Chelsea frames her hero

Chelsea Schell at the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC with a photo of her grandfather, James Schell, on the USS Wisconsin in 1946. 

Chelsea Schell at the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC with a photo of her grandfather, James Schell, on the USS Wisconsin in 1946. 

The beauty of photography lies in its ability to capture a moment. To provide a tiny window in to the zeitgeist at the very moment the shutter clicked. We frame so many of those special moments everyday, but are often left to wonder about the stories behind them that make them so special. This Father’s Day we’re sharing a few of those special moments, and what makes the dads they feature so dear. 

In the case of Chelsea Schell, an old black and white 2” x 3” of her grandfather proudly perched on the deck of the USS Wisconsin led her on an unexpected journey across the country in search of anything that could tell her more about the man who shaped so much of who she is today. Come along as this Michigan native shows us how photography has the power to connect a viewer to more than just the image it captures.  


Chelsea's photo in our Augusta frame with a white mat.

Chelsea's photo in our Augusta frame with a white mat.

Tell us about your relationship with your grandfather. What made it so special?

From day one we had such a bond and love for each other. My grandpa was actually single when I was born. He was so excited that he was going to have a new granddaughter, he actually went out and bought me my first pair of lace tights. It's hard (and hilarious) to imagine a single Navy vet out shopping for lace baby tights, but that was my grandpa. From the day I was born until the day he passed away, there were so many moments and memories I have with him that I'll treasure forever. He was and always will be my hero. It was more than a relationship. He was a huge part of who I am today.

 

"He was and always will be my hero. It was more than a relationship. He was a huge part of who I am today."

 

What made you want to retrace your grandfather's naval history? 

A few years ago I was on a trip with some friends who wanted to tour the USS Yorktown. I thought "why not?" and went along with them. Before this, I honestly never thought about looking into my grandpa's naval history. I think I assumed, like most people would, that whatever ships he was on would have been scrapped by now. Once I stepped foot on the Yorktown, I was flooded with memories and emotions. My grandpa would often talk about his time in the service. I can still see the emotion on his face and he would talk about the tragedies he witnessed, the friends he lost, and the lives he saved. I started thinking, "Am I standing on my grandpa's ship where all his stories took place?" It was a mind blowing experience. I knew I HAD to find out what ship(s) he was on and whether or not they were still around. 

 

"I have this constant fear that now that my grandpa is gone, his memory will die too and I just can't let that happen."

 

Why was that important for you to do?

I have this constant fear that now that my grandpa is gone, his memory will die too, and I just can't let that happen. He was too amazing, too important and I loved him too much. I'm constantly trying my best to keep his memory alive, especially in my own life. The fact that there was a chance that one of his ships was still around and available for tours would take my goal to a whole new level. To stand where he stood, see where he worked, slept and ate was/is the closest I can get to him now that he's gone. 

What did you learn in the process?

I went through a bunch of photos I had and that's where I found out about the USS Wisconsin. The name of the ship was written behind one of the photos I had of him. I immediately Googled it and about dropped my phone when I read that it was STILL around AND available for tours!

After finally having the chance to go there and tour the ship, I learned SO much about what my grandpa's life was like back then. I was able to get a memoir of his that he wrote about WWII, letters he wrote to his brother when he was in the service, the names of some of the other ships he was on (those ones have since been scrapped), and some more photos of him that I had never seen before. I've also received many tips and artifacts from dozens of wonderful people all over the world!

 

"As they hang on his walls, I hope he's constantly reminded about how much I love not just my grandpa, but him as well."

 

What did you frame?

I framed the photo of my grandpa standing on the USS Wisconsin in 1946, and me in the exact same spot when I went to tour the ship. I plan to give both photos to my dad. While this journey was obviously special to me, it was huge for my dad, too. Even before the article, it was all he could talk about. I think that my dad seeing how much I still love and respect my grandpa and the lengths I'll go to for him even though he's gone has made him so proud. After all, it's moments like this in life that truly matter. I know my dad will treasure these photos. But as they hang on his walls, I hope he's constantly reminded about how much I love not just my grandpa, but him, as well. I couldn't think of a better Father's Day gift and I can't wait to give them to him!


What family history do you want to keep alive?