Images of war: Soldier's camera captured horrors and heroes of conflict

Published: Monday, Nov. 8 2010 4:00 p.m. MST

In 1997, Heslop got a call from a man named George Havas who asked him if he had taken pictures during the war, and asked if he had been at Ebensee. "You took my picture," Havas said. "There were four of us, and I was the one with the gash on my head." Havas had been to the National Archives and found the picture with Heslop's name on the back and had tracked him down. Later he wrote a letter:

"You sound like a rare, gentle, kind person. I wish there were more people like you — it would be a better world than it is," he wrote. "I can still 'see' you as a tall, American officer. You got up on a stool and shot us from above, with a large camera flash."

But not everything was so heart-rending. One of Heslop's favorite memories came from Paris just after they had arrived in Europe. "I didn't have an assignment, so I was doing a little sightseeing, just gawking around, and went up to the Arc de Triomphe. Up drives a car, and out hops Winston Churchill on one side, and out hops Charles DeGaulle on the other. They put a wreath on the grave of the Unknown Soldier, got back in the car and drove down the Champs-Elysees, where there were suddenly people lining both sides of the street."

There had been no announcement of the visit, so no other photographers were there. "I just started flipping off pictures, and then didn't know what to do with them, but someone contacted me and said 'We're from Public Relations, and we'd like to have your pictures.' So, I gave them the pictures and they sent them through the Associated Press and others across the world."

Some of Heslop's assignments included things like parties and gatherings of officers. He also worked with "psychological warfare, where they'd print leaflets to put in shells that were dropped over Germany."

GIs would often ask him to take their picture. "If I could find someone from Utah, I'd take a picture of them doing something. I found several of those."

He remembers another photo that got a lot of attention. "A hard day of fighting was over, and this soldier came back, and there was a puddle of water in the street. It had been raining. And his feet were killing him. He just took his shoes off and washed his feet and got some comfort, and I just came along and happened to see it."

Heslop also has a shot of German tanks lining a road. "That was how the war ended. The Germans just stopped, left everything and walked away."

After the war ended in Europe, Heslop's unit got a month's furlough back in the States, and then were scheduled to go to Japan. He was on the train going back to Georgia after being home with Fae and had to overnight in Meridian, Miss. "I was in a hotel and heard lots of commotion, people in the street yelling, fireworks going off. The A-bomb had been dropped, the war was over. I celebrated, too. I didn't have to go to Japan after all."

Heslop came home, and with the rest of his generation, moved on to other things. He attended Utah State University, majoring in agriculture. "I was going to do agricultural photography." But he was hired as a photographer by the Deseret News, and stayed for 40 years. He went on to be chief photographer, then editor of the Church News. "When they asked me to do that, I said only if they would let me cover the church as the worldwide organization it was becoming." He did a lot of traveling and had some great opportunities there before becoming managing editor of the paper.

Heslop had put the war behind him;he didn't think much about it as he moved on with his life. "I'd forgotten about it until the TV thing; I met a guy who I'd known in the Army, and he was part of the series at KUED. I was about the last one they interviewed for that."

But he is glad to see the interest in preserving and documenting the war experience.

As Freeman says of the Saints at War project, "our goal and desire is to help increase public understanding of this chapter of our history, to educate, to deepen their appreciation, to pay tribute to men like J."

An image that sticks in Heslop's mind at war's end was when "I came across a group of men who were gathered with a chaplain. It was a Catholic chaplain, and he was doing Mass for those men who were so glad the war was over. And, I think there is a spirituality that goes with what they were doing in that war. They felt they had a cause. They weren't there because they enjoyed the war. They were there because it was important."

Nor was it just those men. "There were thousands and thousands of them who felt that way. There wasn't any question in their minds about what we were doing and why we were doing it. And I think that's what made the difference in that victory."

e-mail: carma@desnews.com

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