Veteran Salute: Capturing military from behind the lens

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – One veteran said he was the little guy growing up, so he was bullied and was always picked last when it came to sports.

Instead of just standing on the sidelines, he figured out how to capture life as it went by.

Chester Bernat worked at a photography studio in high school and junior college before he volunteered for the draft.

“Just shows the various things I photographed,” Veteran Chester Bernat said.

Bernat was just a teen when he fell in love.

“When I seen that piece of paper go into that developer and develop into a picture, that just sparked an interest,” Bernat said.

He started taking pictures at just 13 years old, so he knew exactly what he wanted to do when he signed up to serve.

“I learned a lot from that guy,” Bernat said.

His sergeant’s lessons sure came in handy in the field.

“It was just like going to work in a studio, you never knew,” Bernat said.

Like the time he was called out to take a photo of his stolen Jeep.

“So my first assignment, as a duty photographer, was taking a picture of my own Jeep there in a pineapple field, see the pineapple,” Bernat said.

From storage and inventory to golf games in the pouring rain, to WACS, to sanctuaries, even the daily mail, Bernat captured it all.

“At mail call that evening, I got a box of cookies from my Mom, and I bet you they were in this pile of stuff,” Bernat said.

He was always looking for ways to make his work standout.

“I shot through the fire triangle, and this was published in the Honolulu Star Bulletin,” Bernat said.

He was once sent to capture an honest John rocket.

“This was an assignment, but it got cancelled once I went there,” Bernat said.

He was reminded on that shoot, how timing is everything.

“It was within a 16th of an inch, on the negative of being nothing,” Bermat said. “That’s how close that was, that is luck.”

The unbelievable capture was an award winner.

“Won first place,” Bernat said.

He received that first place in the U.S. Army Photo Contest, and then went on to place second in the International All Service Competition.

Chester said he got real good at noticing what most didn’t.

“There’s no bullets, on this, and the gun is plugged up,” Bernat said.

From troops role-playing to standouts on the field and plenty of dignitaries.

“This is King Usain of Jordan,” Bernat said.

Even hula dancers.

“She was there, doing a little dance, and she’s kinda pretty,” Bernat said.

There were also many formal events.

“This is the general, and I don’t know if that is his wife or somebody else,” Bernat said.

Sometimes he had to climb to extreme heights.

“I asked my photo officer if I could get up on the roof,” Bernat said.

He crawled on top of a bus to grab the perfect shot, on a trip to Thailand.

“This was published in the Bangkok Times,” Bernat said.

His work was not only published but award-winning, and that’s even more impressive when you consider these were taken far before the digital era.

“You had to wait, a few minutes, maybe a day or so, before you seen what you’ve got,” Bernat said.

He said sometimes they didn’t even quite take the picture.

“I said, I have run out of film sir, and he said you got any flashbulbs, I said, yeah, I’ve got plenty of flashbulbs, he said just keep shooting, they won’t know the difference,” Bernat said.

He said when he did have all he needed, it was quite a chore going up and down the Hawaiian hills.

“I have my weapon, an Army 45, gas mask, my camera, and film holders,” Bernat said.

He said he sure enjoyed all the photography, but he wasn’t a fan of peeling potatoes on kitchen patrol.

He said he often got that assignment, since his name starts with a B.

“B-Bernat go to the mess hall, it wasn’t punishment, it’s just the way it was,” Bernat said.

After his last birdie was captured, he was also given a unique pen holder when he left, it was a first of its kind and had a statue of a photographer on it.

“See this guy is a civilian,” Bernat said.

That’s exactly what Bernat went on to become.

“I started my business, two months after I got back home,” Bernat said.

After more than 50 years of life behind the lens, it still takes Bernat no time to pick his favorite.

“The next one,” Bernat said.

Bernat was part of the team that would capture many photos of the troops, then dash back to the lab to develop and print them, so when the guys would leave the military they’d have an album.

Those are more than likely all over the world now, so it’s hard to even imagine how far and wide the reach of his work really is.

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