The Charm Campaign

View from atop the Evergreen Fire and Rescue ladder truck of a fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. The helicopter is from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake) (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

View from atop the Evergreen Fire and Rescue ladder truck of a fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. The helicopter is from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

It doesn’t take spending a whole lot of time with me to realize that I consider those who serve in the military, in law enforcement, or as firefighters, heroes. They are the good guys (and girls) and they have my respect and admiration. In a way, they all remind me of my greatest hero, my father, Sgt. Michael James Ahearn, USMC.

In my career as a newspaper photographer I have been both blessed and cursed in my dealings with these groups. The blessing is that I get to work with them, get to know them, get to do my small part to show them in their daily lives serving their communities and not getting as much credit as I wish they did. As far as them getting credit and recognition, I get to help with that and I love it.

A Creston firefighter battles the blaze at a structure fire/grassland fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A Creston firefighter battles the blaze at a structure fire/grassland fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

The curse is, military, cops and firefighters tend to have an aversion to members of the media. I don’t blame them for this. Most of them have either personally had a bad experience with biased, unethical journalists. If they haven’t lived through it for themselves, they have certainly been warned by their brothers that media people are not to be trusted. Again, I don’t blame them for this attitude, the sad fact is journalism and ethics don’t walk hand-in-hand so much these days.
Fire in Evergreen
In the six years I have lived in Montana I have slowly but surely started making friends and allies amongst the local first responders. I don’t have a lot of active duty military connections yet, so for me, cops are the hardest. For a couple of years now I’ve been doing photos and ride alongs with members of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office. I will never forget how joyful I felt when the team leader for the SWAT Team told me that every member of the team was on board for me doing photos of them. They decided to trust me. And I’m honored. And, just a few weeks ago a very stern (and a little scary) Montana Highway Patrol Trooper told me he appreciated me, the work I do, and the way I do my work. He made my day.
Fire in Evergreen
My editor Scott refers to my efforts to improve relations with these groups as the “charm campaign.” The newspaper likes it because over time I have slowly started to win over some of the locals. It takes ages, but it’s so worth it.

A DNRC helicopter flies through smoke to drop water on the scene of a massive fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. Evergreen Fire and Rescue were joined by the Kalispell and Creston fire departments, the Flathead County Sheriff's Office, forest firefighters and other first responders.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A DNRC helicopter flies through smoke to drop water on the scene of a massive fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. Evergreen Fire and Rescue were joined by the Kalispell and Creston fire departments, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, forest firefighters and other first responders.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

As a journalist its worth every effort because I get better photos and better access. When they see me, they know who I am, they know I’m not going to get in the way or stir up trouble and so they don’t have to question me. On the days when I am really lucky I will sometimes even get tips and texts letting me know what’s going on. I recently spent a full day and four nights riding with the Kalispell Fire Department documenting a day in the life…best part? Text messages when there is a fire I should get to. Love that!

High winds contributed to the structure fire/ grassland fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

High winds contributed to the structure fire/ grassland fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Firefighters are tricky… There are rules that make photographing them difficult. If a firefighter gets his name and photo in the paper, he or she will have to buy ice cream or pizza or tacos or whatever for the whole shift. I have seen firefighters notice me taking pictures and deliberately turn and walk the other way. Do you know how frustrating that is!!! I could strangle them for this! But even the ones who don’t want to be photographed, they’ll go out of their way to help get me the access I need for photos and to keep me safe while I’m taking pictures. Sometimes they say no when I ask. In fact, that happens quite a lot. But I ask for a lot. And they never seem to resent me asking the questions. Sometimes though, they say yes, and then I get photos like these. This fire was only 6 acres, contained due to the combined efforts of at least 4 fire departments. And because I know these people, they let me in, they let me get close, they trust me and they allow me to do my job.

Fire in EvergreenBut there are other results of this so-called “campaign,” ones that have nothing to do with the newspaper. Results that are frankly far more important to me than photos. My father died when I was 25 years old. He got to see the start of my photography career, but only a little. I so desperately wish he could have seen who I grew up to be. When I think of my dad, the man he was, the Marine that he was, I know that if he was alive today he would see my work with these heroes and he would be proud of me.

My parents are the measuring stick against which I evaluate the trajectory and the fruits of my life. They are always with me, but they are silent. When one of the cops or firefighters or the military people that I know decides to trust me, even a little, I can almost hear my father’s voice. I can see his smile and hear him say “Good job.”

Fire in Evergreen

Evergreen Fire and Rescue Chief Williams looks out over the structure fire/grassland fire that filled the skies over Evergreen with smoke on Tuesday, August 4. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Evergreen Fire and Rescue Chief Williams looks out over the structure fire/grassland fire that filled the skies over Evergreen with smoke on Tuesday, August 5. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

James Boyce of Evergreen Fire and Rescue. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

James Boyce of Evergreen Fire and Rescue. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Kyle Gully of the Kalispell Fire Department. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Kyle Gully of the Kalispell Fire Department. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A firefighter battles a fire in an outbuilding south of the main structure fire on Wednesday, August 5, on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A firefighter battles a fire in an outbuilding south of the main structure fire on Wednesday, August 5, on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Smoke billows from a massive fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Smoke billows from a massive fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Fire in Evergreen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Chosin

Remembering ChosinOn this day 64 years ago, the Chinese Ninth Army Group set out to annihilate the United States 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.

The battle began the night of Nov. 27 and continued for 17 days. The 1st Marine Division, reinforced by a British Commando and two U.S. Army regiments — 25,000 troops in all — under the command of Marine Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith were surrounded by 150,000 Chinese under the command of Song Shi-Lun.

Survivors of the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir are known as the “Chosin Few” and Ret. Capt. Richard Wayne Bolton, 82, of Happy Valley, is one of them.

In 1950 at the start of the Korean War, Wayne Bolton was a private first class on leave from the U.S. Marine Corps. The humble Marine admits he was assigned to a reconnaissance unit, because he was a good swimmer. What he doesn’t say a lot about is the specialized training reconnaissance requires. Neither does he make much of the fact that he was “BAR Man” a Browning Automatic Rifleman. The Browning Automatic was the weapon of choice for Marine infantrymen.

Remembering ChosinOne minute Bolton was enjoying being home on leave, and the next he had orders to get to California as rapidly as possible.

“We had no warning,” remembers Bolton. Within days of arriving in California, Bolton and the 1st Marine Provisional Brigade, which had been hastily built around the 5th Marine Regiment, were on their way to Korea. The Marines were not at full wartime strength because their numbers had been severely reduced following World War II. As the Corps rebuilt the 1st Marine Division, this smaller brigade was put together to assist in the war effort as quickly as possible.

In Korea the United Nations troops were under the command of the renowned U.S. Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

In September 1950, Bolton was one of the Marines to take part in the amphibious Landing at Inchon. Two weeks later he was part of the retaking and securing of Seoul and a month later he was at Wonsan.

That year, Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 23. Bolton remembers having “turkey and all the fixings” for Thanksgiving dinner at division headquarters. He also recalls being part of a reconnaissance patrol the day before, up behind enemy lines.

“They really tried to make it a holiday,” Bolton said. “The cooks did an excellent job. Everything was hot, but we had three platoons rotating through so we had to eat it quick.”

After many meals of C-rations and pork and beans, a Thanksgiving dinner complete with cigars was a gift. Just four days later they would be in one of the worst battles of the war on rough terrain and in severe winter weather conditions.

Remembering ChosinWhat does Bolton remember of the Chosin Reservoir?

“Cold.” He says it simply, but his words carry a weight to them that is impossible to miss. He isn’t talking about 20 degrees and snow falling type cold. He is talking about a deep cold, a cruel cold, that sinks into bones and is the stuff of nightmares.

And he would remember it well. He lost three toes to frostbite, including both of his big toes.

Temperatures got as low as negative 40 degrees. Bolton remembers the blood plasma froze, which added to the difficulty medical staff had in caring for the wounded.

C-rations froze in their cans and Bolton recalls having to chip away at the frozen meal. Icy roads and weapon malfunctions all were contributing factors to the battle.

Tom Sward, a retired Marine colonel and Bolton’s friend, added that “however severe the weather is that you are trying to endure, remember that the enemy has to deal with it as well. It is the elements that can kill any military unit. You must be prepared and then you must have developed mental toughness to endure. Because in the end, it will all come down to mental and physical toughness to see the battle through.”

The battle started at night.

“They waited until dark to attack,” Bolton said. “When they came, they blew bugles and whistles and shouted. The Chinese came in waves and they came, and they came, and then in the daylight they completely disappeared to wait for dark to attack again.”

“I thought the whole division was going to die,” he continued. “The Chinese came to annihilate the 1st Marine Division and I thought every one of us was going to die.”

The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir is one of the epic battles in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marines who survived are accorded a special level of deference. One of the most famous quotes to come out of the battle is that of Marine Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith who said, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction.”

The surrounded, outnumbered Marines not only managed to break free of the Chinese, they inflicted heavy casualties as they went.

“Mao said they won the battle but they lost 45,000 men in the fight. The Chinese 9th Army was combat-ineffective,” Bolton stated. “But the 1st Marine Division was still in action.”

Remembering ChosinThe Korean War ended with an armistice on July 27, 1953. Total battle casualties for the war were 33,686. At Chosin, America lost 2,836 men and suffered an additional 13,000 casualties, most due to the severe weather.

Seventeen Medals of Honor were awarded during the war, one to a Navy pilot, two to Army soldiers, and 14 to Marines.

Bolton served two tours in Korea. After the war he remained with the Marines and went on to reach the rank of captain and later served two tours of duty in Vietnam.

He prefers not to talk about his wartime experiences. He does not use this time of year to look back and remember; he said there is too much that he doesn’t want to remember.

Remembering Chosin“There is just something about these Marines,” Sward said. “Something about the way they are willing to put their lives on the line for honor, and country, and loved ones back home. It is something they carry inside themselves, and it is difficult for them to talk about it.”

What Bolton holds on to is the “esprit de corps” — that spirit of enthusiasm and loyalty held in common with Marines. He holds on to the leadership and discipline he learned while serving. And though he doesn’t say it, it is clear he takes great pride in being part of something so much bigger than himself.

“The Marine Corps is the second oldest branch of the service,” Bolton noted. “They were established in 1775 and fought in the American Revolution and in every battle since.”

Pride and a deep sense of honor ring in every word.

Bolton believes in living honorably. He treats every person equally. His wife Carole describes him as trustworthy. “I’d trust him with my life,” she said.

When asked what he is most thankful for these days, Bolton said, “I give a lot of thanks just to be alive and kicking at my age.”

Remembering Chosin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

— 30 —

The Moving Wall

fb082513MTLife_wall15I first encountered the Moving Wall when it rolled through Salina, Kansas is 2002 or 2003.
A replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the piece had a profound effect on me.

My father was served in Vietnam. He was there for one tour between 1965-66 with the United States Marines.

I always remember thinking of him as one of the lucky ones. One of those who came through mostly unscathed.
No violent scars (no visible ones at least), not sick, not wounded, strong, healthy, vibrantly alive. What could be unlucky in that?

It was only occasionally that the cracks would show.

fb082513MTLife_wall11The first time I saw this was at the Vietnam Memorial in DC. We went there for a family vacation and I remember my father, standing at the Wall, crying.

He cried so infrequently that the memory was instantly significant. Some time later I caught my first glimpse of the famous painting Reflections by Lee Teter. I knew that when my father stood at the Wall he was remembering his own lost friends. I wish now, that I had been smart enough, mature enough, to ask for their names. I’d like to know the names and stories of the brothers in arms my father wept for. But I was a kid. And I can’t ask him now, so those names are lost to me.

fb082513MTLife_wall14Every time I see the Wall, I wish so much that I could add his name. He belongs there — belongs with the ones he served with.

fb082513MTLife_wall13Last week the Moving Wall came to Whitefish, Montana.

Just as before I have loved it, and been moved to tears many times. They played Taps at the opening ceremony, and I didn’t even try to take photos, I just cried.

The opening ceremony was at 10. It was open to the public all day and had many visitors. For the newspaper we were photographed it arriving in Polson, rolling through Kalispell, and the opening ceremony. We also had plans to do a collection of images for the Sunday paper, Montana Life section. Since I live in Whitefish, I was the logical choice for most of this. Pat shot the Wall coming through Kalispell since I was in Polson, but the rest of the images were mine. I could have gone out during the day, but for me the power of the Wall under the big sky of Montana was at it’s most powerful at dusk.

fb082513MTLife_wall03This is the unique power of the Moving Wall — the Memorial in DC is a scar across the land. It is striking and emotionally devastating. For the Moving Wall the setting is always changing.

082513MTLifeWe ran these photos in Sunday’s paper. One last reminder to people that the Moving Wall, would be closing and to go see it while they could. I actually got a very nice call from one of the local organizers who saw the collection and wanted to say thank you for the excellent coverage. It’s always nice to hear someone is pleased.

I did not go to the closing. I said my final goodbye on Saturday. I went back out for one last sunset, only this time, I didn’t go for the newspaper.

I took a candle with me and went to try to capture one photo specifically for my Dad.
One last shot to say, I remember. One image to say, I am missing you.
One last time to cry.

The quote is part of a poem I have loved for years: Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
I fell in love with the poem when I saw Dead Poets Society. It wasn’t until after my parents death that I focused in on this one line: “Tho’ much is taken, much abides.” In the face of profound loss, there are many small wonders; memories, and lessons that shaped your life, that will and do remain.

I will always wish I could add my father’s name to the Wall.
But when I see the Wall from a distance, when all the names are blurred, in my mind, his name is there. And for all of them, I cry and think Welcome Home.

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