An air force veteran who was seriously injured after being blown up twice in two separate roadside bomb attacks has found a new calling, photographing veterans of wars from World War Two up to the present day.
Stacy Pearsall, a retired US Air Force staff sergeant, suffered a devastating neck injury after she was caught up in two separate IED attacks in Baghdad, first in February 2004 and then in March 2007.
After being forced to leave active duty because of recurring pain, she was at risk of falling into depression, but found comfort by building on her love of photography, meeting fellow veterans and capturing haunting images of them in uniform.
Since August 2008 she has photographed more than 100 veterans of various conflicts for a series she has named ‘Veterans Portraits’.
She said: “When I left the military it was not on my terms and it was a very dark period. Military service was my life. When it got taken away from me it was like having the wind taken out of my sails.
“I turned to portrait photography. I never anticipated it to be therapy but it was.”
In February 2004, two weeks before Mrs Pearsall was set to return home after a tour of duty in Iraq, she was struck by a roadside bomb.
She said: “I walked away from the explosion and didn’t realise how badly I was injured. I didn’t know it at the time, but when I was hit I seriously injured my neck and sustained brain trauma.
“I got home two weeks later. I was cooking dinner one evening, and the world flipped upside down. I fell to the floor, and had no idea what was going on.
“I was diagnosed with vertigo but was still well enough to return to Baghdad in 2007.”
Another attack three years later was equally devastating, but she tried to return to active service, until she was forced to retire in 2008.
In August that year her medical care was transferred to a Veterans’ Administration Hospital where she went for treatment. During her time there she began talking to fellow veterans, learning more about their stories.
She said: “I got to know a World War Two veteran. He leaned over and asked if I was there to support my grandfather. He was surprised when I told him I was actually the veteran. We soon began trading stories.
“This encounter made me realise a lot of people have a specific idea of what a veteran should look like – but despite the physical differences between me and him we shared many of the same experiences.”
Freshly inspired, Mrs Pearsall approached organisations, including The Veterans’ Health Administration, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the United Services Automobile Association to fund her portrait project.
Mrs Pearsall, 34, of Goose Creek, South Carolina, said: “A Vietnam veteran once came in for a portrait and told me his job was to identify bodies which were mutilated beyond recognition. War creates horror beyond comprehension.
“I hadn’t noticed at the time but as he told me this his wife was in the corner of the room, crying. Afterwards she hugged me and told me she had lived with him for decades but had never been told about his experiences in the war.
“Why he chose to talk about it at that specific point in time I will never know. I just listened.”
Mrs Pearsall continues travelling around America, photographing her fellow veterans. Her work can be seen on her website: stacypearsall.photoshelter.com.
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