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Photographer immortalizes experiences of veterans at Dallas senior center

Photographer immortalizes experiences of veterans at Dallas senior center
Photographer immortalizes experiences of veterans at Dallas senior center 02:16

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM)  At Belmont Village Senior Living Turtle Creek, a camera clicks quickly in the hands of a seasoned pro. Lights on poles bathe the room in just the right glow. 

But this photoshoot is about so much more than fame.

"You know, sometimes some of these veterans have never even told these stories," says Thomas Sanders as he clicks away. Sanders, a nationally known author and photographer, was just a college student when a homework assignment launched a lifelong fascination with the images and memories of America's veterans.

"My grandfather was in WWII and his brother died in the Battle of the Bulge," shares Sanders.  "So, once I photographed that first WWII veteran, heard his story. I just really thought like, 'Oh, I'm really kind of starting to understand what my grandfather went through. And so, I started photographing veterans in my free time."

Sanders later turned his collection of photographs and memories into his award-winning book, "The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of WWII".

"I hope that when people see my portraits and read the stories of these veterans, that helps put their life into perspective," says Sanders.

Still, whether a part of the "greatest generation" or one of the many conflicts that followed, military service always brings sacrifice. So, Belmont Senior Living commissioned Sanders to travel to their communities around the country, making sure all their veterans feel celebrated.

In Dallas, USAF Korean War veteran Robert Lofton, 87, is being encouraged to smile for the camera and share some memories.

"I enjoyed the training. I enjoyed it," says Lofton, while holding a photo of his 19-year-old self. "The guys I met..."

Retired army Lt. Col. Kate Marshall now serves as Belmont Senior Living's Memory Care Director.

"They may have memories that are coming out and that are very distressing for them," says Marshall, "and I can help with that because I can understand what they went through."

Marshall also admits to using those military memories to sometimes nudge a reluctant soldier to participate.

"We have a full colonel who was in Vietnam andd was actually called out of retirement for Desert Storm. He's in his 80s so, you know, there'll be times when we're maybe trying to get him to get up and come walk into the dining room. He doesn't want to, but I can lean over and just laugh and say something like 'Come on solider! On your feet!' And he'll give into it.

"You know, some veterans saw battle, and some didn't," says Sanders.  "We should still honor them no matter what their work experience was."

All their sacrifices, worthy of being remembered.

"And that's really why I started this project," shares Sanders, "because when I was 21 years old, and I photographed the first WWII veteran, heard his story, I realized, 'Oh, like these things I'm stressing about really aren't that big of a deal where this WWII veteran was just trying to survive in a battle in Italy."

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