His photograph stands framed on the nightstand next to my bed. It’s a 1917 portrait of my grandfather in his World War I doughboy uniform. He strikes an impressive pose staring at the camera, a serious but confident look on his face. His hair is parted high on the left side of his head. His wrist displays a military time piece while his hands are placed one over the other on his left knee. The uniform he is wearing displays no unit patch nor identification other than the sergeant stripes on his right arm.
I notice the background screen that helps frame the photo. Although black and white, it gives the sense of the outdoors, a tree in the background. I posed for a similar portrait during basic training in 1970 at Fort Dix, New Jersey. My photo was shot against the backdrop of the American flag during an August morning prior to training on shooting and handling the weapons of the infantry soldier, the M-16 rifle, the M-60 machine gun and the M-79 grenade launcher.
I remember thinking that I’d have my photo sent home to my family to let them see me in my role as a soldier, to make them proud of me. Grandpa must have felt the same way. He was probably thinking of his beloved Josephine and his eagerness to return home and begin a new life with her.
Photographs are wonderful chroniclers of history. They capture us as we are at a particular moment in time. I find myself staring at his youthful face and attempting to reconcile his image with the old man I knew as a boy. My grandchildren will no doubt do the same with my photo.