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"A vet I met during my travels" (shared back in 2011)....

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

A few years ago while on assignment in Southwest Florida, I wandered around Sanibel Island and J. N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge one morning. In search of some images I came across an older gentlemen fishing. I thought he might make a nice subject fishing in the mangrove-lined refuge, so I approached him.

Lee McMichen, in his early eighties, was open to chat since he'd been fishing for three days, casting his net without a catch. We talked a bit as I tried to figure out how I could document a decent photograph in the harsh mid-day light. My first thoughts were all about creating a strong photo, but as we spoke more, he shared a few stories of his life, and it became more about our personal interaction instead of producing an environmental portrait.

Sometimes, even when I'm on a job, I stop, put down the camera, and listen. Although I might not be creating at those moments, possibly missing a memorable scene, the process brings me closer to the area I'm documenting and in an indirect way helps me produce better stories.

As we continued our conversation, he began to tell me about his experiences in war, and his time stationed in Pearl Harbor. He was on one of the four battleships bombed the morning of December 7th 1941, Lee deep in the hull as explosions crippled the ships, alarms sounding to abandon ship. He described his rush to escape from down below, only to see the main hatch closed off in front of him and three others. Panic ensued as all four seamen realized their fate had been sealed, yet only seconds later, the hatch reopened, and they were able to get out before the ship sunk.

While sharing this information, he didn't talk of the joy of that moment, his life saved. He only spoke of the others who weren't able to get out. Yet because of the few seconds in his life where one sailor saved four others, he was given an additional sixty years on Earth.

As we stood along Wildlife Drive, me fumbling through my camera bag, I heard him yell out. He'd caught a large mullet, the first of his trip. "Looks like you are my good luck charm young man", he exclaimed. I smiled, yet could only think of his real good luck charm from years earlier.

It's not always the locations I dreamt of visiting, the adventures I hoped to take, or even the images I produced as a travel photographer. It's really about the people I met.

So on Veteran's Day, here's to the men and women who served our country. Although I wish there were no wars, I still honor and support those who risk their lives in the act of defending a nation. To those who weren't able to be saved, rest in peace, and thank you for your ultimate sacrifice.

© Sean Arbabi | (all rights reserved worldwide) #VeteransDay

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