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Photographer honors World War II heroes with portraits

The American Heroes: Portraits of Service Project is working to capture pictures and stories of World War II veterans. (Photo:Bettie Cross)

Every day, memories of World War II disappear. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the country is losing 348 veterans a day. Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, only 496,777 are still alive. It's why the American Heroes: Portraits of Service Project is working quickly to capture pictures and stories.

Photographs on the walls of Belmont Village Senior Living show the storied faces of World War II veterans. American heroes living in the communities are now part of a photographic record of an historic time. Over the past decade, Tom Sanders has gathered what may be the largest collection of World War II portraits in the world.

On Thursday, the nationally recognized photographer captured the images of 13 more veterans. One of the men was World War II veteran Bob Northington.

“There's definitely an urgency to photograph these veterans before they pass away,” said Sanders.

The photographer, commissioned by Belmont Village Senior Living, wants more than a good portrait.

“While I photograph you, I want you to think about your war experiences,” said Sanders as he photographed Northington.

He wants to capture Northington’s memories in his eyes and his face. He will keep taking pictures until he sees the Army Staff Sergeant latch on to the World War II experiences of a much younger man.

“I went in at 17. I got out at 18,” said Northington, who served in the infantry in the Pacific Ocean theater and Korea.

He was a teenager then, but is 90 now.

“Some of these men and women are in their 80s and 90s and they're telling their stories for the first time. Even their kids haven't even heard their stories,” said Sanders.

The portrait sessions at Belmont Village West Lake Hills are helping to preserve those rapidly disappearing stories. Veterans know what isn't shared today, could be lost forever.

“I don't have a single old-time friend alive,” said Northington. “I miss them.”

The portraits taken in Austin will be added to the permanent gallery at Belmont Village West Lake Hills. The community will host a public exhibit opening in early 2019.

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