“Today, we’re going to meet up with Dwain,” she says, pulling up in front of the office at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery to get a map. “He should be over here in L1.”
There seems to be some sort of construction going on and orange cones block the road. Off to the right, there’s a Caterpillar tractor and four men in yellow vests, digging. “Guess we’ll have to get out and walk from here,” she says.
She throws the blue KIA SUV into park and gets out, wearing a rust colored sleeveless camp shirt that hides most of her pale, slender frame and blue jean shorts. White socks peek out over top of Nike running shoes. A ten pound, black camera bag, slung over her shoulder, completes the ensemble.
“For most,” she says, “It’s a comfort to look out across the vast expanse of crushed volcanic rock and see the thousands of white headstones than it is to imagine walking over tops of lead lined boxes, full of decaying clothes and skeletons.”
As she crosses over the curb, stepping on to the brown crushed rock, she gives a quick but proper salute to all of those present before her. It’s effortless and she tells herself it doesn’t matter that she’s not in uniform. They all understand. Some of them aren’t in uniform, either.
For just 10 in the morning, it’s already 92 degrees … her thick rim glasses slide down her nose as she walks but there’s a little bit of a breeze and she tucks a long strand of reddish brown hair behind her ear.
A tall black man in a yellow vest approaches. His name tag reads, Curtis. There are beads of sweat on his nose. “Can I help you, Ma’am?”
“Yes, Curtis,” she says. “I’m looking for Dwain. He’s number L1-548.”
She makes idle conversation with him as he leads her almost back to where she started. “Here he is, Ma’am,” he says with a smile.
She squats to rest her hand on the smooth, white headstone and is a little surprised at how cold it feels to touch, even in this heat.
“Hello, Dwain,” she says, as if to greet an old friend. “I’m April. Cindy called me. If it’s okay with you, I’m going to take some pictures for her.”
Standing, she surveys the landscape… Caterpillar and men working on the left; stone wall and tree to the front; other tombstones and the Franklin mountains on the right.
Backing up about 30 feet, she assumes a good prone position on the ground. Left leg out, right leg drawn up into her torso, bare elbows firmly planted in the gravel. “Everything I learned about photography, I learned in the Army. This forms a sturdy tripod.”
She reaches over, taking the camera out of its black bag. It has a long lens and can capture a tack sharp image at 200 mm. Just like firing a weapon. “Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale… squeeze the trigger.”
In the distance, she hears the echo of Curtis’s voice, talking to another man, “She’s a Memorial Service Photographer.”