GLENDALE, Ca. - A photographer in Glendale wants to preserve the legacies of World War II veterans nationwide after the death of his grandfather who served in the war.
"That whole experience changed my perspective on life completely. So that was the start of it all," said Zach Coco to our sister station KTLA.
Coco, 30, takes photographs and interviews veterans with the hope of capturing as many memories and stories as possible. Initially inspired by an honor flight he took with his grandfather two years ago, Coco was never able to fully capture his grandfather's story.
The WWII vet passed away in November 2014.
"I know a few facts about where he was, what ship he was on and a few instances where a torpedo had hit his ship. But I know there's a lot more that I don't know, and sadly never will," said Coco.
Shortly after his grandfather's death, Coco began documenting honor flights for veterans and giving the photos to their families. His personal project slowly grew into "Pictures for Heroes," a nonprofit dedicated to honoring WWII veterans through interviews and photography.
"After my grandfather passed away everything just clicked; it all made sense, everything found a place," said Coco.
One of Coco's subjects, Jack Trull, is a 93-year-old veteran who was part of the 17th Airborne Division. He proudly detailed his time in the war during his interview, reflecting back on memories that occurred decades ago.
"I was in the Army and we captured quite a few of those Germans," said Trull. "Part of the Battle of Bulge – we were right behind the infantry, shooting over the infantry. It was quite a thing."
Trull is just one of 40 California veterans Coco has been able to memorialize since he began the project one year ago. He told KTLA he wants to ensure that their bravery and sacrifice is never forgotten.
"Each interview that I do I learn something, something I didn't know," said Coco. "Most of them are in their 90s and 100s and there's a lot that our country has gone through in that time. Sadly, the generation is dying off so there is a need to preserve that history before we repeat it."
Coco, who began taking pictures in high school, plans to release a hardcover book on the veterans and donate 20 percent of its proceeds to honor flights. His ultimate goal is to expand the project nationwide so that all of the country's living WWII veterans can be featured.
"I was able to take my career and my profession and tie it in with a passion that I had – not for the money, there is no money involved; I do it because it feels good," said Coco. "I am able to give back to people who gave me my freedom and gave me the ability to do what I'm doing today. That's what it's all about."
Coco is currently raising money for the project to achieve his dream of remembering and honoring every WWII veteran.