Statue honoring war photographers dedicated on Memorial Day Weekend at Veterans Park

War Photographer Memorial statue recently installed at Veterans Park. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – A funny thing happened to Eric Bailey on the way to the dedication of a War Photographer Memorial in Manchester on Friday.

Bailey, of Phoenix Precast Products, was out on an early septic tank installation in Barrington. He built in enough time to get from Barrington to his Concord office so he could change clothes, and then drive down to Veterans Park in time for the installation of the statue.

Turns out Phoenix Precast works with cement for all sorts of projects – from septic tank installations to heavy bronze statues in need of a sturdy base.

Bailey not only made it to the ceremony in time, but so did his septic tank customer, Marshall Bishop.

“I wasn’t acquanted with Mr. Bishop before today, but as I was doing the installation at his house I noticed he had a military background so I mentioned I was heading to Manchester next for the dedication of a statue honoring military photographers. Turns out he was a military photographer, with the Marines,” said Bailey. 

The odds of that are hard to calculate but Bishop knew a call to action when he heard it.

The war photographer statue seems to be keeping a watchful eye on the crowd at the ribbon cutting on May 24, 2024. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Close-up of inscription on the back of statue recognizing SP4 George J. (Josh) Denoncourt, who served in the 1st Infantry Division as an Army war photographer during his time in Vietnam. Photo/Carol Robidoux

He synchronized his watch for ten-hundred-thirty hours, hopped in his car and made it from Barrington to Manchester inside of 45 minutes – right on time to see Josh Denoncourt snip the ribbon on the freshly-installed statue, its shadow already moving across the park with the Memorial Day weekend sun. 

Bishop’s gut reaction to the statue?

“Oh shit – that’s me,” said Bishop, with a hearty laugh. He leaned in on one of his crutches as he reminisced about his time in the trenches. It’s not often veterans who chronicled war from behind the lens see themselves reflected in public spaces, and especially not like this.

The statue is a gift to the City from the family of Josh Denoncourt. He attended the brief dedication and cut the ceremonial ribbon after reflecting on his own service, and the meaning behind the statue. Denoncourt, 76, volunteered for the draft in 1967.

Josh Denoncourt, left, and Marshall Bishop, right, just a couple of Vietnam combat photographers. Photo/Carol Robidoux

The $100,000 endowment to the City was funded with a grant from the Broadside Foundation which had surplus funds unused by the JFK Museum and Library toward their war photography archive digitization project.

During his remarks Denoncourt told of how, before he left for the recruiting office, his father took him aside and urged him to save some of his $75 monthly paycheck. “They’ll give you everything you need; you’re not going to need all the money they give you,” said his father – who was the one who taught him photography.

Denoncourt vowed to his father that he’d save half his paycheck and so when a sergeant advised the new recruits during basic training to buy U.S. Bonds “or they’d be in a world of hurt,”  Denoncourt purchased a $50 bond for $37.50. He further explained that those who enlisted usually got their pick of jobs based on what the recruiter promised them, while those who were drafted replicated their day jobs in some way, or accepted whatever was assigned.

His generous investment of half his salary in a U.S. bond so impressed the brass that the sergeant said “give him whatever he wants” for a job. Denoncourt, whose civilian job was a customs import broker, decided instead to say he was an amateur photographer. 

“I guess the ‘amateur’ didn’t catch with him and that’s how I got to carry that camera,” he said, a note of pride ringing in his voice. He nodded toward the replica of the military-issue camera portrayed in the statue. “The camera looks big, but it’s 150 percent to scale and that camera is the end of an era – everything’s digital now but they continued to use some aspect of that technology up until about 10 or 15 years ago; so the time now is right to honor these individuals,” he said. 

Josh Denoncourt, left, talks with Eric Bailey, center of Phoenix Preset, and Kate Waldo, right of the city Parks department. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Historically Denoncourt noted that the 1st Infantry Division, aka “Big Red One” with which he served (so named for the large number 1 in their insignia), deserves credit for deploying more combat still photo specialists than any other, going back to WWI.

He praised sculptor Matt Glenn of the Utah-based Big Statues, who got it all just right, Denoncourt said, from the nuances of the uniform and helmet right down to his watchful expression based on photographs he provided.

Denoncourt credited Phoenix Precast for saving the day, as Ray Popsie and Ryan Dore offered a “concrete solution,” after the quarry said they couldn’t provide a big-enough slab for his project until 2028. 

His “thank-you list” also included former Mayor Craig, who was in attendance, along with Mayor Jay Ruais and the aldermanic boards from both administrations, Phoenix installers Eric Bailey and Bill Corson, Swenson Granite, David Noonan Wrought Iron, which will provide a small protective fence, shout-outs to city Parks Director Mark Gomez and Parks Project manager Kate Waldo,  and U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.

Prior to the ribbon cutting, Ruais recognized the timing of the installation and what it means to include those who served as combat phographers as part of the array of memorials at Veterans Park:

“Today’s dedication holds special significance as it coincides with Memorial Day weekend, a day when we pause to honor and remember the courageous men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our nation. It is a day of reflection and gratitude and respect for those who have laid down their lives to protect the freedoms that we hold dear,” Ruais said.

“Combat photographers occupied a unique and vital role within our armed forces. With cameras as their weapons, they capture the stark realities of war –  the triumphs, the tragedies, and the raw emotions found on the battlefield. Their work not only documents history but also brings the stories of our service men and women into the public eye ensuring that their bravery and sacrifice are never forgotten. The statute we dedicate today is not just a tribute to a singular individual, but a representation of all combat photographers who have risked their lives to bring their truth of war to the world. It stands as a reminder of their courage, their skill and their unwavering commitment to their mission. Through their lenses they have shown us the true cost of freedom, and the resilience of the human spirit.”

Below, a video of the ribbon cutting. Video/Carol Robidoux