Armed Forces provide, for the exercise of those rights, at great expense, not only in terms of money, but, more importantly, in terms of the most valuable and rare of currency: human courage, human skill, human tenacity, human commitment to duty, and human blood;
6) Some other reasons what I love this picture are these:It brings back good memories. Examples: I love the combination of "air", "flying", and "water". I remember well the Commanding Officer of the USS Tarawa in June 1985. He invited me for about a one hour conversation, in between flights. He told me he was a Naval Aviator who wanted to become the commanding officer of a bigger, fixed wing, CVN, nuclear powered aircraft carrier, but, "his sugar daddy wasn't as good as some of his competitor's", so, he got stuck with commanding this smaller, less glamorous, aircraft carrier, and, he joined the Navy to fly jets, not to command this type of a warship. I also remember this officer's awesome "command voice", one with real timber. I remember well this scene: He took me down to that part of the USS Tarawa where men were being loaded into smaller landing ships, to be taken to the beach near Camp Pendelton, as part of a training exercise, and, when this CO saw unsafe conditions, he picked up a megaphone and barked out orders, loudly--very, very loud, above a large amount of environmental noise. I also remember that when aboard the USS Tarawa, I was offered, and I ate, a few tasty little white powdered sugar doughnuts; and
7) Another reason I LOVE this picture is that it is a "vertical" image, the composition works--at least for me, it is different--I have never seen another like it except for other ones I took while lifting off from the Tarawa. I also love the depth--looking back, along the side of the CH-46, and down, at the Tarawa. Plus, I captured--if not "the decisive moment", at least a decent composition, and, somehow, this picture, between my ears and behind my breast bone, goes a long way to forge an unbreakable bond of good will from me to the U.S. Marines, to the U.S. Navy, and to the U.S. Armed Forces as a whole, despite their periodic bad press. I VALUE the shield they provide. I VALUE their skill, courage, professionalism, commitment to duty. I know that without the shield they provide, my life would be fundamentally different, for the worse, and I've go to love and respect them for what they do to provide that shield.
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