The photograph was taken January 18, 2020, at Federal Point, Ft. Fisher, North Carolina. This is a self-assigned photograph for an ongoing documentary of Thomas J. Ward. Tom is a veteran of the Marine Corps, 1972-1975. In June 2010 he was diagnosed with service-connected Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, ALS. I have been photographing Tom’s painting and the progression of the disease since diagnosis for the purpose of a documentary exhibit to inspire others to improvise, adapt, and overcome what seems impossible at first look, but is in fact, not impossible at all.
Tom was painting long before he was diagnosed with ALS. Living well with ALS takes daily courage and commitment. ALS is an unremitting enemy. In the end, it doesn’t lose, it takes the body, but it will never win his Tom’s soul. Every single day he wakes up he embraces fully. He honors all of us with his focus to give his best. He never gives in. He never gives up.
Tom paints despite the difficulties the disease imposes. In this photograph, he is opening a 37-milliliter tube of paint. It’s a struggle. His fine motor movements are compromised from the disease. His left hand is nearly paralyzed. If he puts down his paintbrush, he will have to pick it up again after he finally gets the tube open. If he puts it down, he may not be able to pick it back up. When he paints, he continuously improvises because every time he paints, he faces new progression with the disease. He adapts so he can overcome the obstacles.
Some people would give up painting if they confronted the challenges Tom does. Giving up is not an option for him.
The Marine Corps values are embedded in this Marine. It is these values that get him out of bed every single day with a purpose. He embodies the essence of the United States Marine Corps with how he conducts his life despite the enemy that lives within him.