Grandpa’s Purple Heart

Grandpa Keck’s Purple Heart from World War One.

Earl C. Kesterson, or Grandpa Keck, fought on the Western Front in the battle of Meuse-Argonne. It was the last great surge that eventually ended the war. Grandpa was severely injured from gunshot/shrapnel and mustard gas.


Grandma’s sister Bonnie (Aunt Dick) and Grandpa before shipping out to Europe


Mona (Grandma) and Clifford in South Point, Ohio

He spent several years in hospitals and was left with a near useless arm. All this with a new wife and baby at home in a little town on the Ohio River.



He’d only been on the front less than two weeks before the injury. I’ve often wondered about the hell he saw when he first arrived at the trenches – airships hovering, tanks running over soldiers, biplanes fighting and dropping bombs, smoke everywhere, trees uprooted – an utter human and ecological disaster. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Instead it was a spark.

Great War Infantry Medal-2015-0907 Nikon F2 Portra 400-07

Infantry medal given to WWI US soldiers

Grandpa Keck eventually came home and tried to pick up his life again. During the war, his Army paychecks kept getting stalled or lost. His former employer, Walter Johnson, advanced money to Grandma until the checks started to come in.



Grandpa (left) was a coal miner and fireman in the foothills of the Appalachians in southern Ohio before the war.

When Grandpa finally came back to Ohio after several years in hospitals, he needed to work. His old employer and friend Walter encouraged him to come on at the old mine again. Grandpa, having little use of one his arms, felt helpless. Grandpa used to shovel coal into the boilers as a fireman (“fireman” is often misused for “firefighter”). Walter told him he could drive a truck. Incredulously, Grandpa responded, “How?” Johnson got in a truck and tucked one arm behind himself, shifted the gear with his other while steadying the wheel with his knees, and drove off. Grandpa was now employed. His next son, my Dad, would be named Walter.

Grandpa's Court Baton-_K202026

Baton Grandpa used as a court baillif. I’d hate to be on the other end of that lead ball.

Grandpa had several successful careers, most notably as a mechanic and court bailiff. He also was very active in several organizations, including the American Legion (one if its earliest members), the Masons, and the Elks.


He loved photography, inspiring my Dad to get a really nice Polaroid camera. He dressed in a coat and tie almost every day, even on the weekends. I don’t remember him, but family members say that he was well liked, cheerful, and loved by all. He never let that purple heart become a bruised heart. He also drove a standard shift the rest of life.


Family Camera

One of the main cameras used through the decades of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s on my Dad’s side of the family. My grandfather later bought a giant Polaroid. He seemed to be one of the few to operate it, as he’s not in most of the pictures. An earlier family camera was the beautiful Kodak Bullet.

This is a Kodak Duoflex (1947-50). At first glance, it looks like a simple box or TLR camera. It’s actually a pseudo TLR (a modified box camera with a separate viewing mirror above the taking lens). Just like a box camera, you look down through a double-convex lens onto a mirror. (A TLR would have a matte focusing screen looking onto a mirror, through a viewing lens above the taking lens. The viewing lens would focus in parallel with the taking lens.) But this 620 camera has some unusual features for a snapshot camera.

  • Tiplet lens
  • adjustable f-stop from f8 to f16
  • focusable lens from 3.5 feet to infinity, with distance markings
  • automatic double-exposure prevention
  • double-exposure override
  • instant or bulb shutter speeds
  • aluminum body
  • attachable flashbulb bracket and reflector

The design is also quite beautiful. There are hints of art deco in the vertical ridges that run from the top onto the face, continuing to the bottom of the box. The ridges are continued on its plastic strap, making it appear continuous from bottom of camera to the neck. The top and bottom of the face are beautifully sloped. It reminds you of a late 40’s Hudson.

You can tell from the design, both aesthetically and technically, that Kodak was delivering a stylish camera to the post war consumers who wanted more control over their photography, but weren’t ready to spend a lot.

I cleaned up the camera and reassembled it. I shot one roll through it, but I must have misadjusted the focus scale on the lens. I’ll reset that, and maybe replace the pocked mirror before I take it back out.

Shot with a Nikon F2, Micro-Nikkor 105mm/f2.8, F Bellows, Kodak Portra 400

My First Photo

While cleaning up the basement this summer, I ran across some old negatives. Some of them were my Dad’s from the 1950’s and earlier. They reminded me that he was an excellent amateur photographer, and was thrilled to teach me the basics when I became interested. Dad’s prize camera was a 1954 Model 95a Polaroid. This was an expensive camera ($800 in today’s dollars) that Mom saved up for as a gift. We have many great family pictures taken with this camera.

My first pictures I ever took were with this camera when I was five or six-years old (see below).  We were at my Grandma Keck’s house when I begged Dad to handle the camera. The camera was almost as big as I was. I hoisted it up, aimed it at my Dad’s concerned face, pressed the shutter, and waited for the picture to develop. It was blurry! Being the encouraging father he was, he carefully explained how to hold still before pressing the button. The next picture was perfect. I have that picture (see below) of my Dad’s concerned face accompanied by my sister on my wall. It’s still funny after all these years.

By the time I started to really get into photography as a teen, the film for the 95a (Type 42 – I don’t know why I still remember that) was phased out. I bought the last remaining roll at the drug store downtown and had a blast with it. Since then, this old camera has been a shelf queen.

For my first photo assignment as a freshman in high school, Dad unearthed his 1952 Ansco Viking folder camera. It was really a German-made Agfa Billy medium format camera that was scale focusing. My “assignment” was to take pictures of the high school football game. Not really understanding the disconnect between action photography and a 35-year-old folding bellows consumer snapshot camera, the night was almost a complete failure. The bellows had a light leak, the film was too slow, the light was too dim, my composition was well – more like decomposition. But I had fun!

My go-to camera at the time was a Kodak Instamatic-X, a 126 cartridge format snapshooter (see below). I can remember not understanding why my pictures wouldn’t come out like I envisioned them. But I kept shooting anyway. After my experience with the Ansco and the resurrection of the Polaroid, Mom and Dad could see I was becoming serious about this camera thing. For Christmas, they bought me a Minolta SRT-101 35mm SLR camera that I used until it fell apart in the late 90’s.

I shot for the school yearbook and newspaper, the local daily newspaper, and events through high school and early college. I almost chose photography as a career, but was offered a music scholarship in high school. That led to a career in audio and video production, which I don’t regret. Even though my profession allows me to express my creativity every day, it’s photography that allows my soul to speak.

My first (successful) picture. A concerned face and an unconcerned face.My first picture012

My first camera – a Kodak Instamatic-X.Me with camera Xmas 1974-2012-0318 Scanned Pix3

The day of my first photograph.Me and Abbe in mid-60s

Postcard From France – A Mystery Revealed

Front of postcard

Front of postcard

An innocuous postcard among hundreds of old photos and documents. I kept shuffling it around from pile to pile as I was going through boxes and boxes of stuff from my recently passed aunt’s house. She was 92 when she died late last year. Her mother (my Grandma Keck) lived to be 95. My first task was to see if there were any important documents that would help our family lawyer piece together the value of her estate, partly because she left no will, and partly because she was…let’s just say extremely disorganized.

After we got the business end organized, it was time to go through photographs. Most of the ones I found I had never seen. They were either tucked away in Grandma’s room, or they were inherited by my aunt from an aunt and sister. Luckily my aunt had given me one of her aunt’s photo albums when she was alive. We carefully went through each photo as she identified who she could. This helped when I found the other hundreds of photos. But still, most were unmarked. There were also mementos from travels, clubs, and events. And then there was this beat up and faded post card. I almost threw it away several times. I guess the French caption made me curious enough to move it to another pile.

Each pile kept getting smaller and smaller until I picked it up one last time and studied it. My grandparents didn’t travel much, and I know they didn’t leave the country together. My great aunt did travel frequently, so it must be hers. But this was pretty old. I was guessing 1920’s, and she did most of her traveling in the 1950’s to 70’s.

I put it under a bright light and put on my reading glasses. The picture was of a hotel somewhere in France. I turned it over to see who it was addressed to. No address, no postage. Why would this be saved? Then, as I turned it slightly, I saw faint impressions of hand writing on the back. It was written very poorly, like a child’s handwriting. All I could make out was something about “Mary (maybe)…cross…my room…door.”

Time for forensics. I used to do a lot of forensic audio when the police or a lawyer would bring me poorly recorded tapes from a sting operation or some other no-good deed. I would work for hours trying to hear what was being said (CSI and other unrealistic movies and shows have it wrong – it doesn’t magically take seconds to hear something in perfect clarity – it takes hours and days to barely hear something audible above the noise). You have to be careful to not hear something you want to hear, only what’s there. You can try to connect the dots (gaps), but its not always safe to assume. In this case, I was assuming a child wrote it.

In order to see the writing more clearly, I scanned it in grayscale and brought it into Photoshop. I used various tools to enhance the text, but I still couldn’t see much. When you’re working with forensic audio, it helps to go back to square one a few times. When you do, it forces you to go down an alternate path which might reveal something else. In this case, I rescanned the postcard, but this time in RGB color.

Playing with the color channels, I started reducing and increasing different colors. When I increased the blue channel, most of the text magically popped out. After blending some other channels in and sharpening the picture, I was satisfied I had revealed about all that was left.

Pencil writing brought out using the color channel tool and others in Photoshop.

Pencil writing brought out using the color channel tool and others in Photoshop.

I uploaded this image along with the postcard front to Flickr in an album I’d created for this giant archiving project. I’d hoped someone in the family could figure out who wrote it and what it meant. While visiting my mom, I showed her the pictures on my iPhone. As an writer and a lifelong word puzzle junkie, she was able to complete the words:

“Mona note the cross above the window. That’s my room just above the door. X”

Mona was my Grandma Keck’s name. I saw that earlier. What I had disregarded was the “X.” Mom said “X, find an ‘X’.” I flipped to the picture of the front of the postcard and zoomed in. I closely scanned back and forth until I saw it. There it was on the building itself in handwritten pencil. It finally dawned on us that my Grandpa Keck wrote this to his wife during World War 1. He was sent to the western front in France to battle the Germans. He was severely injured in the Battle of Meuse-Argonne on 9 Oct 1918. His arm was nearly shot off with a bullet or shrapnel. In addition, he was exposed to mustard gas.

After Grandpa Keck’s injury, he was shipped to a hospital in central France to recuperate. This is a postcard he sent Grandma showing where his room was. The Hotel de Parc in Chatel-Guyon (formerly Chatelguyon) was converted into a U.S. Army hospital. Obviously Grandpa was having great difficulty writing at the time, because his later writing samples were quite neat.

I have been able to track down Grandpa’s particular fighting unit (116th Infantry, 29th Div.) and where he was injured. It turns out that his unit was part of the final big push by the American and French forces into German lines that would ultimately end the war.

More about the U.S Army Post Hospital No. 20

More about the Battle of Meuse-Argonne

Postcard collage

Storage Below Ground

Yashica Electro 35 CCN-Ilford Delta 100, Perceptol 1+3

Yashica Electro 35 CCN-Ilford Delta 100, Perceptol 1+3

When you first see this structure at Waveland in Lexington, KY, it looks like the top of house on a hill. I’ve never been in this one, but it’s probably brick-lined like similar ones from this era.

Sunspot Chillin’

Olympus OM-4, Kodak Portra 400

Olympus OM-4, Kodak Portra 400

Onslow and Daisy. Onslow is a rescue from the Woodford Human Society. Although one of my requirements was that my new cat would be okay around dogs, I was afraid he would be scared of Daisy. When I brought him home and let him out of the carrier, he immediately went up to Daisy and rubbed on her, purring. Well that was settled right away.

Daisy was a little taken aback with his forwardness. It had been a while since she was around a cat that showed any affection toward her (my other cat just hates life and everyone in it). Now, they greet each other, hang out together, and even sleep together at night.