I came across this photo and posting while cruising through wordpress.com about two weeks ago and was immediately interested in the story behind (both figuratively and literally) the image and the circumstances. I was curious as to how an active duty U.S. service-member could pose and/or allow himself to be photographed in the nude while performing his official duties. I honestly wasn’t expecting a real-life tale of heroism, much less a naked and patriotic one!
This story of unashamed naked heroics unfolded in the Pacific theatre during World War II. The photographer of the image is Horace Bristol, one of the original photojournalists for Life magazine, which began publication during the 1930’s in the USA. During the international conflict, he took pictures of the military campaigns in both North Africa and the Pacific.
The U.S. Navy seaman, featured in Mr. Bristol’s picture (above) is the actual hero of this tale. All that we have of him is this photo with no other biographical information. We don’t even know his name.
All that we know for certain is from Horace Bristol’s recall of the event. The service-member was on a search and rescue recovery in Rabaul Bay, Papua New Guinea in 1944. What transpired is nothing short of selfless heroism. A U.S. Marine Corps pilot was shot out of the air by Japanese airplanes and temporarily blinded as a result. Our naval hero-to-be stripped off his uniform for swimming convenience, dove into the water and pulled the injured Marine to the safety of his flying-boat aircraft.
Mr. Bristol, who was aboard the aircraft during all this, described the action later:
“As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.”
It was at this moment that Horace Bristol focused his camera and took this photo of our hero, still clothes-free with water dripping down his back. Beads of water are clearly visible on his back in the picture. It is obvious our nude seaman enjoyed swimming, as a tan-line is visible across his waist and on his upper legs.
That’s it. End of this story of a bare naval seaman and his brave heroism. Our anonymous protagonist, documented only by a picture and the photographer’s later recollection of events.
I first read this story on the blog, museworthy. The post is entitled The Naked Gunner. Click the post title to view. Like the blog’s author, I have some questions about our hero that I would like answered. Her questions were:
- Did he live through the war and make it home alive?
- Did he know Bristol took a photo of him naked?
- What part of the United States was he from?
- Was he awarded a medal for his heroism?
The additional questions from me are:
- Did he have a family and were they aware of his bare photograph?
- Did he perform any other acts of bravery?
- Was this his only experience with nudity?
- If he survived the war, what did he do afterwards?
The photo above I copied from the museworthy blog posting.