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A son preserves history through his father's iconic photos

PALM HARBOR

In the mid 1980s, retired Navy Cmdr. Gerald "Jerry'' Pulley began mailing boxes filled with pictures to his son, Donn Pulley.

There were photos of Jerry with Adm. Richard Byrd during Byrd's survey of the South Pacific islands in 1943. Pictures taken onboard the USS Missouri during the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender with Gen. Douglas MacArthur in September 1945. Photos shot by Navy pilots on reconnaissance missions over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

The elder Pulley's career included stints as a combat photographer during World War II, as White House photographer during the Truman administration and as officer in charge of the Fleet Air Photo Laboratory in Jacksonville during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Throughout it all, he was a stickler for keeping copies of his photos.

Before his death in 2011 in Virginia Beach, Jerry mailed Donn, who lives in Palm Harbor, dozens of packages containing his work.

"It started on a trip I made to Virginia years ago. That's when he showed me several wooden lockers he had filled with photographs,'' said Donn, 61. "Wherever I moved, I'd make room to store the stuff. It was my dad's, so, of course, I would do it.''

However, recently Donn realized that the public should have access to the collection.

"In November, when the country was honoring the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, I went to the closet and pulled out Dad's original Washington Posts from that time that he had saved," Donn said. "I started looking through the other boxes, too, and it occurred to me that with all these photos, I was sitting on history that others should see.''

In January, Donn invited Andy Huse, a librarian in the special collections department of the University of South Florida Library, to his home to view the collection. Huse recalled that when he saw the hundreds of pictures on the dining room table, he experienced "... a sort of deja vu.''

"I was looking at all these classic pictures, and I thought how amazing it was that all these iconic images were connected to the same person," he said. "We'll be able to organize the collection, rehouse it in stable boxes and folders, and eventually the (USF) digitization unit will scan the material, making it accessible for historical research.''

Jerry's Navy career began with a twist of fate.

In 1941, fresh out of boot camp, he and about 100 other new soldiers were preparing to board the USS Arizona, the legendary ship sunk by Japanese bombers in Pearl Harbor.

"The men in charge came through and asked if there was anyone who could type. My dad raised his hand, and they yanked him out to be a yeoman for someone,'' Donn said. "Everyone else who got on that ship was killed.''

Within a year, Jerry was sent from Virginia to the Pensacola Naval Air Station for more training. In 1942, after he earned the position of photographer's mate, he was assigned to the USS Concord and served under Byrd in the South Pacific, taking photos of Byrd's mapping expeditions.

After the war ended, he served as the White House photographer during the Truman administration. With his camera, he documented events ranging from Truman's whistle-stop campaigning to the historic meeting of Truman and Winston Churchill onboard the presidential yacht, the USS Williamsburg, in 1952.

"My mother still has a cigar in a case that Churchill gave Dad,'' Donn said.

As Donn has collected information in recent months, he has reached out to other Navy photographers through social networking.

"I have heard from so many photographers who remember Dad," Donn said. "I've been told he was not just a great photographer but a great teacher. Some call him the father of naval photography.''

He recently met Herb Gold, a former Navy photographer who lives in Tampa, on Facebook. Gold recalled meeting Jerry in the late 1950s in Jacksonville.

"He did so much, but I think some of his most important work was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was the commanding officer of the Air Fleet Photo Lab at that time,'' said Gold, 84. "His crew was responsible for taking care of the pictures. So much was averted because of the photo reconnaissance. It proved the Russians were building missile sites in Cuba.''

Donn stressed that as a military photographer, his father didn't get a credit when his photos were published. "He told me that he'd take pictures and give them to people at (the Associated Press) and (United Press International),'' he said. "For me, getting his collection to a place like USF is all about getting Dad that credit he deserves.''

Donn's intentions are appreciated by Huse.

"A lot of people come into a collection and the first thing they think about is money,'' Huse said. "They might think, 'Where is the Antiques Roadshow?' But for Mr. Pulley, this is not about money. This is his father's life, and he's proud of that. He's preserving not just the collection as a unit, but his dad's life's work.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

A son preserves history through his father's iconic photos 04/18/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 2:36pm]
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