PBY Blister Gunner - Rescue at Rabaul, 1944
This photograph has achieved iconic status among gay men especially. There have been several stories, at least, which I have read, concerning the nakdness of this young gunner, but I thought viewers would be interested in reading the following article, which was posted on the HP Group in February 2007.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
The sexiest photo ever taken
It's not of an actor, or a singer, or a model; he was a gunner on a patrol plane in WWII... I don't know what his name is, as it was apparently never recorded. The image is black and white, so I can't tell if his rumpled light-colored hair was blond or maybe red; his skin isn't freckled, which means he was most likely blond. His face is turned away so that it shows less than a profile, but it's enough to show he was handsome; the nose is straight, the lips hint at fullness, the chin looks strong and the cheekbones high. The sliver of iris visible suggests light eyes; most likely blue, and I imagine them being a pale translucent shade, for no reason I can justify. His body has no gym bunny muscles, but is the body of a trim, healthy, active young (I'd guess under 25) man who has better things to do than sit in a weight room. He's not doing anything sexual in the photo, he's not posed, not flexing anything, and although he's naked only his backside is showing, and even that's in shadow... so why is it so sexy?
What makes this photograph thrilling, powerful, indicative of the purest and noblest sort of maleness, and therefore sexy at a level that no porn pic could ever come close to, is the story behind it, which can be found in the December 2002 issue of B&W magazine, in an article about the man who took the picture, Horace Bristol; he was a member of a Navy unit of photographers, and thus ended up being on the plane the gunner was serving on, which was used to rescue people from Rabaul Bay (New Britain island, Papua New Guinea), when this occurred:
"...we got a call to pick up an airman who was down in the Bay. The Japanese were shooting at him from the island, and when they saw us they started shooting at us. The man who was shot down was temporarily blinded, so one of our crew stripped off his clothes and jumped in to bring him aboard. He couldn't have swum very well wearing his boots and clothes. As soon as we could, we took off. We weren't waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane."
THAT'S what makes the photo so sexy; he was a HERO. A hero photographed right after he'd completed his heroic act. NAKED. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only nude photo of a hero ever taken, much less one where he's still in action; he's manning his gun in the picture, with water beaded on his back and headphones over his wet hair, tense with alertness and concentration, and seems totally unaware that his goods are still hanging out, so to speak. A naked man in what are clearly military surroundings (there's even a series of images of ships with the header "This is the enemy" to the right of his butt, so you KNOW there's a war going on) sounds like something that'd be set up for a gay porn movie, but this is no porn star displaying a shaved body half out of a costume uniform, this is the real deal, presumably the only time such a thing has ever happened much less been captured on film... and it blows my mind every time I look at it.
. . . .
Its full title as given in the article is "PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul," and it was taken in 1944... so the hero is at best a very old man now, and could easily be dead-he might not even have survived the war. Did he notice the photo being taken? Did he ever see it? Did he know that the pic of him became famous? Did it occur to him at any time that flinging himself naked out of a plane with bullets flying around, rescuing a man who would have surely died otherwise, and then racing back to his post still naked and wet, was something extraordinary, or did he shrug it off as doing his duty and never think twice about it?
Did anyone ever tell him that he had a world-class butt?
I hope you were at the very least impressed by this bit of history... and that maybe a few of you will feel the same way I do about this astonishing photo.
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