Collecting memories – Lest We Forget

Passionate collectors go to astounding lengths for their treasures. Tom Graves is no exception. He has all but suspended his lucrative photojournalism career with commercial clients ranging from AT&T, Merrill Lynch, People Magazine, and Cisco Systems, to name just a few, while he keeps adding to his collection.

Most serious collectors concentrate on keeping their acquisitions, but Graves wants to share his. This photojournalist and photographer, backed by 30 years’ experience and an impressive list of professional credits, wants to present his collection of photographs and stories to as many people as possible to remember and honor the veterans of World War II and Korea. He is the author of the book Heroes All! which he hopes will soon find a publisher.

Many books have been published about those conflicts but Graves says, “Mine is the only one to pair contemporary portraits with personal interviews of servicemen and women of that era, picturing them as they are today while talking about the past. Clerks and cooks are treated with the same dignity as the three Medal of Honor recipients interviewed. All in the book answered their country’s call to arms.”

Graves, who lives in San Francisco, traveled all over the country to shoot more than 200 black-and-white photographs. He has captured the personalities of these aging veterans who represent all walks of life. Most are only now telling their gripping stories for the first time. Their heroic deeds deserve to be a remembrance gift to the veterans and their families – more than 80 million of them – before the stories are gone forever. To date he has mounted half a dozen exhibits in various cities, all at his own expense, so viewers may see his efforts.

No, this photographer/author is not a veteran, but he says he feels passionate about this. He realizes this project’s seeds were sown when he was only eight years old and he asked his father, “What did you do in the war?”

Graves Sr. landed on Utah Beach with an engineering unit a couple of days after D-Day. His son recalls, “He simply would not talk about it. Once in a while he might mention something humorous, but he never talked about combat . . . Yet he must have seen plenty because he had nightmares that used to wake him, screaming, in the middle of the night, and that went on into his 70s.”

He continues: “My dad wasn’t much of a talker. He never satisfied my curiosity but he managed to unburden himself to a neighbor. I’ve learned, through my work, that it’s often easier for veterans to talk to me rather than to their own sons or daughters.”

It is the average G.I. Joe whose anything-but-average portraits and stories provide this book’s fascination. Some of their accounts are gut wrenching, others offer heart-warming humor. Now a retired Baroque Symphony conductor, Eugene Shepherd served as a violinist in Glen Miller’s famous band that starred in the bond-raising stage show and film Winged Victory. He tells of “storming the beaches of Santa Monica” and some of the antics orchestra members pulled when later led by Tex Beneke after Miller’s wartime disappearance.

Anne Noggle looks back on her stint as a member of the Army Air Corps’ Women Air Service Pilots (WASP program) and flatly states 60 some years later, “I can’t remember not wanting to fly.”

Asked which of all the veterans he met meant the most to him might have proven difficult for Graves, but he quickly names Marine Ralph Paulk, pictured on the cover of Heroes All! The veteran lowers his front yard flag with his cane tucked under one arm, unselfconsciously wearing suspenders that nod to a country upbringing. He bears many similarities to Tom’s father, including birthdays on the same day of the same year, but the parallels go deeper. “The meticulous recall of dates and numbers, the clear presence of what my father called ‘good old common horse sense’ . . . even the hens which both men raised in suburban backyards to remind them of their rural roots,” all touched the photographer as much as knowing Paulk comes from a family that has been in practically every war this country has waged since 1665.

Becky Saeger, Tom’s wife of 24 years, supports his efforts 100 percent. She told him, “You’ve taken pictures for a lot of other people for a long time. Now it’s about time you took pictures for yourself.”

Graves laughs somewhat wryly and says, “I’ll soon have enough portraits and stories for a second book.”

More about his dedication and unique collection can be seen on the Web site Tom Graves’ email address is

442nd Regiment Combat Team

In September 2001, Graves went to a reunion of the 442nd Regiment Combat Team, which was made up mostly of Japanese-Americans. The unit fought in France in October 1944 to rescue the Lost Battalion. The 442nd was recognized as “the most decorated combat unit of its size in U.S. history.” He has become close friends with many Nisei and other Japanese Americans, including survivors of the unit and those who were among the thousands wrongfully imprisoned during WWII.

In 2003 while in Hawaii for the 60th reunion of the 442nd, Graves met and photographed U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, a member of the unit and Medal of Honor recipient. In the essay accompanying the book’s photo of highly honored “Senator Dan” – as his comrades affectionately call him ­– the author writes, “Applause filled the room and he [Inouye] stood stolidly, unselfconscious of the slack right sleeve that hung at his side.” The title of the essay about him quotes the Senator’s words while referring to his medals: “To be honored by your brothers is the highest honor.”

There is poetic coincidence that this Democratic politician and former Republican Senator Bob Dole, also a highly praised WWII participant, and winner of two Bronze Stars, share so much. The men were wounded near each other and met in the same hospital where Dole talked Inouye into entering politics. Both are providing a preface for Heroes All!

1 HeroesAll.jpg
This is the cover of Tom Graves book, the collection of veterans photographs and interviews he would like share with the world.

2 EugeneShepherd_resize.jpg
In his role of violin teacher and highly regarded for his conducting skills, debonair Eugene (Gino) Shepherd is affectionately known as “Maestro” throughout Sonoma County. He is also noted for his love of puns and great tales of his early Glen Miller traveling days.

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Elected to the Hawaii Territorial Legislature in 1954, Senator Daniel K. Inouye has distinguished himself many times over. He has served eight terms as United States Senator from Hawaii, served as member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Watergate Committee, was Keynote Speaker of the 1968 Democratic National Convention and Chairman of the Senate “Iran-Contra” Hearings. But he was just “one of the boys” back in his war time days with Easy Company.

4 HiroAsai_resize.jpg
HiroAsai. This Nisei member of Easy Company, now back to his quiet farming life in Turlock, Calif., tells of the men’s desperation from lack of water while fighting in the mountains of Italy as well as the bitter t irony of “one guy killed on the last day of the war.”

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Like most photographers, Tom Graves doesn’t like having his own portrait taken, but this picture shows, perhaps, why and how so many veterans find his easy going smile and genuinely interested manner make him a good listener.