WWII Veteran Photographic Series - Sgt. Ferdinand Moreno
I've really been looking forward to this second entry in my series of WWII Veteran Portraits. This particular session was probably the toughest photo session on me personally that I've ever shot. When I first had the idea of doing this series, I pictured getting to sit around talking to veterans who were anxiously wanting to share their stories with whoever wanted to listen. With the first session, I was told that Mr. Davis had dementia. When I arrived he had forgotten a lot of things, but it was very pleasant conversation. With Sgt. Moreno, again I was told that he had dementia and I expected something similar to the conversation with Mr. Davis. I was mistaken.
When I arrived I found that his condition was a lot different than Mr. Davis. Sgt. Moreno's health is where he cannot speak. I found out from his nephew, who is his caretaker that he really hadn't been able to speak for a couple of months.. Even though he couldn't talk, I had a conversation with him, and his eyes, his eyes really reached into my chest and I felt like it was ripping my heart out. I've never been impacted by a session like I was by his. On his photos, I didn't shoot as many of Sgt. Moreno himself, because I wanted to capture his dignity and with his health, it was harder to do that. Please read further though as I was able to talk to his brother who shared with me some stories of his time in WWII, and Sgt. Moreno had some amazing war trophies that he brought home from the War that I photographed as well.
It took a couple of weeks but I was finally able to speak with Sgt. Moreno's brother, Malcolm, about World War II and what his brother did during the War. This is what I was told.
Sgt. Moreno was drafted into the Army. He didn't know which company or anything like that, but he said he was supposed to be in a tank. Sgt. Moreno had told him about the army showing photographs of what was happening with the German's armor piercing bullets. How they'd cut through the tanks and explode. Around that time they were asking volunteers to go into the infantry and Sgt. Moreno volunteered to go into infantry instead.
Malcolm told me that Ferd, as he affectionately calls his brother, didn't really like to talk about the war. He would only tell a couple of stories. He had a lot of demons from things he saw in the war. He helped to free a couple of the concentration camps and said that he would rather die than to ever surrender to the Germans. I'm going to share with you a story that I was told by Malcolm about a time that Sgt. Moreno was involved in an ambush.
One day in a village in France (he didn't know the name. Only that it was a really small village) Sgt. Moreno and one of his good friends were driving through in a military jeep. The town had been attacked and they were looking but they couldn't find anyone alive. Everyone was dead. They were debating what to do when from behind one of the small buildings, two Germans stepped out with guns trained on them and in perfect American English told them to get out of the jeep. Ferdinand was 6'4 and was crammed tightly into the jeep, which made getting out a little bit difficult. The Germans told them to throw down there weapons while they were getting out. They continued to move slowly...
Ferdinand's mind was racing and as he was moving to get out of the jeep, he noticed that the Germans had turned slightly and weren't paying close attention. He quickly grabbed his gun and fired a slew of bullets into the Germans, killing them. Sgt. Moreno and his friend had seen a ditch that wrapped it's way around the small village a little ways away and made a dash for it. As they reached it, more German's opened up on them. His friend was shot through the head and fell dead instantly. Sgt. Moreno had bullets pierce his shirt but didn't even get a scratch, just a few holes in his shirt. He hunkered down in the ditch and crawled down a ways. He peeked up, and saw German faces looking out of windows in some of the buildings. He fired, and the German dropped. He kept moving and firing at different Germans as they were trying to pinpoint his location, unsuccessfully.
Slowly, Sgt. Moreno made his way back towards his lines. I was told that he killed 40 Germans. I'm not sure if that was on this mission, or in total during the war. His nephew had told me that he heard he killed 28 Germans and that Sgt. Moreno was haunted by his past throughout his life. There's probably no real way to know, and that number isn't the thing that really matters.
I feel incredibly blessed to have gotten to sit and meet this American hero. It's still hard for me to look at the photos, his eyes still just cut right through me. When you think about the age that these men and women were living in, and the evil that was being wrought upon the world and spreading across the European continent at the time, you realize.he wasn't a hero for killing Germans, he was a hero for answering when his country called. He was a hero when he helped to liberate these camps where men, women, and children were emancipated, raped, and even murdered. I personally can't imagine the things he saw, nor can I imagine the things our servicemen see and deal with now. We have to hold onto our past and learn from it to get to where we need to be tomorrow, and grow as human beings. Sgt. Moreno also was honored with the Bronze Star for his service in WWII. I hope that you enjoyed reading a little bit about this man, and his service to our country. If you did, feel free to share this.