A group of World War II and Korean War veterans living in a Rancho Palos Verdes senior community are being saluted for their service via a special photo gallery that’s set to be unveiled on Veteran’s Day.
Bay Area photographer Thomas Sanders recently photographed 10 veterans for a permanent exhibit honoring their combat service. Over the course of a few hours, Sanders had veterans living at Belmont Village Senior Living Rancho Palos Verdes sit for portraits, sometimes wearing part of their old military uniforms or holding a war-era photo of themselves.
Among those photographed was 91-year-old Burt Scholin, who served in the Army during the Korean War, from 1950-1952.
Scholin said he drove military trucks during his time in the service, hauling everything from troops to fuel to ammunition to whatever else needed hauling.
“I had an experience that I’m very proud of. I was most fortunate because no one shot at me, nor did I shoot at anyone else, but I was close enough so that I know what war is,” he said.
He said he was happy to have been part of the photo shoot.
“It’s an honor for me to be a participant,” he said. “I think it’s terrific. I’m looking forward to seeing the artistry of the pictures.”
Another participant was Ila Gerding, 92. Gerding, whose first name is pronounced eye-lah, served as a civilian nurse during World War II.
“That was a popular war, so we were all eager to be some part of it,” she said, adding that her husband served in the Navy during the war.
“It’s kind of interesting what’s going on,” she said of the photo shoots. “I didn’t realize I was going to be a celebrity.”
“It’s quite something,” she added. “I haven’t had much attention lately—not at this age.”
Another veteran, Vito Murgolo, 99, said he was happy to participate in the project because it helps ensure veterans of past conflicts are not forgotten.
“Thousands of men and women, and some of them paid the ultimate price to keep America strong and protected,” he said. “Don’t take too lightly the freedom you enjoy, because somebody paid the price for it.”
Sanders became involved in the project after he began photographing World War II veterans as part of a college assignment. He was then so inspired by their tales that he made it his goal to travel the country and photograph as many veterans as possible.
His work was eventually discovered by Belmont Village, which operates 30 senior communities across the U.S. The company then hired him to photograph veterans at all its senior homes.
“At Rancho Palos Verdes, I believe this is my fourth round of photographic veterans here since I was about 23 years old,” Sanders, 34 said. “We refresh the gallery every few years or so, because the veterans pass away and it's time to honor the new veterans living at the community.”
“I’ve literally photographed thousands of veterans since I was 22 years old,” he said.
The new portraits are to be unveiled during a special ceremony on Sunday, Nov. 11 as part of an “American Heroes: Portraits of Service” photo gallery at the home.
“To be able to capture this moment for them is just absolutely thrilling,” Belmont Village at Rancho Palos Verdes Executive Director Miki Lamm said. “It’s just synonymous with what Belmont Village does, we honor our residents, and this is one of the ways that we do that.”