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The OC Fair & Event Center’s Heroes Hall veteran museum unveiled its latest exhibition last month, offering a glance into the eyes of WWII photographer Stanley Troutman, one of the first to capture the war in the Pacific after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The exhibit, “Armed Only with a Camera,” shows viewers the horrors and everyday perspectives of the war through Troutman’s photographs, letters, artifacts and other preserved memorabilia.
The exhibit opened to the public just a few weeks ago on Oct. 15. However, work to begin curating the photographic exhibition began three years ago when Troutman’s daughter, Gayle Rindge, first reached out to the Heroes Hall Museum about displaying her father’s work. Rindge organized original photos, caption sheets, correspondence and other war memorabilia that her father had kept and worked with museum director Carol Singleton to create a thought-provoking exhibit.
There were some obstacles that delayed the finalization of the exhibit, including COVID closures and Troutman’s passing. Singleton was fortunately able to interview Troutman in December 2019 at the age of 102, just a month before his death. This exclusive interview footage is displayed for visitors to watch and enjoy.
Stanley Troutman began working in Los Angeles for ACME Newspictures in 1937, mixing chemicals and performing other minor darkroom tasks. In 1942, he was promoted to a photographer position, capturing the glitz and glamor of Hollywood along with other Southern California news.
It was one year later when war broke out and Troutman became an official war correspondent through ACME, with his first assignment sending him to Saipan, part of the Mariana Islands. Troutman quickly learned the risks that came with being a correspondent, which meant constantly being in the midst of an active war zone without any sort of protection or military training. Military rules did not allow for correspondents to carry any weapons.
“If we had a gun and we were captured, we would be considered spies by the Japanese, and they could shoot you,” Troutman said in his interview with Singleton.
Troutman recalled his only weapon being an Army-issued helmet which he bathed with, ate out of and dug foot holes with. That helmet and his Graflex Speed Graphic 4×5 camera were Troutman’s most prized possessions during wartime.
“Armed Only with a Camera” takes viewers on a visual journey throughout the Pacific Theater, from Pearl Harbor to Tinian, Okinawa, Shanghai, Tokyo, Hiroshima, the Philippines and more. The exhibit includes a map that shows Troutman’s various routes and assignments from June 1944 to September 1945.
Scenes of Tokyo home factories being destroyed by bombs, towns that had turned into slums, Japanese prisoners displaying their burns from blasts, and civilians drinking water from broken water pipes in the Ginza district are all part of Troutman’s collection of photographs. Troutman, although risking his life for much of it, thought that capturing these devastations was worth it in order to show the public back home how destructive the war had become.
There are a number of other ways to salute veterans this Veterans Day, whether it’s writing a letter to one, asking about their service, or simply saying thank you to them. You may also want to attend one of these free events.
Veterans Day Community Celebration at Heroes Hall
Where: Heroes Hall, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 12
Rock for Veterans Day
Where: Irvine Regional Park, 1 Irvine Park Road, Orange
When: Noon to 5 p.m. Nov. 11
Admission: Reserve a spot here
Huntington Beach Veterans Day Ceremony and Car Show
Where: Ceremony – H.B. City Hall at 2000 Main St., Huntington Beach; Car Show – H.B. Parking lot off of PCH and Huntington St.
When: Ceremony at 11 a.m., car show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Nov. 11
Tustin Veterans Day Celebration
Where: Veterans Sports Park, 1645 Valencia Ave., Tustin
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Nov. 11
Although determined to accurately capture the atrocities occurring in the Pacific, Troutman’s wartime experiences took a toll on him. Letters to his wife Betty, which are also on display at the exhibit, reveal how scarring experiences such as constantly seeing dead bodies, nearly dying at the hands of Japanese snipers and having recurring episodes of prickly heat and ringworm were for him. Like most soldiers and correspondents, Troutman was constantly concerned about how his family back home was doing, leaving behind a newborn daughter and a mortgage to pay.
Daughter Rindge never knew of her father’s war efforts until later on in life. She had never realized that the photos in her textbooks surrounding Hiroshima were photos her own father had taken.
“He did not discuss his experiences until later in life when family and friends began to ask questions in detail about what his role was in the Pacific,” Rindge said.
Troutman had explained to his daughter that revisiting those experiences often felt like he was reliving the war all over again, often causing him to have nightmares at night.
Through this exhibit, Rindge hopes her father’s work can be honored despite all the sacrifices he had to make. Photographers of the war were just as valuable and heroic as the fighting soldiers they captured on camera, and “Armed Only with a Camera” helps viewers to humanize those who fought and lost their lives during one of the worst wars in recent history. This is also the first time any of Troutman’s photographs have been shown in an exhibition in the U.S.
“This story focuses on a local war correspondent with roots in Southern California, which makes this a particularly meaningful exhibit for us,” Singleton added.
Upon returning from the war, Troutman took his passion for photography to UCLA and became the university’s first official campus photographer. He remained at UCLA for 48 years, during which he was able to film the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. After his retirement, he shot many covers for the OASIS newsletter. In 2004, the Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles awarded Troutman with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Troutman lived in Corona Del Mar for the final 24 years of his accomplished life. He passed away from pneumonia on Jan. 2, 2020. Troutman’s legacy and impactful photography lives on in Heroes Hall at the OC Fair & Event Center through Sept. 10, 2023.
The Heroes Hall Museum also holds a permanent exhibit on its second floor, “The SAAAB Story.” This year-round exhibit focuses on the history of the Santa Ana Army Air Base, which once occupied the very land the museum now sits on. Film, photos, maps, oral histories and other artwork help highlight the experience of training on the base as well as honor the efforts of women, Latinos, and LGBTQ service members in the military during World War II.
Both exhibits are open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the Heroes Hall Museum is free.
The Heroes Hall Museum will also be hosting a Veterans Day ceremony this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., featuring a performance by the All-American Boys Choir, kids’ activities and a chance to visit the new “Armed Only with a Camera” exhibit.
Attendees at Saturday’s ceremony will also get to observe the groundbreaking of the Serenity Walk, the latest project by the Heroes Hall Veteran Foundation. The new Serenity Walk will consist of a winding pathway lined with benches and lighting. Trees will be planted to honor Purple Heart recipients and additional Walk of Honor monuments and 11 new pillars will also be added as part of the project.
Nick Berardino, president of the Heroes Hall Foundation and retired Vietnam war veteran, is thrilled the project can finally come to fruition thanks to the fair board’s approval, which he admits took some pressure.
Many veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which leads to high rates of suicide. Because of this, Berardino felt a sense of urgency to push for a sooner construction date. The project was originally slated for 2024, but he and others in the veteran community just didn’t want to wait any longer.
“This is a space where veterans can find a path to peace. An opportunity to remember the difficulties, hardships, sacrifices and sadness of the war,” Berardino said.
He hopes the Serenity Walk can provide warmth and support to local veterans who may be struggling from PTSD, which Berardino himself has sought treatment for.
“We will never forget, we can’t forget it, but we can learn to manage it,” he said.
The Serenity Walk is set for completion next year on the Heroes Hall Museum grounds.
Orange County is home to about 130,000 veterans, according to the OC Health Care Agency. Below are a few organizations that provide mental health and recovery services for those veterans as well as ways for community members to give back:
Crystal Henriquez is a contributing for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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