A blog by Bill Hess

Running Dog Publications

P.O. Box 872383 Wasilla, Alaska 99687


All photos and text © Bill Hess, unless otherwise noted 
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Wasilla is the place where I have lived for the past 29 years - sort of. The house in which my wife and I raised our family sits here, but I have made my rather odd career as a different sort of photojournalist by continually wandering off to other places to photograph people and gather information, which I have then put together in various publications that have served the Alaska Native Eskimo, Indian and Aleut communities.

Although I did not have a great of free time to devote to this rather strange community, named after a Tanaina Athabascan Indian chief who knew Wasilla in the way that I so impossibly long to, I have still documented it regularly over the past quarter-century plus. In the early days, my Wasilla photographs focused mostly upon my children and the events they participated in - baseball, football, figure skating, hockey, frog catching, fire cracker detonation, Fourth of July parade - that sort of thing. 

In 2002, I purchased my first digital camera and then, whenever I was home, I began to photograph Wasilla upon a daily basis, but not in a conventional way. These were grab shots - whatever caught my eye as I took my many long walks or drove through the town, shooting through the car window at people and scenes that appeared and disappeared before I could even focus and compose in the traditional photographic way.

Thus, the Wasilla portion of this blog will be devoted both to the images that I take as I wander about and those that I have taken in the past. Despite the odd, random, nature of the images, I believe they communicate something powerful about this town that I have never seen expressed anywhere else. 

Wasilla is a sprawling community that has been slapped down hodge-podge upon what was so recently wilderness of the most exquisite beauty. In its design, it is deliberately anti-zoned, anti-planned. In the building of Wasilla, the desire to make a buck has trumped aesthetics and all other considerations. This town, built in the midst of exquisite beauty, has largely become an unsightly, unattractive, mess of urban sprawl. Largely because of this, it often seems to me that Wasilla is a community with no sense of community, a town devoid of town soul.

Yet - Wasilla is my home and if I am lucky it will be until I grow old and die. Despite its horrific failings, it is still made of the stuff of any small city: people; moms and dads, grammas and grampas, teens, children, churches, bars, professionals, laborers, soldiers, missionaries, artists, athletes, geniuses, do-gooders, hoodlums, the wealthy, the homeless, the rational and logical, the slightly insane and the wholly insane - and, yes, as is now obvious to the whole world, politicians, too.

So perhaps, if one were to search hard enough, it might just be possible to find a sense of community here, and a town soul. So, using my skills as a photojournalist and a writer, I hope to do just that. If this place has a sense of community, I will find it. If there is a town soul to Wasilla, I will document it. I won't compete with the newspapers. Hell no! But as time and income allow, it will be fun to wander into the places where the folks described above gather, and then put what I find on this blog.


by 300...

Anywhere within a 300 mile radius of Wasilla. This encompasses perhaps the most wild, dramatic, gorgeous, beautiful section of land and sea to be found in any comparable space anywhere on Earth. I can never explore it all, but I will do the best that I can, and will here share what I find and experience with you.  

and then some...

Anywhere else in the world that I happen to get to, such as Point Lay, Alaska; Missoula, Montana; Serenki, Chukotka, Russia; or Bangalore, India. Perhaps even Lagos, Nigeria. I have both a desire and scheme to get me there. It is a long shot. We shall see if I succeed.

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In honor of a veteran Dad who flew into hell... again... and again... and again... along with all other veterans and those who now serve

Dad is the man who lies in this flag-draped coffin. I will not say too much about him for now, except that he was a good father and that, thanks to him, and many more like him, most of them gone now, the evil dream of a man named Hitler died in flames and blood.

We buried Dad on June 2, 2007. He died on Memorial Day.

A short time earlier, at his Mormon chapel in Sandy, Utah. You can see that Melanie served as one of the pre-honor guard pallbearers. To her left stands my nephew-in-law, Vivek Iyer and to her right, my nephew-in-law, Steve Cook. My niece, Sarah Fox, daughter of my late brother, Ron, stands on the other side of the coffin.

Other family members can be seen in the background, including my brothers Mac and Rex and my nieces, Khena and Shaela.

A few days earlier, as he lay on his death bed. The important thing to understand about the picture that my sister, Mary Ann, shows to Dad before he goes is that it is not just any old, dramatic, war picture. It is a picture that I grew up with, because it was taken from his B-24 bomber and he knew the men in the plane that is breaking apart.

He knew also that it could just as easily have been his plane and at any moment might yet be. Each time he sandwiched himself into the navigator's hutch he knew this. Yet always he went. Fear did not stop him.

Dad did this kind of thing over and over during World War II, flying out of bases in North Africa and Europe. Once, he and his crew took off on a mission in a squadron of seven. Only their airplane reached the target and returned.

Another time, a German machine gun bullet ripped through the fuselage and struck his flight helmet right at his forehead. It spun the helmet around 180 degrees and knocked Dad unconscious. Believing him to be dead, his Captain ordered another crewman to shove him aside and take his place.

Mary Ann gives Dad a kiss.

Dad, as he looked on August 8, 2004.

I will post these images again one day. I once sent several stories that I wrote about Dad to Soundarya after she requested that I do so. Last summer, she told me that I should post them here and I will, when the time is right and I have the time.

I should also note that this is not one of the week's plus worth of posts that I put up on Thursday, November 5, because I was too ill to concentrate on my work and wanted to have several days of uninterrupted time to concentrate on my work as I recovered. I did not think of Veteran's Day at that time. 

The deaths of the 13 soldiers at Fort Hood and those that we continually hear about in Afghanistan and Iraq put Veteran's Day into my head.

Along with my Dad, I honor all these as well, along with those who now stand in harm's way.

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Reader Comments (12)

We should never forget those who served and their familes for all of their sacrifices. Thank you for another wonderful post.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergdwyer

Veteran's Day is an important day to all of us. My mind cannot even come up with words that would wisely and adequately express appreciation to all those who served....those who served with your Dad as well as all the others. God bless them all.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWhiteStone

Thank you for sharing this with us. In his eyes I see my grandfather and I am reminded again of all he did in much the same way. Touching post.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHistoryGoddess

What a beautiful post. To all those who have served or are serving, we thank you.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMikey

Thanks for such a personal post.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdahli22

Very nice post written by a son who was, doubtless, every bit as proud of his father as his father was of him.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

I am sorry for your loss. It's sad we are losing the veterans of WWII. Both George McGovern and Elder Boyd K. Packer were B-24 pilots during the war. Your father was in good company.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Wow. What an incredible story. Thank you so much for sharing this about your dad. I am a Navy veteran, my husband is retired from the Navy, my dad was a Marine during Vietnam. I grew up hearing about men like your dad and what they went through for this country. On this Veterans Day I salute and honor your fathers memory, and all of the men and women who have served this country honorably.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisaJ

Thank you -- we lost an uncle, who was in the Battle of the Bulge, two weeks ago. They are leaving us one by one, but they had such courage and honor. Thank you to all our service men and women who serve for us.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Nancy

It's been a challenge to work after seeing post, been thinking about Grandpa. He is truely missed.

November 11, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJfH

Bill, Thank you. I loved your father.

November 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

Thanks, everybody, for your many kind comments.

November 12, 2009 | Registered CommenterWasilla, Alaska, by 300

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