The post below is a re-post of one I wrote on my old blog back on May 27th of 2008. The folks at No’Ala Magazine were kind enough to feature the photograph below in their latest issue. When they told me which image they had selected I sent them the post below just to give them a back story on the man in the photograph. Mr. Burnett was awarded the Purple Heart and (as a unit) the Presidential Unit citation as well as the French Cruso of War with the Silver Star. He passed away on September 25, 2009.
This morning Anna and I got up and headed to the Roselawn Cemetery here in Decatur, AL for the Memorial Day remembrance service. I finally had the opportunity to make a portrait of someone who is truly one of my heroes. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.
In January of 1940 an eighteen-year-old John Burnett joined the National Guard Reserves and 9 months later was mobilized in the United States Army’s 30th Infantry Division. In June of 1943 he transferred to the 2nd Ranger Battalion. On June 6th, 1944 at France’s Pointe du Hoc he was part of the D-Day invasion. The very next day while working a U.S. reconnaissance outpost his group came under attack and Mr. Burnett was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans. They moved him frequently and refused to treat his wounds. At one of his stops he was being guarded by a German soldier who decided to go to sleep. In Mr. Burnett’s words, “He took a nap and he never woke up”. The German had underestimated a wounded American soldier. Two members of the French underground saw his escape and helped him return to American lines. He was missing in action and a prisoner of war for 72 days. He returned to his unit and continued to fight until the war ended on May 8th of 1945.
Mr. Burnett’s story is an incredible one and I am so thankful that Anna and I got to sit with him today at lunch and hear it.
This is the face of a true American hero.