Local Photographers Volunteer Time, Skills To Snap Free Portraits Of Veterans

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Nonprofit Honor Portraits aims to provide free portraits to veterans

By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor

Professional photographers and friends Jerry Whitty and Flora Zolin are on a mission: to take the photographs of as many veterans as they can find locally— and fast.

They have been snapping free portraits of WWII, Korea, Vietnam and other war veterans since 2016 through their nonprofit Honor Portraits. And some of their photos will be on display this month at Delray Beach’s Cornell Art Museum at Old School Square.

From May 4-May 27, visit “American Pie – Art to Honor,” a multi-media Americana-themed art exhibit. The opening of the exhibit will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on May 4.

It will feature about a dozen Honor Portraits and American-themed art for sale. Some proceeds from any sales will be donated to Honor Portraits.

Whitty said the group has captured the portraits of about 260 veterans so far. And they are looking for more.

“With WWII vets dying at hundreds per day, we are rushing to find them,” Zolin said. “I pick people up in the street, in grocery stores, in restaurants, if they are wearing a veterans cap I stop them.”

Honor Portraits was created by Whitty. The photographer said he was looking for a way to get his spark back when it came to taking pictures.

“I got bored with my photography,” he said. “I needed to do something more.”

He wanted to put his skills toward a cause that made a difference. He decided donating portraits to veterans was the purpose and he asked his friend Zolin if she wanted to help.

“It wasn’t even a thought or a question,” she said. “I said, ‘Absolutely, What a wonderful thing to do.’”

So, the two set out across Palm Beach County looking for veterans to take photos of. They have reached out to veterans groups, retirement communities and used social media to find their subjects.

Their goal is to provide veterans with a free photo as a way to say thanks for their services.

Very few fit into their uniforms, but several have shimmied into bomber jackets, grabbed their medals or found a veterans hat for their close ups. Others bring a momento, one brought a piece of plane he was in with a bullet hole.

Some share their experiences freely, others finally feel comfortable opening up about their service decades later and some just sit quietly for the shoot unable to discuss experiences they endured.

Whitty’s father was a WWII veteran and he said his dad never spoke about his service.

“A kamikaze hit his ship,” he said. “He survived, but he never spoke about it. He left a book with photos and articles in it.”

While taking the photos, Whitty and Zolin have heard all types of stories.

One veteran described digging a hole in the sand to hide on Omaha Beach while being shot at by the enemy.

Another shared how he was spared after his plane was shot down and his parachute became stuck on a church steeple in Germany. When a trap door opened, he was asked if he spoke German. Not knowing what to answer, he said no and his life was spared.

A WWII veteran shared during his photo shoot that he was at the liberation of a concentration camp. His wife, who was sitting next to him, had no idea.

They witnessed a ceremony where several WWWII veterans were honored with the Legion of Honour decades after their service ended.

“These veterans give me goosebumps and put tears in my eyes,” Zolin said. “They are so appreciative.”

Currently, Honor Portraits stages the photo shoots with lighting and back drops and provides the veteran with digital photos. Ultimately, they would like to raise money to be able to provide a framed photo to the veterans.

The nonprofit funnels all donations directly to the cost of taking the photos. None of the photographers or volunteers are paid.

“It all goes to honor the veterans and they deserve it,” Whitty said.

For more information about Honor Portraits, visit http://www.honorportraits.org or like the nonprofit on Facebook at Honor Portraits. To donate to the group, visit https://www.gofundme.com/honor-portraits-inc