In 1944, Bob Rans came back to the United States after more than a year as a prisoner of war in Romania. He’d suffered from third-degree burns on his face and hands. But so many of his friends hadn't come home.
He considered himself lucky.
As he recovered, someone took photos of him, the doctors, nurses and friends he’d made and gave them to him. Despite serious injuries, he went on to live a good and long life. At 88, he wanted to give back.
“That’s when he said, ‘I want to do this, what somebody did for me,’ ” said friend Bill Connery.
Mr. Rans spent the last 10 years of his life taking photos of wounded veterans, as his hearing failed, as his eyesight faded. He took his final photos in June.
He died of heart failure July 3. He was 98.
The B-24 flew low. Mr. Rans sat inside with 11 others on a bombing raid Aug. 1, 1943. The goal – cut off Hitler’s oil supply.
But Mr. Rans’ plane caught flack, then fire.
He parachuted out and woke in a field.
The leather flying suit he wore covered everything but his face and hands, which suffered third-degree burns. He was one of three who made it off that plane.
Mr. Rans spent 13 months as a prisoner of war in Romania. When the war ended and he was freed, he spent another year in a VA hospital.
“He always said, in every instance, I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Connery said. “I got out of that plane. I was lucky. I landed in a field and the Germans didn’t shoot me.”
He was in the custody of Romanians, who took good care of him - lucky.
He married his childhood friend - lucky.
He used the GI Bill to go to college and worked for a steel company as a salesman for 30 years, raised two children, found a second career at St. Petersburg Junior College, found love again after his wife died - lucky.
Mr. Rans lived his life like he knew it.
More than a decade ago, Mr. Rans, Connery and other veterans in their senior community at Tampa’s Aston Gardens started a veterans club. Then he began attending Operation Helping Hand’s monthly dinners for wounded vets and their families.
His son helped him set up a small carryon. Inside were his camera, a printer and frames.
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For 10 years, Mr. Rans walked around those dinners with his Nikon around his neck taking photos of veterans and their families. After they were printed, he put the four-by-six pictures into frames with thank you notes written on the back.
Sometimes, Mr. Rans’ son and daughter-in-law went to help out. Bob Rans used to watch his dad deliver the photos after they were ready. His message was always the same.
“I was in the same position you were in 50 years ago,” he’d say. “This is my son. This is my daughter-in-law. Life goes on. You’ll be OK.”
Senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Know someone who has recently died whom we should write about? Send suggestions to Kristen Hare at email@example.com.
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