GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. (WCCO) – The tools of Daniel Novak’s war experience are stored in a locked briefcase. While most World War II soldiers were armed with weapons, Novak had black and white film.
“It was the same as being a foot soldier, except you weren’t shooting a gun, you were shooting a camera,” said the 90-year-old Novak.
Between 1944 and 1945, Novak was an Army photographer assigned to the Signal Corps. He served in India, China and Burma.
His still and motion images captured wartime life for both soldiers and famous generals. The duties spanned a wide range, from engaging in fierce battles with the Japanese to building roads and airstrips in the rugged and mountainous terrain.
“This was Christmas day,” Novak said as he pointed to some soldiers who are well entrenched.
Hundreds of his black-and-white images were largely off limits until just recently. Photographers didn’t own their work but instead, the images belonged to military archives. They were recently recovered by a fellow photographer who was asked to help in the publication of a history book for the Signal Corps.
Novak was given access and has since posted them to a website for everyone to see.
“And that’s what photography does,” Novak said. “It lets you remember all these things you’d forget otherwise.”
During his time in the China Burma India Theater, Novak was even awarded the Bronze Star, the military’s fourth highest decoration. Despite the honor, the modest man behind the lens deferred credit to others he served alongside.
“They say, ‘Oh you’re a hero, being out there doing that.’ No, we photographed the heroes, and that’s the way it was,” he said.
Perhaps the most powerful images in his collection are those showing innocent people and beautiful places caught in the crossfire of war.
In his words his beautifully composed photographs are now intended to preserve a rare time in history, one frame at a time.
“It was a dangerous job, but like anything else the other soldiers were in the same position,” he said.
To see Novak’s photographs, go to his website: www.danielnovak.com