When I explore for blog post topics, it’s rare that the various themes that interest me converge all at once. So imagine my surprise when I came across an image that brought together 1) nudity and the human form, 2) photography, and 3) history; all of which are topics I gladly feature here on Museworthy from time to time when I veer away from art and art-related stuff. Today I’d like to share with my readers a photo I encountered on Rare Historical Photos. Now I should mention that I initially stopped to gaze upon this image for the simple reason that I’m a heterosexual woman and, well, I liked what I saw .. 😉 But I became even more enthralled with the image when I read the incredible backstory behind it – because a photo of a naked guy manning a machine gun in an amphibious aircraft has to have a great backstory.
The photo was taken by Horace Bristol, one of the founding photojournalists for LIFE magazine. His work documented historic chapters of the 20th century, such as migrant workers during the Great Depression and World War II combat in North Africa and the Pacific. The young U.S Navy crewman in the photo was part of a search and rescue mission in Rabaul Bay, Papua New Guinea in 1944. When a Marine airman was shot down by the Japanese and temporarily blinded, this young man stripped off his clothes for easier swimming, dove into the water and pulled the Marine to safety aboard the “Dumbo” PBY. Horace Bristol, who was aboard the aircraft during the rescue, recalled the conditions at that moment:
As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.
Bristol then snapped a photo of the brave, still wet crewman as he readied for takeoff, carrying on with his duties in the nude, because urgency and safety come before all else. And because clothes are not essential <– as an art model I can say that.
The crewman is unidentified, though perhaps Horace Bristol knew his name at the time and did not make it public. One can’t help but wonder about this man. Did he live through the war and make it home alive? Did he know that Bristol took a photo of him naked? What part of the United States was he from? Was he a awarded a medal for his heroism? Unanswered questions. But at least he is immortalized in this remarkable photo which reminds us of wartime bravery and the formidable courage of a generation of men.
Now if there are any World War II enthusiasts or military history enthusiasts among my readers, maybe one of you can help me out regarding this aircraft. The PBY is a “flying boat”, so I’m assuming it was something like the picture on this page? Really want to know what this intrepid crewman was operating on that harrowing day.