GOLDEN, Colo. (KDVR) – When you’ve taken a bullet to the helmet like Bill Purcell has, your story needs to be told.
“All I remember is it was like getting hit in the head with a baseball bat,” Purcell said.
The Marine veteran came under attack on Feb. 1, 1968 in Hue City, Vietnam. He’s just one of a roomful of Colorado veterans with unforgettable stories, who gathered on a recent weekday for a portrait session. The photographer’s mission is to help ensure those stories are never forgotten.
“This is probably the most meaningful work that I’ve done in my career,” said John Riedy, a photographer with The Greatest Generations Foundation. The nonprofit is sending Riedy around the country to take pictures of Vietnam and Korean war veterans for a commemorative photo album.
“Nothing compares with leaving something that has a legacy and has an impact that this kind of work does,” Riedy said. “To see people, when they follow me (on social media), talk about how this can actually bring tears to their eyes, seeing the portraits, and to know that the work conveys that kind of emotional impact is awesome,” he added.
It is a rare moment to shine for veterans who have never sought the spotlight before. Like Ted Gembczynski, 88, of Colorado Springs, Colo., who is among those to be featured in the book.
“I was in Korea for all of 1952,” Gembczynski said.
“When I wear my cap or people can see that I was there (in Korea), I just let them know that it was my turn,” he said.
Some of the veterans of the U.S. Navy and Marines spent decades in the service. Some did more than one tour on the battlefield. For Navy veteran Dennis Sedlack, 76, of Longmont, Colo., service is in his blood.
“(I) enlisted because my dad was Navy, in World War II, and that seemed the thing to do. You couldn’t look your dad in the eye if you didn’t serve,” he said.
“It significantly altered my life to the point that I will say that I’m back from the war, I’m not home from the war yet some 52 years later,” Sedlack added.
More than 70 Korean War veterans will be featured in the commemorative book, along with more than 50 Vietnam War veterans. The books will be given to museums and educational institutions nationwide, so future generations can learn about their place in the nation’s past.
To learn more about The Greatest Generations Foundation, click here.