James Fee, who died of cancer in September, was born on Pearl Harbor Day, 1949. That's the least of the ironies that this photograph contains. It was made on the Pacific island of Peleliu where his father, Russell, served as a medic near the war's end. During a 72-day battle in which more than 20,000 men died, Russell ferried wounded GIs under heavy fire to a ship that could have ended up like this one.
In a way, for Russell, it did. "I wonder when I'll be back. If?," he wrote home in 1944. Though never wounded physically, Russell was as disabled as this ship foundering in shallow water. As a boy in Iowa, James would awaken at night to find his father, in uniform, pointing a gun at him. His father threatened him with a gun again in 1968 when he wouldn't enlist, so James lit out for California. Four years later, Russell committed suicide.
In 1998, James went to Peleliu himself. Though now a professional photographer, he came back with only one picture--the one you see here. A second trip yielded a larger trove, published in 2002 as "The Peleliu Project." But this image remains his ultimate memorial to his father's tormented life.
James Fee's own memorial will be held at the Craig Krull Gallery in Santa Monica at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.