During World War II, Dumbo was the code name—based on Disney’s flying elephant—used by the US Navy to indicate air-sea search and rescue missions. The the missions were conducted by long-range aircraft flying over the ocean in unison with ongoing military operations.

Boeing SB-17G

A Boeing SB-17G, an air-sea rescue B-17

In 1941, Horace Bristol had been recruited to the US Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. His commander was Captain Edward J. Steichen. In 1944 he found himself flying over the ocean photographing ongoing events—near New Britain Island, Papua, New Guinea—in a rescue plane.

In 2002, speaking with a writer for B&W Magazine, Bristol recounted that day:

“…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.”


Bristol’s photo of the seaman, PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul, 1944, is one of my all time favorite photos. It’s a photo of the human side of conflict and, in its purest form, it’s the image of the very best of mankind—heroism.

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Photographer, Horace Bristol

One of Bristol’s platinum palladium prints is coming to auction.

Horace Bristol(American, 1909–1997)
Rescue at Rabaul: PBY Blister Gunner, 1944
Lot ID: 119478
10.5 x 10 in. (26.67 x 25.4 cm.)
Signed, titled, dated, numbered, and blind-stamped by the Horace and Masako Bristol Estate
AP 2 aside from edition of 75
Estimate: 6,000—8,000 USD
Current Bid: 5,000 USD (reserve met)
Number of Bids: 1
Here’s your link to the auction.