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 The story and passion behind "A Tribute to Valor"...

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 a fascinating thing to photograph, plus 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. Despite my frustration, I was determined to try to locate someone that was not just a Pearl Harbor survivor, but someone that was aboard the USS Arizona.

After 5 years of searching, I was able to locate the youngest of the remaining survivors Donald G. Stratton, (Colorado Springs, CO) through his granddaughter Nikki  via FaceBook.  As it turned out, her father Randy, was organizing the 75th anniversary celebration at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, and after a few conversations I was welcomed by the Stratton family and invited to not only attend the cermony, 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 nine  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.  

There are now only two remaining survivors alive from the USS Arizona; 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 


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