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Dad and World War II

This article is the another in a series of articles that I’ve called “About this photo” to draw attention to a few of those memorable photos that may be hiding in a shoebox or on your hard drive.

Shortly after World War II broke out, a group of U.S. military recruiters visited New York City’s Chinatown. They were forming an all-Chinese battalion to serve in the China, Burma, India theater. Dad was among the hundreds of recruits who volunteered (including three other men who would later become his brothers-in-law after the war).

Of course, Dad told us many stories about his early life. One of his stories took place during their advanced training at Camp Crowder, Missouri. Tired of eating the army-supplied mess, he and a few of the soldiers went into the nearby town to buy fresh poultry and groceries to prepare their own meals. Some of the townspeople were taken aback by these Chinese soldiers marching into town – they thought they were being invaded by the Japanese!

Soon they traveled by train to the West Coast for deployment to the Asian front. Dad said that the military was experimenting with a new transportation method. Instead of sending groups of ships in convoys, they were using unescorted liberty ships to stealthily avoid the Japanese navy. Their battalion was placed on one of three liberty ships which would leave Wilmington, CA bound for Calcutta, India a few days apart. Dad was on the second ship, the SS David Gaillard. As it turned out, the first and third ship were torpedoed by Japanese submarines and never made it to India.


As part of the 987th Special Signal Operations Company, they were to travel from Calcutta to Kunming, China to support General Clair Chennault and his Fourteenth Air Force “Flying Tigers”. To reach Kunming they would travel on roads though the Himalayas.

On several occasions Dad would mention the Burma Road on which the soldiers traveled to cross the mountains. He described the roads as being so steep, treacherous and narrow that if one of the vehicles became disabled they would have to push it over the cliffs so that the other vehicles could pass. Dad’s description has remained in my mind for many decades.

Last week I unexpectedly received an email from a friend from my high school days. I remembered that Ann’s father was the the noted photographer Arthur Rothstein who had a long and distinguished career as a photojournalist, editor and director of photography, teacher and mentor. His iconic images of the rural America are well-known. Annie’s email had me browsing through her dad’s collection where I stumbled across a group of photos in which he documented the war effort in the China, Burma, India theater. His photo perfectly captures the image that Dad had verbally drawn in my mind for so many years. Seeing the stark road snaking its way up the mountain was enough of an impetus for me to write this story. Thanks to Annie and many thanks to her father.


Like most other World War II military units, the Fourteenth Air Force has held many reunions for their members. The 55th Anniversary Reunion was held in 1997 and included the veterans that served in the China, Burma, India theater during World War II.

In the reunion program guide, I found this family photo. These four standing men are my father and his three brothers-in-law whom I referred to earlier. They are my uncles having married three of my mother’s sisters. And all four of served as part of the CBI theater.

This short story illustrates the reason that photographs matter to me. These two photos are valued keepsakes.

There’s a wonderful story behind many photographs. It’s not just the image, it’s the memories and emotions that accompany the image that matter.


To see Arthur Rothstein’s work, please visit his archives.


Written by Arnie Lee



Earth Day 2012

21st April 2012

Earth Day 2012

… 42 years and counting

Tomorrow marks the 42nd anniversary of the first Earth Day. (Note: I’ve redated this article so that it corresponds to an April 22 date.)

This is a personal recollection of some of the memories that have followed me since this global movement was in its infancy. I also take a short look at both conventional film and digital photography to describe their effect on the environment.

Usually my daily thoughts are centered around publishing, software, grandkids or one of many other diverse topics. But as April arrives each year, a newspaper article here or a radio broadcast there reminds me of Earth Day.

Stick with me for a few paragraphs as my mind drifts back a bit.

From the time I first started reading his black humor, novelist Kurt Vonnegut has been one on my favorite authors. He died in April 2007 shortly before the original version of this article was published.

The news coverage of his life and death took me back to the late 60’s when I was a student at the University of Michigan (U of M) in the city of Ann Arbor. Vonnegut was asked to be “Writer in Residence” at the University. As one of the most widely read authors of the 1960’s generation, he was sure to have a large, welcoming audience among would-be writers studying at the U of M.

He sometimes frequented a small, local campus restaurant called “The Brown Jug” where he’d have breakfast and smoke lots of cigarettes. Back then, it was popular lore that Vonnegut declared smoking to be the slowest form of suicide.

My wife Kris, then a student and part-time waitress, was also a Vonnegut reader. On occasion, she would wait on him in the restaurant. She admitted, that owing to her hearing difficulty, she was not a very good waitress and therefore frustrated the celebrated writer with her (lack of) service. More to the point, his purpose on campus as writer in residence ended abruptly when he left prematurely declaring something to the effect: “I’m leaving Ann Arbor since I have nothing much to teach you about writing.” So it goes.


To put things in the proper perspective, 1970 was a very vibrant, exciting and yet conflicted era. I’m reminded of Charles Dicken’s quotation in my high school year book which aptly describes the period: “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times….we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way”. This was the period of Viet Nam and Kent State, living off the earth and making peace, hippies and long hair. We were contemporaries of heavy metal, Motown, James Taylor, Woodstock and The Beatles music. With this as a backdrop, we happen upon the Earth Day 1970 teach-in at the U of M.

Not long after Vonnegut’s departure from the campus, we were treated to a free music concert. The well-known folk song artist Gordon Lightfoot came to town to perform for more than 12,000 screaming students in one of the large stadiums at the University. Gord had had been drawing large audiences around the US, Canada and Europe with his classic Canadian Railroad Trilogy (click for lyrics), a poetic ballad describing the building of the railroads across Canada and the difficult tradeoffs between developing the economy and keeping the land pristine for the future. His music was great back then and to this day, I remain a Lightfoot fan. I was so much the fan that a few years ago I traveled to Las Vegas (by myself since no family member wanted to accompany me) to hear him in concert. And I ended up staying for two of his performances. Would you believe that I even have a life size poster of Gord which was gifted to me by the advertising manager at the Orleans Casino?

Anyway, traveling back to 1970, we understood that Lightfoot’s appearance was part of what was to be part of the first Earth Day teach-in, a gathering of some 50,000 in Ann Arbor to discuss, educate and find solutions to environmental problems created by the earth’s inhabitants. From all of the excitement and the energy which went into the production of the first Earth Day teach-ins, many of us believed that we were on the verge of saving the environment.

As an economics student, I was counting on a future career that would revolve around conservation, ecology and recycling. I was deeply serious about this course of study and studied writings from the likes of educators and humanists Kenneth Boulding, Buckminster Fuller and E.F. Schumacher and took courses such as remote sensing of the environment and cost-benefit analysis.

My great enthusiasm for all things environmental waned some time after graduating with a degree in Natural Resource Economics. It was fully a year later that I was still trying to find a job in this nascient field. Instead, I ended up in the computer and publishing business. So it goes.

As I usually stay away from public discussions about politics, I won’t comment on how well or how poorly the earth’s inhabitants have done to improve the environment over the past 42 years. However, like others, I have observed a very large and urgent movement in recent years to resurrect many of the same or similar ideas from these earlier decades that call for a change in our lifestyles.

In fact, last week we took a few of our grandkids to see Lorax, a new movie based on Dr Seuss’ book. It describes a planet where all of the trees have been clear cut – no trees left. Now everyone depends on manufactured air to provide oxygen for their survival. Is this story a little far fetched? Maybe. But at least the issue is being presented to a new generation.

So what does all of this rambling have to do photography?

Well, to continue in the same vein, I thought it might be interesting to look at photography then and now to compare their individual environmental impacts.

At first, I thought this was going to be a “no brainer” – that digital photography yields huge environmental savings compared to conventional photography. But as I began to dig deeper, I see that there are two sides to this argument.

Conventional Photography

Having worked in several commercial photo labs long before the advent of digital, I’m familiar with the processes that are used in conventional (film-based) photography.

Most conventional cameras use a cartridge or cannister filled with film for 12, 20 or 36 exposures. Each “roll” of film is individually packaged for sale in hundreds of thousands of retail locations. Besides the resources needed to manufacture the film, a considerable amount more are used to market and distribute the products.

Film derives its light sensitivity from a chemical mixture of silver halide that’s coated onto its surface. After being exposed to light by the camera, the film is first “developed” – the silver halide image is converted into a metallic silver and then “fixed” – the unused silver halide is dissolved. This makes the negative image permament. Color film requires additional chemicals to form the dyes used to reproduce the various colors. And still other chemicals are used to enhance the drying of the photographic materials. In addition to these chemicals, a large amount of water is used to rinse and clean the chemicals from the surface of the film.

Conventional photographic prints are processed similarly using a silver halide sensitive paper and chemicals to develop and fix and wash the positive images. Most commercial photo labs make prints from each exposure on a roll of film.

The environmental impact of conventional photography is significant. A large amount materials is consumed to make film and photographic paper. A large amount of nasty and toxic chemicals are used to process both the film and prints. And an awfully large amount of fresh water is used in the process as well.

Digital Photography

At first glance, the coming of age of digital photography appears to have a beneficial impact on the environmental.

With digital, no longer is there a need for roll after roll of film. Instead a single chip (SD-card or CF-card) can capture hundreds, maybe thousands of images.

Now, these digital images no longer require chemical development. Rather, the images are immediately available to review while still in the camera. For permanance, the images can be copied to your computer hard drive for safekeeping, further enhancement and presentation.

Unlike conventional processing where each exposure is mindlessly printed by the photo lab, you can be more selective. Instead you can choose to print only the best of the best images. And it’s your choice to print them using a conventional photo process at your favorite photo lab or print them at home on your color ink-jet printer.

Regardless of which camera you’ve purchased, digital photography seems like a winner from an environmental standpoint.

The Rest of the Story

As with many things in life, digital photography has a few “gottcha’s” that cloud its environmental friendly moniker.

The upside is that digital provides big savings in resources by eliminating film, packaging, paper and chemical processing. However, digital shifts the resource burden to the manufacturing and maintaining of the personal computer. Yes, there are some who make do without a personal computer. These picturetakers bring their digital film to a photo lab to make their selected prints. But most picturetakers collect, organize, retouch, process and present their photographs using a personal computer.

While it’s slightly dated, according to a United Nation report from 2004, “the average 24 kg desktop computer with monitor requires at least 10 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to manufacture, much more materials intensive than an automobile or refrigerator, which only require 1-2 times their weight in fossil fuels. Researchers found that manufacturing one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT monitor uses at least 240 kg of fossil fuels, 22 kg of chemicals and 1,500 kg of water – a total of 1.8 tonnes of materials.”

Of course a personal computer is used for other tasks as well, so it’s not fair to put the full blame for digital photography’s negative impact on the environment.

And to power all of these cameras, computers and accessories the need for electricity either from the wall outlet or batteries is climbing. Does this contribute to our CO2 footprint?

Not surprisingly, manufacturers are working feverishly to add new and amazing whiz-bang features to their cameras. Now instead of buying a conventional camera every ten years or so, the buying cycle for digital cameras is a lot more frequent. Read: more resources consumed.

Wrapping it Up

We can credit the overwhelming adoption of digital cameras for saving the environment from millions of rolls of film and the required chemicals to develop the the film and prints. In addition to the great quality of digital technology, we benefit from a huge reduction of harmful photographic chemicals.

Unfortunately, after we add the personal computer to complete the processing, digital photography is a mixed bagged from an environmental standpoint.

In his novel Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut might comment on this no-win situation with the phrase so it goes.

As for me, after all of these years as an avid photographer I’m still a proponent of carefully using our precious natural resources. Aside from photographing family, my favorite pastime is nature and landscape photography. To the best of my ability I continue to practice “leave no trace photography” – disturb neither our wildlife nor our environment. Photography, whether conventional or digital, is a gift that lets me enjoy the wonders of our amazing world visually. I think many others agree.

More Information
Here’s a few articles that touch on the conventional vs digital photography debate.

The Environmental Impact of Digital Photography
Environmental impact of digital cameras compared to film
How Photographers Are Reducing Their Environmental Impact
How to Be an Environmentally Friendly Photographer

For those of you who are interested in the movement, here are few links to Earth Day sites.


Author: Arnie Lee, former flower child and President of Abacus / Stay Focused

Please address any comments about this article, to Arnie via email

Canadian Railroad Trilogy

By Gordon Lightfoot

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds

As to this verdant country they came from all around

They sailed upon her waterways and they walked the forests tall

And they built the mines the mills and the factories for the good of us all

And when the young man’s fancy was turning to the spring

The railroad men grew restless for to hear the hammers ring

Their minds were overflowing with the visions of their day

And many a fortune lost and won and many a debt to pay

For they looked in the future and what did they see

They saw an iron road running from sea to the sea

Bringing the goods to a young growing land

All up through the seaports and into their hands

Look away said they across this mighty land

From the eastern shore to the western strand

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

We gotta lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Bring in the workers and bring up the rails

Were gonna lay down the tracks and tear up the trails

Open your heart let the life blood flow

Gotta get on our way cause were moving too slow

Get on our way cause were moving too slow

Behind the blue rockies the sun is declining

The stars, they come stealing at the close of the day

Across the wide prairie our loved ones lie sleeping

Beyond the dark oceans in a place far away

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Living on stew and drinking bad whiskey

Bending our old backs til the long days are done

We are the navvies who work upon the railway

Swinging our hammers in the bright blazing sun

Laying down track and building the bridges

Bending our old backs til the railroad is done

So over the mountains and over the plains

Into the muskeg and into the rain

Up the St. Lawrence all the way to Gaspe

Swinging our hammers and drawing our pay

Driving them in and tying them down

Away to the bunkhouse and into the town

A dollar a day and a place for my head

A drink to the living and a toast to the dead

Oh the song of the future has been sung

All the battles have been won

Oer the mountain tops we stand

All the world at our command

We have opened up the soil

With our teardrops and our toil

For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run

When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun

Long before the white man and long before the wheel

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

When the green dark forest was too silent to be real

And many are the dead men too silent to be real

Jigsaw Puzzles – a do-it-yourself kit


On a recent holiday out West, I snapped a lucky group photo of our some of our grandkids. It was a lucky shot in which all of the kids were posed nicely, facing the camera.

When we returned home, my wife remembered that she had stashed away a couple of do-it-yourself photo jigsaw puzzles that would make a nice souvenir of our vacation.

Here’s the do-it-yourself jigsaw puzzle.

This one is called “Make-Your_own Jigsaw Puzzle” from Messisa & Doug, Item # 376.

My wife bought the kit at a large craft store for about $7.

This kit is to be used with a 5″ x 7″ photograph.

I printed a borderless photograph, cropped exactly as I wanted it to appear on the puzzle.
The kit includes an adhesive sheet onto which you place to photograph face up.

Turn the adhesive sheet over and you’ll see the outline of the twelve jigsaw pieces. Using scissors, you cut along the lines which mirror the shape of the wooden jigsaw pieces.

Finally, you remove the second paper backing from the adhesive sheet to reveal more adhesive. Each photo piece is then pressed onto the corresponding wooden puzzle piece.

This all takes about ten minutes and then your photo jig saw puzzle is ready!

My wife ended up making two of these puzzles to send to the grandkids in the photograph. We’re hoping that it will help them remember our visit.


Written by Arnie Lee


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