Ignore your instincts …

September 2010


It is easy to react at first blush at what you think you see. When you become used to thinking on a hair trigger about certain things – you can often miss the greater truth that is out there.

Why are we constantly reminded to think about the 2nd and 3rd order effect? Why are the most successful the ones what ask the most questions?

In the profession of arms – why is deception such a critical part of any operation? Why do we worry so much about camoflauge?

Simple – humans have a tendency to take things on first glance. They don’t look closer. They don’t focus and think in detail – or they can’t see because they focus on the wrong thing.

Take another look at the picture to the right. What, you may ask, is a picture of a grown man’s backside doing in such an august institution as USNIBlog? Simple.

To make you think. To remind you of a hero. To give example of focus, prioritization, and doing what needs to be done to make mission.

Scott Nichols Gallery is proud to present an exhibition of historic photographs by the late photojournalist Horace Bristol. Bristol’s photographs cover a broad sweep of 20th Century history and were published extensively by LIFE Magazine in the 1930’s. His poignant portraits of migrant farm workers in California’s Central Valley, in collaboration with John Steinbeck, later inspired the novel The Grapes of Wrath gaining him recognition as a prolific photographer of his time.

In 1941, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Bristol joined an elite team of naval photographers under Edward Steichen documenting key naval battles, including the invasions of North Africa, Okinawa and Iwo Jima. When the war subsided he moved his family to Japan where he continued to photograph the devastation wrought by the war and set up his own Photo Agency, East-West, focusing on Pacific Rim countries in transition. He sold his photographs widely throughout South East Asia, Europe and the United States.

The title of the picture is “PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944.”

Available in a few places on the web – here is the background.

(in the) December 2002 issue of B&W magazine, in an article about the man who took the picture, Horace Bristol; he was a member of a Navy unit of photographers, and thus ended up being on the plane the gunner was serving on, which was used to rescue people from Rabaul Bay (New Britain island, Papua New Guinea), when this occurred:

“…we got a call to pick up an airman who was down in the Bay. The Japanese were shooting at him from the island, and when they saw us they started shooting at us. The man who was shot down was temporarily blinded, so one of our crew stripped off his clothes and jumped in to bring him aboard. He couldn’t have swum very well wearing his boots and clothes. As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.”

Oh, it was also put there because Mary needed a pick-me-up.

UPDATE: Though it doesn’t cover this period of the war, if you are interested in the PBY at war, USNI Press published a good book outlining the start of the war, In the Hands of Fate: The Story of Patrol Wing Ten, 8 December 1941 – 11 May 1942. That link will take you to the paperback. I’ve had the hardcover for years tucked away in the library. I couldn’t find one online, but if you are a book-snob like me and insist on getting a hardcover – if you get in touch with USNI Press, they might have one hidden somewhere. Good book.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Books, History

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  • Byron

    (running for the foxhole…) INCOMING!!! Been nice knowing you, Phib 🙂

  • Charley

    I’ve seen that photo before – I’d always assumed that he was hot…, I mean, hot in the plane…

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Horace Bristol’s work was magnificent. He has several iconic images of the Depression (Tom Joad) and the war. One of my favorites is “Mail Call”, taken on Munda in 1944. My Dad was on Munda at that time, and I would love to see other pictures Bristol took to see if I can spot him.

    During the war, Bristol was commissioned in the US Navy as a LT, USNR. All his photos are property of the US Government, which makes me wonder how many USNI might have in their marvelous collection.

    Mary? (quit staring at this one)

  • Mark,

    We have a volunteer who has worked with us for 18 years and has always taken an interest not only in Steichen, but all those who have worked for him.

    His images of the depression are truly magnificent.

    If we don’t have photos from Munda, we could try to find them.

  • andrewdb

    Lots of great photos from that team are also in “At Ease – Navy Men in World War II” See here