The word “veteran,” at least to Americans, is likely to elicit an image of a reverent man, chin held high. But, as photographer Sasha Maslov illustrates in his new book, Veterans: Faces of World War II, veterans from a single, recent war include a huge swath of people, with wildly different perspectives.
One of his subjects ― from Austin, Texas ― lamented that he got swept up in the draft and had to witness the loss of so many friends. But several others signed up willingly, including Themistoklis Marinos of Athens, Greece, who voiced his enthusiasm for fighting “against invaders.” Maslov took Marinos’s portrait sitting in his living room, surrounded by crosses and other religious iconography.
His story is among the dozens told and chronicled by Maslov, who aimed with this book to collect veteran stories from around the world and to thereby illustrate just how far-reaching the effects of World War II were.
“The scale of this conflict was so large that I wanted to show as many angles of it as I could,” Maslov told HuffPost in an interview. “Then I discovered that in many countries, including the United States, the view of World War II is somewhat shaped by what is being taught in schools or what the ‘government line’ is, so it often isn’t accurate. That’s why it was so important to get the stories of the people who actually participated in the war and witnessed it first hand.”
When he began the project in 2011, Maslov wanted to be sure to capture not only his subjects but their environments, and how their homes and other personal spaces reflected their personalities. “The folks I photographed for this project had lived in their houses for a long time, so their homes said a lot about who they were,” Maslov said.
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“With the rise of hatred globally, maybe this is a good time for this,” Maslov said. “What I’m afraid of is that people in need of history lessons now are not seeking education.”
Read a few excerpts from Maslov’s book below:
Imants Zeltins, from Bauska, Latvia
“By February 1, 1945, the Americans had invaded Germany. The soldiers put signs on hospital doors that forbade patients to leave the area. After a few days,
all the Latvians there got together and literally cried, not because the war was ending, but because they knew Latvia would be once again occupied by the Russians.”
Richard Overton from Austin, Texas, United States
“I didn’t want to go to war. Uncle Sam picked me; he enlisted me. [...] I lost a lot of friends. Everybody in the army was my friend. I did regret going, but after I went, I was glad I went. I learned a lot.”‘
Anna Nho, from Almaty, Kazakhstan
“In 1937, many Koreans were deported from the Far East [of Russia]. We were transferred to Karaganda in Kazakhstan. They put up tents for housing. A few families lived in each one, but it was so cold that someone died every day.”
Themistoklis Marinos, from Athens, Greece
“I finished my school in Zakynthos and then moved to Athens to study economics. To finance my studies, I was also working odd jobs. When the Italians attacked Greece, I was called to arms, and I stopped studying.
“When the war was declared, we were very enthusiastic, and we were looking forward to fighting against the invaders. The Germans and Italians took over Greece, and I left for Crete, which was still free.
“With no practical experience in the military, I took part in the Battle of Crete.”
Hakushu Kikuchi, from Tsukuba-Shi, Japan
“All these American planes would fly over and bomb us. When the Japanese airplanes met them in the air, the Americans would shoot them down. I do remember being very scared then.”
Images (c) Sasha Maslov from Veterans: Faces of World War II (c) 2017, Princeton Architectural Press.