Chief Photographer's Mate
This was taken last week at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. In addition to being a military cemetery, there is also a huge memorial to the missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. It is laid out as an ascending terrace of steps flanked by small, walled courtyards. On the interior and exterior surfaces of these walls are carved the names of service members who perished in those wars and who were never found.
By some chance coincidence, on the first wall that I approached, in the U.S. Navy World War II section, the word "PHOTOGRAPHER" caught my eye and I saw the inscription for Luke J. Durante, Chief Photographer's Mate. I wondered how Luke got interested in photography. Was it a hobby of his before he joined the Navy, or was he simply assigned to the job of chief photographer's mate? Were the photos he took routine documentary images of naval subjects, or did he also explore other types of compositions, too? Or were his duties limited to processing film and making prints in the darkroom? Later in the week I visited a museum at Pearl Harbor on the submarine service and saw a camera that had been specially modified to photograph through the periscope and I thought of Luke J. Durante again. Was he on a ship or a sub?
The National Cemetery of the Pacific, located inside an ancient crater called the Punchbowl with panoramic views of Honolulu and Diamond Head, is a beautiful location, dotted with majestic trees and lush, green grass. But, as with all such memorials to war dead, it is also a very sobering place. To see the sheer truth of numbers made real by those tens of thousands of chiseled names, and to contemplate the everyday human reality of the lives, hopes and dreams of the individuals behind those names, and those who loved them and who grieved their loss, is to travel along a somber path.