Walking Amongst Giants

Many of you who have kept up on my blog posts and who have gone further to check out my website, www.patriotimages.org, know that I am now heading into the second year of a project titled, “Faces of Veterans.”

The project, now turned into more of a journey, is focused on traveling across New York State and photographing as many of the 838,000 military veterans living within the state. Last year, over the span of ten months, we traveled to nine different NY counties and photographed approximately 1300 veterans and their guests. It has made a tremendous impact not only on the veterans and their families, but on me as well. So much, that I decided to pick it back up in 2020 and label it “Season Two.”

During Season Two, I am taking some of the feedback I received in 2019. Many viewers of the project expressed their interest in getting to know the veterans more personally. So this year, through the use of audio and video interviews, as well as photos, I am focusing on the more personal side of veterans and their lives.

Today was the first of what I hope to be many interviews. I met with a ninety-six year old WWII veteran named Mario in Lake George, NY. Mario was drafted after Pearl Harbor and became an Army medic. He spent eleven long months in Germany before returning home to his family. One of the things that I took away from today was his statement about why he joined.

“After the attack on Pearl Harbor, we had to do something. We couldn’t let this happen again. There wasn’t a man in my age group at the time who didn’t want to do whatever they could so this wouldn’t happen again.”

Mario “Doc” Mazzeo, WWII Veteran, United States Army

We live, breathe, and walk amongst giants. Mario’s generation, coined “The Greatest Generation,” is sadly a generation of brave American men who are passing away. There aren’t a lot of them left. Just several weeks ago, fighting infection, Mario was sent home from the hospital under hospice care. Thanks to his family by his side, his strong will to keep going, and his perseverance, Mario was full of energy and humor this afternoon when we spent a few hours together in his home.

Mario (left) and myself (right)

May God bless our men and women in uniform. May we never forget their sacrifices and their service to this great nation. May we honor them, their legacy, and forever remember that freedom is always a generation away from extinction.

Thank you Mario and family for such a great afternoon, for allowing me into your home, and sending me home a rich man with a full heart.

What is, a “Traveling Man?”

“One travels more usefully when alone, because he reflects more.”

Thomas Jefferson

I, like most people, enjoy traveling. Since my days in the military, I haven’t traveled to a foreign country; but I enjoy traveling within the United States, and even here at home within New York State. I enjoy traveling with my family, but there’s something about traveling alone that really clears the mind and refreshes the soul.

Most of the local traveling I do is during the months when snow and ice isn’t slowing me down and limiting me to distance. I enjoy driving up into the Adirondack Mountains, taking a scenic drive along Lake Champlain into Ticonderoga, along the back roads of Saratoga and Washington Counties, and occasionally crossing the border into neighboring Vermont. If it’s a nice cool day, I enjoy the windows down and breathing in the country air.

Many probably come to this site because they’re looking for travel photos and a blog about traveling to different destinations. Oh, but a man or woman can be a traveler, even if they never board a plane. You can be quite the extensive traveler and never leave your own home. Destinations don’t always have to be places that flash across a screen in an airport, or cities and towns printed on a sign on the side of a highway. They don’t have to be white, sandy beaches or snowcapped mountains.

I travel on a weekly basis and seldom leave my local area. Sometimes the most worthwhile trips are the ones where I’m alone. Many of my greatest trips where I discover the most, are done without leaving my house.

Like Thomas Jefferson stated, one who journey’s alone spends more time reflecting. I spend a lot of time in thought; thinking about the present and also the things to come. While I believe I have no control over tomorrow, I am convinced there are things I can do to help shape it. I can do my best this very moment to live a decent life, to love those around me, to be kind to both stranger and friend, show compassion, be humble, and more.

What is, a “traveling man?” In my case, it’s a person who is always exploring; not just the world around them, but also within themselves. It’s a person who is always moving forward, never desiring to go backwards and having to retrace their steps. It’s a person who is on a constant journey to be better tomorrow than they are today.

Travel wisely my friends.

Who Am I? Part 1

Sitting in church recently, the pastoral staff spoke about identity. Some of the examples they gave sent me wandering down a rabbit hole of thoughts as I wondered who I am. What is my identity in this life?

We know life is short. Our childhood years pass by so quickly, and then we are thrust into the world of a young adult; going to school or working (sometimes both), and then BOOM!, we are adults with responsibilities. We quickly find ourselves with families, full-time jobs, bills, struggles, and serious decisions with serious consequences attached to them. For most of our lives we get into a rhythm of going to work, managing a home, raising a family, and the years fly by. By the time it is all over with and we realize how quickly it all seemed to come and go, we find ourselves with gray hairs (or no hair), a body that creeks and cracks with every step, and we are planning our final years of life. Life is short.

Who am I? That’s the question I have asked myself so many times before, but as 2020 approaches, I ask myself again; this time more seriously. Who do I really want to be as I go into this new year? I realize on February 1st, I will turn that age that most people (including myself), cringe at. The big 4-0. I’m not looking forward to it and it is a big reminder that life passes us by so quickly. Will it bring a midlife crisis? Who knows. But what I do know is that it is causing me to think deeper into many things. Who am I?

Last year I was on the brink of beginning a new adventure that took me through nine different New York State counties, where I photographed over thirteen hundred military veterans along with their families and/or guests. It was a journey that put me on the front page of a couple local newspapers and in front of television cameras. It was an adventure that was not only therapeutic for me, but for so many people I met. It’s an understatement for me to say I met some of the finest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Here I am however on the eve of a new year and I am thinking what adventures will take place this coming year.

When I go certain places, I am often met by comments like, “Hey, you’re that guy traveling New York and taking pictures of veterans,” or, “Hey, I saw you on television.” How do I want to be greeted this new year? When I sit here at this computer a year from now, Lord willing, what incredible journey do I want to be writing about? With as much control as I may have over this next calendar year, what do I want to seal in the history books of my life? Ask yourself this same question today. This is the final day of 2019 and a new year will begin as a new day; inevitable and with a clean slate.

As far as my answer, you’ll have to wait until next year. See you tomorrow for Part 2!

What is Your Life’s Motto?

I have been thinking about this recently and asking myself this exact same question. Truthfully, everything I have written about up to this point, is straight from me and my thoughts. Continuing on with that trend, I must say that I spend a significant amount of time reflecting on life and the people in my life. How can I be a better husband, a better father, a son who makes his parents proud, a better friend, a better photographer, and an all around better person? These are all things I brainstorm quite often!

What is my life’s motto? What will be written, visibly or invisibly, on my tombstone? When I was in the military, we were always told to leave our current duty station “better than we found it.” It always sounded so cliche when I heard it, but it really has taken on a lot more meaning to me personally; more than it did the dozens of times I heard it in the past.

My goal in life is simple. Leave this earth better than I found it. Leave my small community better than I found it. Leave my friends and family better. Every single day, strive to end the day better than I started it. Is it that simple?

I stumble a lot. It happens. I mess up, fall into a ravine of self pity, and eventually climb and pull myself out. Of course it isn’t simple, but it’s not unattainable. I pick small things, like writing a blog or making a podcast, that somehow might impact someone else. I give a photo away that means a lot to me but more to others. I send a message to someone that might feel abandoned. We have all been there. I choose to respond with kindness to those who may not deserve it in that moment. We have all been there as well.

Bottom line, I make a conscious decision daily, despite my own shortcomings and failures, to make today better than yesterday. To be a better version of me than I was yesterday. To make those moments of reflection moments I can smile about and not moments I’m ashamed and afraid to confront.

I just try and be better and hold myself accountable to that.

Making It Count, Part II

If you read the first chapter of a book, then skip forward and read the last chapter, everything that happens in between is just filler “stuff.” Ever heard the saying that it doesn’t matter the date you’re born or the date you die; everything happens in that little space in between? The hyphen is the most important part on a tombstone? Let’s talk about that.

We know the first chapter and we definitely know how our book of life will end. No matter what we do to try and change it, facts are facts and our last page will end like everyone else’s. But what about all those chapters in between? That’s where the truth is. That’s where our legacy, our dreams, and our impact is. Imagine a book with the first and last chapters written. All the pages in between are blank and just waiting to be written. That’s what we have folks.

All the people I walked amongst in the cemetery the other day filled their pages. Some didn’t have enough time to complete their story the way they would have liked to, while others had an ample amount of time to write a series of books. We can’t choose how much time we have to write our pages. That’s not up to us. But what we can decide is how those pages are filled.

What’s in your pages right now? Are we still trying to rewrite the first couple chapters? Are we trying to cheat our way out of the last chapter? Are we allowing someone or something else to write all the meat in the middle for us? Or…are we picking up the pen and choosing our own story? Are the pages filled with stories of courage, resilience, and impact? Or are they filled with fear, doubt, and isolation?

As I wrote yesterday and the day before, we have one chance to make it count. Nobody can force us and only we can allow someone the ability to steal it from us. Don’t waste an opportunity that is fleeting each day. Don’t abandon what many wish they could go back and rewrite, only to reach the last page and it was too late. Go ahead. Pick up your pen and begin writing.

And as for the ducks, yes, I was able to sit and get some shots of them while the sun was setting.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. I would love to hear from you and if this small series encouraged you. If you can, please leave me a comment below. Also, make sure to hit the SUBSCRIBE button so my posts are delivered right to you! Thank you again.