Back in 2011 while I was working on a movie in Atlanta, I came across a newspaper article announcing a special event for the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, which I thought would be fascinating thing to photograph, along with a chance to meet a Pearl Harbor survivor. So on Dec 7th I drove 2 hours in the rain, only to find out it had been canceled due to weather. The following day, I called the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization to see if they could help connect me to the survivor that was scheduled to attend so I could volunteer to do a portrait of him. Even after multiple phone calls, no one ever responded so there began my personal quest to try to locate one of the Pearl Harbor survivors that was aboard the USS Arizona.
After 5 years of searching, I successfully located one of the remaining five survivors, Donald Stratton in Colorado Springs, CO. Donald's son, Randy, was organizing the 75th anniversary celebration at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, and after a few conversations I was warmly welcomed by the Stratton family and invited to not only attend the event, but granted permission to be their exclusive photographer. I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn't pass up so I made a decision to quit the tv show I was working on, buy a plane ticket and fly to Hawaii, all while having no idea how I was going to pay for this massive undertaking. One might be asking themselves why I would walk away from a paying job to go do something for free that would cost thousands of dollars out of my own pocket plus lost revenue from work. Well, the answer was quite simple. I felt a huge tug on my heart and an obligation and a desire to be able to do something to say thank you to these heroes that served our country, and to utilize the gifts and talents that I have been blessed with behind a camera. There has been something so rewarding about serving and giving back to these men, and capturing these once in a lifetime opportunities at the 75th and 76th anniversaries at Pearl Harbor were truly the greatest adventures of my life.
I have been volunteering my time to serve veterans for the last eight years now, but driving down the street for a local Veterans' Day event in my neighborhood compared to the expense of traveling thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean are two very different things. I can honestly say that without the help of generous donations from people that care about our country’s history and the brave men, women and veterans that have fought and served to protect it, this project would have been impossible to finance on my own. So that is why this final fundraising campaign was necessary for me to initiate. There are currently only three remaining survivors of the USS Arizona; Donald G. Stratton 97, Lou Conter 98, and Ken Potts 99. When I heard that Lou Conter was returning to the 78th anniversary for a final visit, and Lauren Bruner was going to be the final Arizona survivor interred on the ship, I just couldn’t say no. There wasn't any way I could pass up this final opportunity to be a part of history and to once again, serve these men and their families with my photography. Thank you for your time to learn about this project. Sincerely, Paolo Cascio Filmmaker/Photographer Dana Point, CA