Photo exhibition ‘WWII Heroes’ lands in Big Bend

Museum of the Big Bend requests bios and photos that honor local WWII veterans

World War II veteran Raymond Chavez sits with his dog in a photograph by Zach Coco, on view beginning Monday at the Museum of the Big Bend.

ALPINE — WWII Heroes, the Museum of the Big Bend’s latest exhibition, will open Monday, January 18, showcasing 31 original portraits of World War II veterans taken by Zach Coco.

The event marks Coco’s first museum exhibition, and the stunning photos displayed take a look at men and women from the “Greatest Generation” who served in the armed forces, photographing them as they are today.

The exhibition’s photographer began the project after losing his grandfather, a World War II veteran, when he realized that many of the faces and stories of those who fought in WWII were in their twilight years. Hoping to preserve their stories, he sought veterans to photograph in appreciation of their service and their sacrifices along the way.

Maggie Rubelow, curator of temporary exhibits at the Museum of the Big Bend, hand-selected the 31 photos with Coco from over 100 images he’s taken of veterans. She wanted to exhibit Coco’s work in part to recognize the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, but also to “testify to our gratitude to these veterans while they are still with us. We’re so honored to be able to thank them and be part of a movement that’s trying to recognize them for these huge sacrifices.”

Coco’s mission to capture and share these stories resonated with the curator. As part of the exhibition, each photo has an accompanying biography, where viewers can learn about their backstory. “I hope viewers take the chance to really spend time with a portrait of a veteran and read their story, their biography, their account of what they went through, the choices they made.”

While many of the veterans from the era have been lost over the years, Rubelow hopes younger generations are able to visit the exhibit and connect with their stories, believing they will resonate long after the exhibition has closed.

Matt Walter, the museum’s curator of collections, pulled artifacts like WWII savings bonds posters, maps and military uniforms out of the museum’s permanent collection to display with the photos, connecting the exhibit to the history of Big Bend residents’ participation in the war.

In addition to Coco’s photographs, the accompanying biographies and the curated artifacts, the museum is collecting photographs and stories of local WWII veterans – and looking to the public for help.

The museum hopes to display photos and biographies of local veterans to honor their service. Friends, family and the veterans themselves are invited to participate, by emailing a high-quality image with a short biography of the WWII veteran to maggie.rumbelow@sulross.edu. The images can be from present day or from their time in service. The reproduced images and bios will be on display in the museum library for the duration of the show.

In sifting through over 100 photos and biographies, Rubelow saw patterns emerge among these veterans’ stories. “A resounding voice was, ‘We did what we had to do,’” she said, “It was a huge sacrifice for all, but people were willing to do it – and proud to do it.”

A West Texan who read about the forthcoming exhibition shared the photo of her family member Julian Rosales in combat. The museum hopes others will share photos of veterans in service or as they are today. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the Big Bend

Museum Director Mary Bones said, “The Museum of the Big Bend is ordinarily closed on Mondays, but we decided that with the MLK weekend, many friends in the Big Bend as well as visitors might have a three-day holiday. We wanted to give these folks the opportunity to see this wonderful exhibit. We hope this show will inspire viewers to realize the importance of documenting their own family’s histories.”

Biographies for the portraits can be viewed on cell phones by use of a QR code on labels next to each portrait or on gallery guides that will be available. The collection can also be viewed virtually at www.museumofthebigbend.com.

All works are for sale, and 100% of proceeds will be donated to area VFW and American Legion chapters.

The Museum of the Big Bend is at Sul Ross State University at Entrance #4, open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. To learn more visit www.museumofthebigbend.com or call 432-837-8143. WW II Heroes opens on Monday, January 18 and runs through March 25.


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