Hero from the Greatest Generation

I really feel like today is a great time to share these images I shot for WWII Magazine last year.

I was tasked with going to New Jersey to photograph Lt. Col. Henry Supchak (Ret.), a World War II veteran and POW. The portraits were for a story the magazine was running about Mr. Supchak and his new book, The Final Mission. Lt. Col. Supchak was flying his second to last mission in a B-17 Flying Fortress when on the return to base his plane was hit by German anti-aircraft fire which disabled his plane. With two of the engines out of commission he tried to make it to Switzerland but over Austria it became clear they weren’t going to make it. He ordered his crew to bail out but then as he was getting ready to jump he noticed that the plane was heading straight for a small village at the base of a mountain. He then did everything he could to guide the plane away from the village, which he was just barely able to do before having to jump out right before it crashed into the base of the mountain. He landed in a field with a young boy and his aunt looking on before he was surrounded by Nazi troops. The boy recognized what he had done and eventually sneaked food to Lt. Col. Supchak before he was shipped to the prison camp.

Years later the young boy from the field, now a grown man, tracked down Lt. Col. Supchak to thank him for saving the village. The village now honors Lt. Col. Supchak to this day.

This was a special assignment for me to go on. My own grandfather was also in a B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II and was shot down over Italy. He was his own story of heroism and bravery as well. When his plane was hit he couldn’t reach the anyone in the cockpit over the comms system (he was a door gunner). He had to climb through the plane, over the bomb bay, to get to the front and when he did he found that everyone upfront had already bailed out. On his way back to war the other crew to jump he found that his partner had been wounded and was unconscious. After warning the other crew to bail out he put on his buddies parachute and then his own. He then carried his partner out with him and pulled his ripcord before his own. Both landed safely but were captured by the Nazis right away. Eventually he was freed by the allies after years in Nazi prison camps and made his way home to Tennessee where he met my grandmother.

This man is a hero from a generation that is dwindling in numbers. It was an honor to meet him and to have the chance have a conversation and share stories. Please enjoy.

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