Ayer photographer shares local veterans’ portraits, stories

Ayer photographer shares local veterans' portraits, stories

AYER, Mass. — An Ayer photographer spent eight months taking portraits of local veterans and sharing their stories.

Bret Bahe held an event honoring those veterans and displaying his black-and-white portraits at Ayer Town Hall on Friday night.

“Every one of the vets had a smile on their face,” said an emotional Bahe of Friday’s event. “And to have people come up to them and just actually thank them and shake their hand, it was like the coolest experience I’ve ever had.”

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Bahe featured 18 men and women, some who fought in wars and others who were never deployed, but all who served their country proudly.

Last night was the end of an 8 month labor of love for me. During that 8 months I met 18 men and women that served our...

Posted by Bret Bahe on Saturday, January 11, 2020

“These men and women took it upon themselves to fight for our freedom.”

One man, a Marine who served in Vietnam, returned from war with post-traumatic stress disorder. In a book of stories compiled by Bahe, the Marine’s wife wrote about his memories of killing the enemy and drowning his anguish in alcohol.

Another man, Vernon Sydney Clark, told his story of joining the Army when he was 17 and fighting in World War II in the Philippines in an all-black infantry.

“He’s missing the pointer finger in his right hand. And I said, ‘Vernon, what happened to your finger? And he goes, ‘Well, a Japanese soldier said that he needed it more than I did, so he shot it off,’” Bahe recalled of his conversation with Clark. “I said, ‘Did they send you home? He said, ‘No, they just bandaged me up and told me to use my middle finger to pull my trigger.”

Bahe spent four hours with Clark, learning his story. Shortly after his portrait was taken, Clark died at 93 years old.

“It’s really sad that Vernon died,” Bahe said. “But I’m happy, because…I got the chance to meet him, and his story is not lost now.”

Army veteran Frank Pecci attended Ayer Town Hall Friday, shaking hands of those who came to honor him. In his portrait, he clutches a sniper rifle similar to one he used in Vietnam, before he was wounded.

“I was shot, I was blown up, I was stabbed in the back with a bayonet,” Pecci said of his injuries. “Unfortunately, the vets that were willing to give up lives for their country served in that war and were treated very badly for a long time.”

But today, decades after his service, Pecci often receives the respect he deserves from complete strangers. Friday’s event was an honor for him.

“I thought it was great,” Pecci said. “I thought it was really like a long time coming, you know? That we were actually being recognized for what we did.”

Bahe also held an event in Bolton in November for Veterans’ Day. Dozens attended to honor the veterans. Bahe has also gathered hundreds of dollars in donations to benefit the Gary Sinise Foundation, which builds smart homes for wounded veterans.