Oklahoma photographer provides courtesy photos to veterans
SHAWNEE, Okla. (AP) — Jessie Newell’s grandfather talked fondly of the friendships he formed while serving in the U.S. Army, but he didn’t have many pictures of himself or memorabilia from his World War II experiences.
The lack of mementos seemed more pronounced after his death in 1997.
About three years ago, Newell, an award-winning photographer, decided to give veterans and their families something that she didn’t have: photos.
Newell provides complimentary photo shoots and photographs to Oklahoma veterans, The Oklahoman reported . She started by focusing on WWII vets like her grandfather but as word spread, other veterans came along.
With each click of her camera and each veteran’s story that she hears, the Shawnee woman feels a greater connection to her beloved grandfather George Howell.
“It is really like getting an hour back with my grandpa,” she said.
Newell, 43, said the veterans’ quiet strength shines through each photograph.
She saw it in the dignified way that Bill Shaw gave a salute and in Claude Taylor’s proud demeanor as he cradled his firearm commemorating the Battle of Luzon. She saw it in the loving way Dewey Muirhead embraced his wife, Inez, while showing his tattoo featuring her name.
“I would just like to see them honored and respected. Because of these people, we live in the greatest country on the planet,” she said.
“They are like real, live history books walking around. We should be there for them and treat them like family.”
Audrey Masoner participated in a recent photo shoot for her grandfather veteran Don Beauford, 90, of Shawnee. She said the experience at Newell’s home was unexpectedly emotional.
“I didn’t have any pictures with my grandpa and I found myself getting misty-eyed,” Masoner said. “I’m thankful that I have him and that he served. I’m also thankful that Jessie has taken on this mission.”
Beauford, dressed in his favorite cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, said he enjoyed the experience.
“It was nice, wonderful,” he said.
His wife, Juanelle, said he served in the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1952 and the family has just a few photographs of him.
Newell said family members’ hearts are often stirred during the photo shoots particularly when they hear their veteran share stories about his military service and they are reminded that time with him is precious.
When the veterans’ families cry tears of gratitude, she cries with them.
“Everyone loves their photos but once you no longer have the person, the photos become a real treasure,” Newell said.
Bonnie Bower of Choctaw expressed similar views.
Bower’s father, WWII veteran Rev. Bill Shaw, was enthusiastic when he posed for photos on his 90th birthday in 2016. Bower said he died in April and “those pictures are so precious.”
“He thought he was something special that day. He was the main man. It was cute,” she said.
Bower said the WWII veteran tried unsuccessfully to enlist at least once before he had his mother sign for him to join the Navy when he was 17. She said he was an Edmond native but lived in Choctaw for many years and was a longtime minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
“There will never be a group of men like that ever. They were special — there’s a reason they call them the ‘Greatest Generation.’”
Raegan Staggs of Choctaw said she found out about Newell’s veteran photo project from a co-worker and took her father, WWII veteran Virgil Kinnison, 92, out for a photo shoot in fall 2017. She said Kinnison served in what was known then as the Army Air Corps and he was a pilot in the China-Burma-India Theater.
“We brought out some of his medals and some of his other things and the photos turned out really sweet. They just kind of tell a story about his service,” Staggs said.
She said her father immediately bonded with Newell and the entire family has befriended the Shawnee woman. Staggs said when Kinnison was invited to serve as co-marshal of the 2017 Midwest City Veterans Day Parade, he invited Newell to join his family for the event.
“Veterans are her heart. She genuinely listens to them and she’s interested in their stories. She loves to express that in photos,” Staggs said of Newell.
Marilyn Moody of Wewoka said she took her parents, WWII veteran Dewey and Inez Muirhead, to Newell’s home for photos with their other children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She said her parents’ photos have captured people’s attention on social media and they became involved in a project celebrating their 76 years of marriage because someone saw Newell’s photographs of them.
“It just tickles them to death to think that somebody likes their photos. “They’ve (the photos) made them famous,” she said.
She said Newell took photographs her and her husband, Vietnam War veteran James “Jim” Moody, on another occasion.
“Now, we’ve got pictures that we probably never would have had.”
Meanwhile, when Newell is not photographing veterans, she stays busy with Birds Nest Baby, her professional photography business specializing in photos of newborns and children.
She’s planning an ugly Christmas sweater party for her growing group of veteran friends and their families, one of several events she hosts for them each year. And she said 2019 will be a banner year because she has numerous photo shoots with Vietnam veterans already booked.
Newell grinned when asked what her grandfather would think of her project.
“Oh, he would love it. In fact, sometimes I wonder if my grandfather hasn’t sent some of these guys to me — I know it sounds crazy,” she said, laughing.
“I don’t have a grandpa (living), and now I have tons of them.”
Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com