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Saluting the Keepers of Freedom

November 05, 2000|DENNIS McLELLAN

She arrived in the United States from Czechoslovakia on vacation in 1981 and never returned home, her disdain for communism outweighing her love for her native land. Although barely an adult, Veronika Derugin had said goodbye to her parents and three brothers, knowing, but not telling them, that she would stay "in this land of freedom and opportunity."

A professional studio photographer in Czechoslovakia, Derugin was hired by The Times in 1989 and now works as a digital imaging specialist in the Orange County edition's photo department.

During her travels over the last year--to Washington, D.C., and to Hawaii--Derugin, now a U.S. citizen, visited memorials to America's veterans, the monuments and the seemingly endless lists of names serving as somber reminders of their sacrifices far from home.

In the nation's capital, on a brisk autumn day last year, her lens captured the Vietnam Women's Memorial, a haunting symbol of the eight female nurses killed in Southeast Asia; statues depicting a wary platoon of patrolling soldiers, which are part of the Korean War Memorial; and the eloquently simple names etched on the black granite slabs of the Wall, the Vietnam War Memorial. On the Hawaiian island of Oahu last spring, she found more names at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. And at home in Orange County, at the U.S. Naval Weapons Station in Seal Beach, she discovered the National Submarine Memorial-West, which honors those who gave their lives during World War II and the Cold War.

"This is my humble visual dedication to all the fallen heroes who have helped to protect our freedom and peace," says Derugin, as the nation prepares to celebrate Veterans Day on Saturday.

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