Photo to Honor Marine's Father Becomes Korean War Vets Stamp
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2003 The weather conditions were perfect: Heavy snowfall was blasting the Washington metro region with up to 25 inches. It was just the moment John W. Alli had been waiting for to do something to honor his father.
Marine Corps Reserve Lt. Col. John W. Alli of Catonsville, Md., poses with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz at the July 27, 2003, Postal Service dedication of the Korean War Veterans Memorial postage stamp on the Washington Mall. Alli took the photograph that was used to design the stamp after a heavy snowstorm in January 1996. Photo by Yvonne Johnson
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
For years, he'd listened to his father talk about the bone-chilling cold temperatures in Korea during that war in the early 1950's. He decided what more meaningful retirement gift could he give his father than a picture representing the bitter cold on the Korean peninsula.
Alli slid out of bed in the middle of the night in his suburban Maryland home Jan. 7, 1996, revved up his four-wheel drive truck and headed for the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall.
When he got to Washington, he said, "all the roads within one mile were blocked as snow plows cleared the roads of snow. I hiked the mile through the snow in the dark pre-dawn hours and then set up my camera equipment for the shot.
"As I waited in the dark freezing weather for the first light of dawn I thought, "This is nothing compared to what Korean War veterans had to endure," said Alli, a lieutenant colonel aviator in the Marine Corps Reserve and a commercial airline pilot.
"At the first hint of light I began taking a series of photographs," he said. "By the time the sun had risen, I was done and on my way back to the truck.
"I took this photo with the purpose of giving it to my father for his retirement ceremony after 40 years in the government," Alli explained. "I wanted the photo to have the effect of the Korean winters -- bitter coldness.
"The photo I named 'Real Life' turned out great," he said. "I signed the first print, framed it and gave it to my father at his retirement ceremony."
His father, William E. Alli, 72, of Bowie, Md., was a Marine machine gunner during the Korean War. At the State Department, he worked on feeding people overseas in the population development section of the Agency for International Development. He retired in 2002.
Alli's mother, a former schoolteacher, is now a homemaker. His wife, Patricia Sue McDonald is a physician at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. The couple has young two sons.
An avid photographer since 1986, Alli was so pleased with his work that he entered it in Naval Institute "Proceedings" magazine's photo contest and won first prize. The picture appeared on the magazine's front cover. He has also won awards for his work in other national and international publications as well in advertisements.
The "Real Life" photo caught the eye of Postal Service stamp officials, who used it to design a 37-cents stamp honoring the Korean War Veterans Memorial to help ensure "The Forgotten War" is remembered for generations to come. The stamp was issued as part of the Defense Department's 50th Anniversary of the Korean War armistice commemoration ceremony, which officially ends on Veterans Day Nov. 11.
The photograph depicts a patrol of 19 stainless steel 7-foot-tall statues 14 soldiers, one sailor, one airman and three Marines trudging through snow in a wedge formation toward an objective. The statues represent a racial and ethnic cross section of America white, African-Americans, Asians, American Indians and Hispanics.
At first glance from a distance, the photograph looks like real infantrymen, which prompted Alli's to "Real Life" title.
Graduating with a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Towson (Md.) State University in 1983, Alli, 42, received an Marine ROTC commission. A naval aviator, Alli left active duty after two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf and joined the Marine Corps Reserves.
Alli and his brother Robert deployed to the Persian Gulf together in the same Marine expeditionary unit during Operation Desert Shield in June 1990. John Alli flew AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 164. In the reserves, he flew helicopters with the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 775.
In 1993, Alli began working as an aviation consultant in the Washington area. He worked on cockpit design and tactical scenarios, creating computer-based training demos and marketing videos. In 1998, he began flying as a commercial airline pilot and continued to fly in the Marine Reserve.
"My dad said when he was in Korea during the war, the people were starving to death. Now they're not," Alli noted. "They're a prosperous country. You look at how much we invested over there. It was a tremendous investment with a human life, people, time and money. Look at the difference.
"(Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul) Wolfowitz said that some people say the Korean War was a tie; others say it was a loss," he noted. "I don't call 50 years of freedom and prosperity a tie, especially compared to what's over the DMZ (demilitarized zone)."
He said no one knows how the situation in Iraq is going to turn out, but some people compare it with the Marshall Plan after World War II in Germany and Japan. "How about Korea's 50 years of freedom?" Alli asked. "That's what the Korean War made you think of, giving hope and fighting for something.
"I'm happy that my dad got a good gift out of this," Alli said. "That's the only reason I took the photo."
About a year after the 1996 snowstorm, Alli returned to photograph the memorial during the summer. There he met a former Marine Korean War veteran who had traveled from Missouri to put an American flag next to the statue of a squad leader.
"It was to honor a Marine second lieutenant who was his platoon commander in Korea," Alli noted. "The lieutenant saved his platoon, and in doing so, paid the ultimate price."
Allie took the veteran to breakfast and later sent him a copy of his "Real Life" photo. "It was the least I could do for an American that fought for our country and knew the meaning of, 'All gave some, and some gave all.'"