This classic, vintage WW II photo is by Horace Bristol, titled “Blister Gunner.” The gunner had stripped off his clothes to jump into the water to rescue a downed airman in Papua New Guinea. Immediately after the rescue, the plane took off, since it was taking flak at the time. The rescuer returned to his gunner station naked, having no time to put on his uniform. This famous photo was subsequently published (2004) in “At Ease – Navy Men of World War II” by Evan Bachner. Most of the photographs are of young soldiers at the peak of their physical prime, often showing innocent physical affection for each other.
In the years following World War II, images of comradeship, particularly of men being physically close, largely disappeared from the public record. But, as these stunning photographs attest, ordinary American men in the extraordinary circumstances of World War II were affectionate, winsome, and playful – disarmingly innocent in a time of cataclysmic peril. Led by photography giant Captain Edward J. Steichen, the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit was organized during the war to record the daily experiences of Navy men all over the world and to provide newspapers and magazines with images to promote the American cause.