I still get goosebumps when I think about the story my son told me about his experience walking through the airport about a year ago. Today, the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I heard the story of a Vietnam Veteran at the Memorial Day Celebration in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston. My son Ryan, an air refueling specialist in the Air Force, was transferring to another base during his training with a group marching through the airport in Denver to a connecting flight. Somebody stood up and started clapping. By the time they were half way to their terminal, nearly everyone in that part of the airport was standing, clapping and cheering. I was so proud when I heard the story. Proud to be an American. Proud that my fellow Americans recognized what they are doing, and showing their respect. It was nothing like that for Butch Millette. Millette, now living in Lewiston, was a combat medic in Vietnam, riding a helicopter to battle, jumping out to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. He saved many, but could never save them all. Those memories still haunt him. While the politicians, dignitaries and others were gathering at the top of Veterans Memorial Park, preparing to give their speeches, I noticed two people at the waters edge, kneeling in front of the memorial stone set in place after the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall had visited. It was a windy morning, cold and bitter. I was already emotional, I get that way at these things. I can’t help it. As I watched the pair, all alone in their thoughts, a big gust of wind blew in my face, causing the first tear to drip down my cheek. I fought back more, but it was a lost cause when the music started playing. I looked over to the couple. It appeared he was shaking. His wife grabbed his hand. At that moment, I caught the eye of a rugged, middle aged man standing next to me. He was watching me and had a knowing look on his face. I got a chill. It wasn’t from the cold. He looked over to the couple kneeling and looked back at me. I did not recognize him. Never in the past 35 plus years of covering events had I seen him. His face was unique, weathered and kinda sad looking. Somebody I would remember for sure if I had run into him in the past. He wore no uniform, but had a small pin on his worn jacket. It was a triangle with a bunch of stars. I looked at it and he looked at me. I actually felt myself shiver. It was surreal. He looked back to the couple and I picked up my camera and zoomed in. I shot a few photos, but was too far away. I looked back over to the stranger, but he was gone, just like that. I felt another sensation. Not a chill, something like you get when you look down from a tall building, or go over a big dip in the road. I felt compelled to get a better photo of the couple and needed to talk to them to find out their story. I moved closer and made some better images. I did not want to disturb them, so I kept an eye on them and walked back to where the speeches were starting. The star spangled banner was playing. I noticed an old friend I have known for years in the line of dignitaries look up. Willie Danforth pointed and everyone else looked up. A big, beautiful, bald eagle was flying overhead just as the song was ending. Like it was scripted. Another chill went up my spine. I looked for the couple and noticed them walking away and rushed over to talk to them. I have read, watched movies and even talked to some Vietnam veterans in the past. But nothing could have prepared me for the raw emotion Butch Millette conveyed. He talked about the pain that still lingers. Losing his best friend. He didn’t give details, but those I am sure replay in his dreams regularly. He said too many died “over there” …..too many he said a few times. And then he talked about the worst part. Coming home. It was with such sadness. He gave credit to his wife, an army veteran herself, for giving him support and helping him through the difficult times. It was at that moment I thought about my son’s experiences. Having people pay his bill when he is in uniform, or shaking his hand and thanking him. The smiles and respect he gets. At that moment I thought about how it must have been for Butch. Fighting for his country. Watching his friends die. And then to come home to such hatred. Instead of cheers and smiles, Vietnam vets came home to jeers and spit in the face. Never before or since have our troops been treated so badly, disrespected and ridiculed. It does not matter if you think we should have been over there, or for that matter, in any theater of conflict now or in the past. Those who fight for our freedom deserve our utmost respect and admiration. We live in the greatest country on earth. No matter if you agree or disagree with where the politicians send them, our troops answer the call. It is why the United States of America has the life, liberty and freedoms we often take for granted. Let us not take our troops for granted, and the sacrifices they make, let alone the horrors many carry with them long after they leave the military. Let’s all thank them whenever you can. Especially those who fought in Vietnam.
A new, relaxing ring tone I am trying out aroused me from sleep at 5:55. My dog and I shuffled onto the back steps for her morning constitution, and I stretched my arms into the warm air, took in the green, pink and yellow of my back yard, said to myself how queer this was and
raised my arms, stretched, and shook with joy. It was that feeling of not being cold and knowing I won’t be freezing my butt off for a couple months. And I thanked God. Sorry to say, that’s about all the religion I have these days.
Cooked up an omelet for my wife, ham and cheese one for Kevin, ham cheese and fried egg on an English muffin for Isaiah and scrambled for Chris…and some cantaloupe from yesterday. Said goodbye to my wife, who is leaving for work until 9 or 10 tonight. and then drove Isaiah to school. Chris went with Ann so he wouldn’t be late. Took Kevin for his root canal and then went for a walk with my precious pup, who is now 11. Whipped out my cel phone and shot them hanging steel for the new Bates dormitories in my old neighborhood. Walking home I noticed a couple humming birds in a garden. Figured I would stop there with my macro lens and try my luck, not expecting the humming birds to cooperate. But with the colors and thousands of critters in a garden, some fill flash and patience, you’re gonna get something. There wasn’t much, but I caught a funky looking early butterfly. Finding out what it was would take some time later in the day.
But off to Durham I would go for my first assignment of the day. Figured if all else failed, I could stop at the Get & Go and ask if they heard about it. I came across the signs on a stretch of road across from the town garage. Bunch of guys having lunch. Nope said them all ceptin one. “Saw a young fella this morning in a silver pickup putting them up, but that’s all I know.” After driving out, I see just such a vehicle parked in a house just after the last sign. Investigative journalism at it’s finest. Couldn’t be that easy Of course it wasn’t. After several more barking dogs, nobody homes and a few who knew nothing, I went to my last gasp and would head back to ask at the Get & Go. Wouldn’t you know, they told me to go ask at the Get & Go. No go at the Get & Go.
I hadn’t seen anything promising on the way to Durham for a feature photo. We needed one as this story wouldn’t work for our local section front, so I headed back to the office through Lisbon.
No sooner had I turned onto Route 9, there was this giant turkey vulture on the side of the road, within two feet of cars whipping past, tearing into some road kill. Couldn’t believe it was so brazen. I turned around in the next driveway and hopped out just in time to shoot him flying off after he had his fill of a……raccoon?
I still don’t have anything good enough to anchor the local section, so I’m thinking of bagging somebody fishing, so I head to some favorite holes. I didn’t catch any, but did find a guy looking for old bottles in the Sabattus River.
Back at the office I started downloading my photos and Andrew, one of our IT guys, mosey’s over and we try to do some switching of permissions for our photo scheduler. That’s a story in itself. I have some sort of an aura about me that funks up computers. They all love me in IT, job security and such. They, along with cashiers at my banks, grocery strores and even WalMart are always saying: “I’ve never seen that before!” as their register or computer crashes, freezes, or does something weird.
While I am processing photos, reading a couple dozen emails and all that entails, some guidance to our intern, listening to Justin talk about the Ali-Liston tab….ad nauseam. Phone calls, meetings and all the planning for tomorrow, the rest of the week and beyond. It’s getting close to the time I need to leave for the Auburn Police Memorial service and Mark comes over with puppy dog eyes and tells me “somebody” thinks we should post the video I shot of the signs in Durham this morning on Facebook. I want to say I don’t have time, but it’s just quirky enough that I say what the hay, and we get a possible hit.…tune in tomorrow for more, possibly.
I watch the Auburn Police Honor Guard try to keep in step and think how my son Ryan is just finishing his intense two week training in the Air Force to be on an elite honor guard duty that he was chosen to do for the next four months. I was sure he and the other 5 in his group would be so much better. When i told Ryan about it later in the night on the phone, he chuckled. And of course, in his typical humility, said that was no doubt true, his honor guard was like the JV compared to the USAF Honor Guard. They are just a regional unit that goes to local funerals and functions, the varsity goes to the ‘big time stuff.”
Pete Phelan thinks the other photo is better and thinks we should use it on the front page. Randy Baril just handed me a copy of the paper as I pen this, hot off the press, and I have to agree
The day is finally over and I head home to an empty house, but by 9:00 everyone but Ann is home and I do some chores, eat some leftovers and call my good friend Scott to see if he is up for a bike ride. Kiss my wife goodnight as she is walking in the door and I am heading out. Scott and cruise through the streets of LA and wind up at West Pitch Park in Auburn. It’s a beautiful overlook of the city, jutting over the falls, dry as a bone now, but at times, when the river is roaring, it’s so cool to feel the platform shake with the power of the Scroggin. But now comes the part where I disappoint you with the climax that fizzles. The bust is a bust. Hope you have not been reading all this in hopes of a good cop drama, it won’t live up to the hype. Two cops come out of nowhere and shine their lights in our faces and tell us we can’t be up here at night. I don’t have any ID on me, but tell them I shot them earlier in the day at the ceremony and they look at me sideways and I see some recognition. They run our names and we come back clean. Scott heads to his Auburn abode and I cross the bridge to my home away from home on Park Street to pen this prose.
With all that went on today, it was another gone bye without having a chance to check out a tip I got a few days ago. A hand written letter with a big hand drawn in the middle of the paper with writing on it tells me to go down by the river, past his Aunt Minnies burnt out trailer, to the riverbank where there is a big hand chiseled into a big rock. His mom seen it as a kid and she thinks it was done by the indians to warn them about the falls, or something. “It’s a National Treasure.” Gotta get to that, and some other stuff, tomorrow.
My first mystery photo ran in the new bsec of our Sunday edition on June 25, 2006. 400 photos later, it has grown in the space it is given in the newspaper and the amount of copy I am allowed to publish. The basic layout has not changed. Every Sunday, we publish a large photo of the new mystery photo and a thumbnail of the previous week’s photo.
In the beginning, we would simply reveal where the previous week’s photo was taken and who was chosen as the winner. After a few years of me talking up some of the stories I heard on the voice mail and email entries, I convinced the editors to allow me to print not only some background on the photo, but often when contacted to let them know they won, I would hear stories about their connection with the building, statue, monument or whatnot. Some are really good. I have kept them all in a folder, and a few weeks ago I went through and chose my top 100. Since then, I have added more, and plan to continue when I have an interesting photo or a great story. Take a peek at the gallery I created on my personal website by clicking on
I waste days on end when you add up the time I wait for court to start. We have to be there when it is scheduled to start, but judge and Lawyers are always late. Waitrd an hour this am for sentencing at Superior Court in Auburn and now it’s already a half hour behind at 8th District waiting for meth lab suspects.
Four overtimes at the first game of the 2014 high school basketball I covered and I was put in my place. It’s one of the most exciting events I cover year after year, but after 30 plus years covering it, I had to be reminded how lucky I am to be a part of it. Closer to the action than anybody except the teams and officials, getting paid to document the excitement, I had the gall to complain. Long day, blah, blah blah, crabby old man. Walking back to the media table at the Augusta Civic Center to download my photos after a thrilling conclusion, I grumbled some callous remark about being painful to one of the most accomplished and respected sports writers I have ever met, and have the pleasure to work with. I don’t remember the exact words, but when Kalle Oakes simply said, “I thought it was rather exciting” I felt like a spoiled kid in the candy store complaining that I could only get the second biggest candy bar. A vision of the fat kid morphed with the spoiled girl in Willy Wonka flashed into my head. When I walked into the auditorium, past the people waiting to buy tickets, flashing my credentials, with my freeking name printed on it for cripes sakes, I thought I was all that, but soon after I was whining wah wah wah. Being the late guy this past week, I have had to cover game after game after game of the high school basketball tournament. Watching hearts broken and dreams come true, I get to witness moments that will be the highlight of many kids lives. I found new vigor to capture it for them with my photographs. Most photographers “working” for the other publications only post a handful of photos from each game. I make it a point to upload dozens to our galleries in hopes not to make a buck for the company, although it helps keep me employed, but that they might be a keepsake for a kid or more likely, their mom or dad…or grandparent. Perhaps not. But I cling to the thought the moments I capture might immortalize, or at least entertain for a moment. Some say it is just sports. News is more important. Perhaps for some, but for others, it is the only reason they buy our paper or read it online. So, I try to bring the same passion and effort in every assignment, every day. Thank you Kal for reminding me of this. Here are a few other photos I have taken since my last blog that I am proud of.
I agonized about submitting this photo that I thought summed up the recent hotly contested and contentious mayoral debate in Lewiston.
I thought it was the best photo as it displayed emotion, evoked emotion, and there was some good action. After a few weeks of thinking about it, I am not sure I made the right decision. The photo IS an eye catcher. However, it does not show the mayor in a positive light. Should I be concerned with that? Often times we take photos of athletes with strange or weird facial expressions in the midst of a crucial play that tells the story of the game. Victims at accident scenes, fires or other mishaps often find subjects in a non flattering, even compromising situations.
I had other photos. However, I did not think there were powerful enough to anchor the front page as this was the biggest story of the night. I was caught up in the fact that I was able to capture this moment. When the mayor was caught up in the emotion of the election. Relieved that it was over, and beaming with the fact that the victory was nearly a 2-1 margin.
The reaction in the newsroom was mixed. Some thought it was a good photo and represented the mood of the night and the culmination of the controversial campaign.
Others were luke warm about it and asked if I might not have something that showed Mayor Macdonald in a more favorable light. I argued that I had others, but they were pretty static or posed, like the group photo. After receiving numerous letters and emails damning me for publishing the photo I have come to the realization that it may have not been the right move to push for this photo. Not because I did not want to offend the mayor, not because of the backlash from our readers, but after looking back at numerous other photos I have taken over the year, I noticed that Mr. Macdonald has a tendency to stick his tongue out when nervous. This was nagging me from the moment I got back and started editing my images. Was this really a reaction to the phone call, that is, was he sticking his tongue out because; nah nah nah nah “I just kicked your butt,” or was it a tic, or nervous habit. Should this change the decision making process?
One last hypothetical scenario to make the point. I am at an accident scene where a car is upside down in the middle of the street. Nobody is hurt, the driver is walking around, actually joking. A gust of wind blows some sand in his face and he brings his hands to his face. It makes for a dramatic photo with the car upside down, looming in the background and the victim looking anguished. But does it misrepresent the situation. Hell yeah. But it is so much more powerful that him just walking around. Do I run with that dramatic photo. Compelling. Or is it the wrong decision. Just what I am grappling with in the mayoral victory photo debate. If I would have just worked the assignment a little harder, stayed a little longer, perhaps I would have got a better photo that would not caused such an uproar. Or was it the correct call. A conundrum for sure.
I’ll try to recap some of my favorite photos. The balloon festival was fabulous this year. It was extra nice for me as this was the first time in several years I was not scheduled to work the morning launches. Despite the beautiful weather, I did not get up for a single morning launch. I did go out to my porch and watch them float past one morning, but after so many years of covering it night and day, I was more interested in getting extra sleep than getting up to see the balloons. I did get one of my favorite balloon photos ever when local pilot Jim Rodrigue took off in his single seat “cloud hopper” the night before the festival kicked off. The artwork on his legs dangling down made the photo!
With a shrinking newsroom staff, vacations, and long term projects, we often struggle to find stories that lend themselves to photos. So, we cruise for features more days that I wish. But it does get us out of the office and we get to find some slices of life.
I waited and waited for a flock of birds to fly past. After about a half hour, all I got was a single bird here and there. I liked the contrail from the jet. Who knew the comments it generated from the crowd that think the government is putting toxins in the fuel that is poisoning us. Who knew? Not sure I am ready to believe that one.