Friday, May 08, 2015

Arsenal of Democracy flyover

Four P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft fly over Washington, D.C., May 8, 2015, during the "Arsenal of Democracy" air show over Washington, D.C., May 8, 2015. 

It's kind of cool - and a bit sad - seeing old aircraft fly in formation. You don't expect to ever see something like the Arsenal of Democracy, but there they are. 

Today marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War 2 in Europe. Seven decades later the aircraft that helped win that war, probably flown by the pilots' children and grandchildren, zoomed across the capital in a show of history, and probably even power. A collective, physical symbol of the last "good" war. These are the aircraft, piloted by men, who saved the world from fascism.

I went down to photograph it with other photographers near the Exposed DC tent at the Jefferson Memorial. Fifty aircraft flew in various formations. Just about every model of plane was there, and they represented every era of America's involvement. Everything from observation aircraft to SBD Dauntless' to P-51 Mustangs to the only still-flying B-29 Super Fortress flew.

We're slowly losing our World War 2 vets. Most are, at the youngest, in their early 90s now. With their passing in a few years we'll lose another connection to the history that made us as a nation. 

It struck me today that, with that generational passing, the commemorations of that war will become more and more low key. Who knows how long the planes we saw today will be flown. It's an expensive endeavor to maintain them. The veterans won't be able to tell us funny stories, to give the truly human side of war. But we'll still have the physical symbols of that power - the aircraft. 

And that's why it's cool and a bit said. The humans who fought and came back and built this nation will be gone. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Re-up: Remembrance Day at The LTC

A poem reminded me to re-post this video.

Remembrance Day from BillPutnamPhoto on Vimeo

I meant to post this Tuesday but heading out sort of, well, got in the way. Then I saw a video today my cousin Debbie posted of Sean Bean reading "Anthem For Doomed Youth," a poem by Wilfred Owen and that sort of reminded me to repost my piece. 

I shot this short piece at The Lashkar Gah Training Centre in Helmand province, Afghanistan, on Nov. 11, 2012. The British, as I imagine most of the Commonwealth countries, take Remembrance Day and their roles in World War 1 very seriously. That's reflected in the little things like the poppies they put on their uniforms a few days before. And the bigger things like this ceremony. To be in Helmand, let alone Afghanistan, a place the British had fought three wars in, for the ceremony made it more special and memorable.

I'm glad I saw this ceremony at The LTC. It was a small camp and was what I always considered typically British whilst on ops. Rough but a bit refined. Austere but not quite completely spartan. All the time I spent there (and it was a lot) sort of solidified that thought. 

It was a unique place. I'm glad I was able to document this ceremony there. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

2012-2013: Leatherneck, Bastion, Shorabak

If there's a sign a war is ending, closing a mega FOB is it. The LNK. Camp Pleasure-neck. 

Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion are gone. The nerve centers for the counterinsurgency in Helmand have been handed over to the Afghans. At the height of the war nearly 40,000 troopers and civilians lived and operated out of those camps. Out in the middle of the desert, it was austere but comfortable. I liked it. Maybe because I wasn't stuck there like most. I got out. Spent maybe half my time outside the wire in Lashkar Gah, or Now  Zad or Khanisan. I always returned to my hooch on The LNK, as the Brits called it. To my room. With the slower-than-dial up wifi. The coffee places. The decent PX (sorry, Marines, I'll never call it an "exchange"). Sorry, gang, I turned into a POG. 

Like I said, life was comfortable. I enjoyed my time there. But there was always this sense of ending. Like when Kilgore just randomly says "someday this war's gonna end" and walks away. That "someday" wasn't in the distant future. The good times were ending. Units were headed home without replacement. Units like mine were getting cut. Lines in the mess halls were getting longer because they were consolidating. The air and momentum were getting sucked out of the place. Or at it least it felt that way to me. 

Now, that someday is here. Bastion and Leatherneck are gone. I feel a bit melancholy. It was my home. I made some tremendously strong friendships. I learned a lot about myself. The place and my time there had a great impact on me. 

I have no idea if this is a sign of anything but progress. Nothing positive. Nothing negative. The closure and handover and donation of kit is just progress. Whether that's good or bad progress is entirely up to the Afghans. Here's to hoping the ANA's 215th Maiwand Corps can hack it. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Steller: Antietam

Mobile storytelling is something I've toyed with off and on for a few years. I do it with Instagram and Twitter, and they're great for immediacy and spot news. But I wanted something a bit more substantive, that allowed for more in-depth and coherent packages. A friend of mine drooped some knowledge on me and suggested I look at Steller. 

It's an iPhone app that let's you build short essays. Mixed media. Video, photos and text can be laid out to tell a longer story. 

Here's the link to my first story:

I finished up my first story tonight. It's a series of landscapes shot with Hipstamatic of the Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland. 

Layout was pretty simple. You can arrange pages, change fonts and even go back to change how a page looks. You can put in video. 

I'm still playing around with it but I like what I see. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014


A German bunker on Utah Beach.

I shot a series of landscapes in Normandy with my iPhone and the Hipstamatic app. It's not photojournalism, at least not in the classic sense of the word. I don't know what to call these photos other landscape tychs. What I wanted to capture was the duality of what I saw 70 years after the invasion: the immense beauty of the region, peppered with physical and emotional reminders of the fighting. Abandoned bunkers. Battlefields that are now farm fields. Beaches with people playing on them rather than dying. 

It's important to remember that and to know what happened here and other places around the world. Without this knowledge we're doomed to repeat those events. I'd like to think these photos, or series of sequential photos, can help us see these places in a new way. Each photo has it's own story that equal a bigger story of the scene.

Stay tuned for updates, more tychs and a few singles.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is probably one of the most solemn places I've ever been. More so, I think, than Ground Zero or the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. Probably even more than Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg.

The magnitude of what happened at Normandy is there in front you from the start. It's a little bewildering at first to see them all. Row upon row of white crosses and stars of David. Names and ages of boys who died that summer on them. 

Then it becomes apparent. What happened on those beaches and bocage country beyond them was an ugly brutal industrial street fight. The very definition of a "meat grinder" is how one book I read about that war put it. You marvel anyone lived to tell the tale, collect the dead, heal the wounded, and move on with their lives after the surrender documents were signed 11 months later.

The duality of Normandy, and war, is laid bare then. Amazing beauty and extreme ugliness. Normandy is a beautiful place. I'm definitely going back. Going there after my own time in uniform I can see why frail old men, the boys who jumped in or ran across the beaches, still will it to keep going back year after year. But you see there, in a place filled with 9,387 graves, the place represents the duality of human nature for what it is and will probably always be: hate and love. 

Despite all that the cemetery represents, it's still a solemn place. You still take the time to reflect, not because you have to. But because you want to. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Normandy: 70 years on

There's something about Normandy. The scenery. The people. The history. 

What drew me back, almost on a whim, was the history. If you've served you know at least the big details of the events from 1944. Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, Sword. Point Du Huc, Pegasus Bridge, St. Mere Eglise, Breacourt Manor, La Fiere Bridge.


My first time there was 36 years ago. I remember my Dad pointing out Omaha Beach and saying something like "something big happened here." I was four-years old then and didn't quite get the it of it. I'm 40 now and my understanding of the events there is only little better. I'm sure I could go back every year til I'm too old to travel and still not quite fathom it. 

But I went this time to try. I wanted to see it for myself. The scenery and people. The ground where thousands of men fought and died for something much bigger than themselves, on either side of it. 

These photos are the first of many I'll post here and on Flickr. Stay tuned for updates.