Friday, November 11, 2016

The Naked Gunner

PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944

Nudity is typically a bit off-topic for this blog, so I apologize if the naked butt offends anyone, but I promise it is not superfluous. You see, there is a story behind it and I hope that with this piece of history we can honor a hero and — hopefully — learn something about ourselves and our culture at the same time.

I had seen this picture being shared a few times and wondered, “What the heck? Why is this guy naked? Is this for real, or is this photograph staged?” It turns out this an authentic World War II photograph, taken by Horace Bristol in 1944. Bristol was part of the U.S. Naval Photographic Unit under Captain Edward J. Streichen, commissioned to document the war. But why was this man naked? Well, this man was a crew member aboard a seaplane called in to rescue a downed marine at Rabaul harbor. The marine was in the water and had been badly burned and temporarily blinded, so to get him on board this brave soul stripped off all of his clothes and swam out to pull him from the water. They were under fire from the Japanese the entire time, so as soon as the marine and his rescuer were safely aboard, they took off without taking time to get dressed and the rescuer returned to his station at the machine gun to defend his crew. And now you see why I called him a hero.

So, apart from honoring a heroic veteran on Veteran’s Day (for my U.S. readers), why is this germane to this blog? This blog is clearly not about nudity. But I think this story can teach us something about attitudes about the body in general. While he may have pushed aside some reservations about nudity to accomplish his heroic act, I think people from this era also had a somewhat more relaxed attitude toward the human body. When it was necessary to save a life, he stripped off his clothing (which could have hindered his rescue, causing both him and the marine to drown) without a second thought. And his priority upon returning to the plane was returning fire to cover his crew rather than covering his body. I imagine that many men today — more inhibited about their bodies — would find it difficult to put aside their bashfulness, even in the face of life-threatening circumstances. There is nothing wrong with having or conforming to certain societal norms about clothing, etc, but when these inhibitions are so deep-seated we (subconsciously) prioritize them above life and safety, that is a problem and also indicates an unhealthy self-image. This blog attempts to promote a healthy body image and a sense of freedom and security, things we could learn a lot about from previous generations.

I hope that you have enjoyed our history lesson today. Allow me to sign off with a salute to all of our brave men and women in uniform who have fought for freedom. Thank you!

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