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Dana Point’s Mitch Higginbotham, 91, recalls his time with the Army Air Corps’ all-African American squad of World War II pilots, depicted in a movie opening today.

By DAVID BRO / SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER

DANA POINT -(CA)- It was after 1 a.m. when Mitch Higginbotham got back to his Dana Point home Thursday, but the 91-year-old was wide awake. He had just attended the world premiere of the new George Lucas-produced film “Red Tails,” which opens Friday and depicts the World War II service of Higginbotham’s comrades in the Army Air Corps’ all-African American 332nd Fighter Group, more commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

The fliers, trained at an Army air base in Tuskegee, Ala., were tasked with escorting bombers over Germany near the end of the war. They came to be known as the “Red Tails” because of the color they painted on the tails of their planes.

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Dana Point resident Mitch Higginbotham, 91, joined the Army Air Corps as a cadet, training to become a flight instructor with the Tuskegee Airmen. He remembers the “Red Tail” pilots and helping to train them on the ground as they prepared to enter World War II.
DAVID BRO, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Higginbotham remembers meeting Lucas more than 20 years ago and talking to him about the Tuskegee Airmen, and now he’s happy to see a movie about them.

“We just wanted to fight and do our part,” Higginbotham said.

SEE PHOTOS OF SOME OF HIGGINBOTHAM’S MEMORABILIA HERE.

Higginbotham, originally from Sewickley, Pa., joined the Army Air Corps as a cadet, training to become a multiengine-aircraft flight instructor. He remembers the Red Tail pilots and helping to train them on the ground as they prepared to enter the war.

Higginbotham never made it overseas and finished the war being brought up on military charges in the then-segregated Army after he and more than 100 other African American servicemen attempted to be served in the white officer’s club at his base. Higginbotham’s record was expunged in 1995.

After the war, he hoped to become an airline pilot but soon found that pilot jobs were scarce for African Americans, he said. So he decided to finish college.

“I would work a year in the steel mills and then go to college for a year,” he said.

Before becoming an air cadet, Higginbotham said, his studies were more in line with physical science. But after his experience in the Army, he concentrated on sociology and race relations, getting a degree from the University of Colorado.

He eventually became a probation officer for Los Angeles County.

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By DAVID BRO / FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

DANA POINT- (CA)-Retired Los Angeles Police homicide Detective Stewart “Stu” Jones, of San Juan Capistrano, turned 100 years old on Christmas Day and regaled guests at his birthday party with tales from his life and career. Jones is the last living detective to have worked the Black Dahlia case, which has never been solved.

One crime-scene tip he offered – cooking coffee in an open saucepan and letting it steam – was a trick of the trade to cut the odor where murder had occurred and the body or bodies had been around awhile.

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Stewart “Stu” Jones, 100, celebrates with family at the Brig Restaurant in Dana Point Harbor on Wednesday evening.
DAVID BRO, FOR THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Family and friends gathered this week to celebrate at the Brig Restaurant in Dana Point. Birthday cards, photos, news clippings and a retirement book of Jones’ life and career were spread across tables. The memorabilia depicted a young boy in a sailor suit, a rookie in a newspaper photo, several official LAPD photos and a traditional retirement cartoon about Jones and his many jobs on the force.

Working at first as a rookie, assigned to traffic, Jones moved on to the vice squad and the homicide division where in 1947 he was the second detective to arrive on the scene where a woman’s body had been found, cut in half. The case would become known as “The Black Dahlia” and remains unsolved today. In 1943, homicide victim Elizabeth Short, known as The Black Dahlia, had been taken in for underage drinking in Santa Barbara. Her booking photo from that year jumps out from its spot in Jones’ LAPD retirement book.

Relatives said Jones does not believe the Black Dahlia killer has been identified, although some relatives hint he has someone in mind, but it can’t be proven. Grandniece Linda Hart said Jones believes the killer was a butcher, surgeon or other medical professional from what he saw of Elizabeth Short’s body. He had accompanied the body to the morgue in order to identify the body and catalog the medical examiner’s findings.

In 1936, Jones followed his father into the LAPD; and in 1965, Jones retired to his home in San Juan Capistrano. His wife, Billie, died 10 years ago so Jones lives alone with the help of two caregivers.

“He has a beer with a shot of whiskey every day before dinner,” Hart said. “It’s the only thing he’s always done …. except for being a Chargers fan.”

Caregiver Yolanda Camarena says Jones will often scan the neighborhood with binoculars in search of anything out of the ordinary, taking note, and checking on it later and tipping off the O.C. Sheriff’s deputies when it’s not.

“He is such a gentleman, we laugh and joke a lot and bet on football … a quarter a game,” Camarena said.

Dr. John Chard, 75, of San Juan Capistrano, has served as Jones’ physician for the past 40 years.

“It’s his fault I’ve lived so long,” Jones said, pointing out over his Corona beer and empty whiskey glass.

“He makes my practice look good,” Chard said.

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Moving into position.

By SEAN GREENE, SEAN EMERY and DAVID BRO / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

DANA POINT – SWAT team members who responded to reports of a rifle shot at an apartment complex in Dana Point on Wednesday afternoon left after determining that there was no one in the unit they were focusing their search on.

A neighbor about 9:20 a.m. reported seeing a man fire a single shot from what looked like a rifle outside a four-unit apartment complex in the 34100 block of The Street of the Amber Lantern, authorities said.

Nearby residents were evacuated as the Orange County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team arrived at the scene, sheriff’s Lt. Steve Doan said.

Negotiators were unable to contact the man, who witnesses say was last seen running upstairs into an apartment.

The SWAT team entered the apartment about 2 p.m., Doan said, finding it unoccupied. It wasn’t immediately clear if there were any weapons in the apartment.

Authorities have not yet determined whether a firearm was actually shot, or if there was an explosion.

“We don’t believe it was aimed at anyone,” Doan said.

Authorities believe that they know the man’s identity, but have not yet located him.

SIDE NOTE:

After several hours Orange County Sheriff Deputies entered the dwelling and found it empty.

OCSD suit up and brief.

OCSD sniper moves up the street.

Not your typical Dana Point street view.

A member of the OCSD SWAT looks for his Juliet.

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Crime scene tape.

Its Friday morning and usually assignments during this time of the year are graduations, municipal construction projects pushing for completion before summer or previews for summer events like the Ocean Festival in San Clemente or the Summer Concert Series for Dana Point of San Juan.

I had been up until late, or rather early in the a.m. shooting grad nite for the first class of San Juan Hills High School; the event with its super secret location took place at a golf course in San Clemente and went on all night although I left around 3 a.m. after the break dancers made their appearence.

I was up getting the shots cropped and captioned when I got a tip about  a jewelry heist gone wrong at the Costco Plaza in the Capo Beach area where San Juan Capistrano and Dana Point meet.  It seemed that two of the alledged assailants were down and another had escaped.  With great effort I finished my shots and got them into the photo desk and was out the door 15 minutes later for the 6 or 7 mile drive to Monaco Jewelers.

The scene of the crime.

I went back streets pulling into a spot where I knew it was safe to park and yet I would not be too far away.  Several dozen Costco employees milled about in small groups on the safe side of yellow crime scene tape.  A few Orange County Sheriff deputies were here and there, armed with shotguns and AR-15’s, the cousin of the M-16, I knew it was serious enough.  Slipping under the tape, I got through after checking my press pass, the large parking lot normally filled with cars and people, held only a small percentage of what should have been a busy morning before the first real weekend of the summer.

OCSD was thick on scene.

I quickly got some preliminary shots before meeting up with a Channel 9 cameraman that had just got hold of a guy whose wife, according to him, worked at the jewelry store and was still inside the store, getting de-briefed by investigators.  He held up his phone with text messages they had exchanged before the OCSD shut them down; thankfully she was okay but shaken up.  Apparently, several robbers had entered the store and were shot by someone affiliated with the store and they were dead and OSCD had now surrounded the Costco with the belief that a third robber had run in to escape.  Across the parking lot I could see several deputies covering the doors, while others massed a few feet away with what looked like to me, preparation for a push inside.

Most likely not his grocery list.

We didn’t get much further as the OCSD began an organized sweep to get the press out and I could not escape; fortunately I had all my shots.  Another OC Register shooter, Ken Steinhardt, had arrived and so I left to get my shots into the desk.  The OCSD worked on locating the third man for several more hours before determining that he had escaped in the first minutes with a get away driver.  Later in the day, investigators confirmed two dead in the store.  Sam Gangwer stayed into the afternoon to get shots of the medical examiner removing the bodies.  It was interesting to see how many deputies were on scene in the relaxed dress of what must have been their day off but got called in as back up for the man hunt and as has been my experience with sheriff deputies in general they were serious and calm and I was able to get my work done with very little interference.

This appears to be the second incident in a year for Monaco Jewelers as they were robbed over a long weekend last summer when thieves dug in, opened the safe, getting away with almost 6 million dollars in gold.  Ouch.

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Brothers in arms.

CAPISTRANO BEACH -(CA)- Olamendi’s Mexican Restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway was host to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9934 on Monday evening for their “Welcome Celebration” in anticipation of the American Veterans Traveling Tribute of the Vietnam War Wall Memorial which will be available for public viewing 24 hours a day beginning on May 12th thru May 15th.

Paying up for Chow.

A simple way to remember old times.

The Star Spangled Banner.

A calm watchful eye full of hope and kindness.

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July 4th, 2007, looking out over the pier in San Clemente, California towards Dana Point, as the sun begins to go down.

 

 

July 4th is our biggest day in San Clemente and it’s only a week away.  I know it’s the biggest day because it’s the only day that the parked cars for the beach actually reach and go past our house.  No other day comes close.  I remember that we would gauge a 4th of July by how soon in the morning the cars would get to the house.  I don’t know what time that happens now, but now I gauge the day by amount of “crap”(as my Dad used to say) is hauled past our house to the beach.

 

“…After a few moments the only thing that is left behind to remind me of their passing is the summery sweet smell of lavishly applied suntan oil…”

 

Squeally wheeled strollers, the gritty drag of a plastic raft pulled over the asphalt and the fast gallop of children’s flip-flops, running after the long strides of their parents.  The solid humm of a fully loaded ice chest on rollers plays a low melody alongside Mom calling to her husband and asking if he locked the car, or if he brought the video camera and if it’s charged up or not.  Her pause in the middle of the street does not stop the children from gaining ground, switching oily hands from keeping the hat on their head, the sunglasses on, or the towel wrapped tightly around the neck. 

 view from the pier on July 4th, 2007

 

Their trot to the beach is held back only by Mom’s caution of getting too far ahead.  Dad, soon catches up, with car keys jingling in his cargo shorts pocket; his hands are full.  He glances back one last time in an effort to memorize the location of the car.  A cell phone goes off signaling something forgotten by friends they will soon meet.  After a few moments the only thing that is left behind to remind me of their passing is the summery sweet smell of lavishly applied suntan oil.

 

“…Behind big wrap around sunglasses, sideways trucker hats and the same t-shirt, everyone is young again…”

 OC Sheriff Bomb Squad check out the firework preparation on the San Clemente Pier for the firework show.

Mid-morning gives way to lunch and the hurried accelerations of souped up trucks on their way back to the house for lunch, more beer and a ride for a friend.  The three way stop out front blends the blaring tunes of Reggae, country and pop all together.  Friends shout to each other their hellos along with a directional beach code of where they are sitting so they can meet up.  Behind big wrap around sunglasses, sideways trucker hats and the same t-shirt, everyone is young again.  The return to the beach after lunch is slower and lingers into the afternoon.

 

Around 5 or so there is a renewed frenzy as cars and people make their way back to the house for dinner and reorganization for the evening fireworks off the pier.  The diehards remain; the lineup at Riviera thins a little bit and most just talk over the tips of their boards.  I think we’ll take a little walk down to the beach around this time this year. 

 

 

Under the San Clemente Pier.

 

 

Usually a sort of neighborhood anarchy has taken hold where some of the lower streets are rebelliously blocked off with trash cans and everyone is in the street talking, laughing or watching the latest feat of skate and bike action the 6 to 9 year olds have been perfecting all day. 

 4th of July spirit on the San Clemente Pier.

Traditionally the fireworks at the pier go off around 9 or so.  Whether the show can be seen from your house or not, it doesn’t compare with the being on the sand among all the neighbors.  Its dark of course and not much can be seen except from the glow coming from the fire pits.  Shadows crisscross, revealing the end of a day at the beach.  Like Bedouin, family and friends sit clustered together, waiting for the show to begin.  You can hear more than you can see and you listen to conversations about what Bob did on his vacation, why Becca didn’t get married…again, or children explaining why they want one video game as opposed to another for their birthday.  It always seems to me, like an invisible witness, I am in America’s living room; all of the living rooms, put together and at the same time.

 

“…Like Bedouin, family and friends sit clustered together, waiting for the show to begin…”

 

Patience is about to give out just as the first firework is shot skyward over the water from the pier and a few moments later, its sound reaches you like an expensive, chilled dessert; cold, sharp and surprisingly satisfying. Usually the firework show at Dana Harbor can be seen and it always seems to start before ours and lasts longer.  Its explosions are always more impressive with better color and presentation.  I don’t know where or how we have this experience or knowledge but it gets said every year. 

 

The show goes on and several times when you think its over it isn’t and when you think it will go on, it’s over.  Everyone sits for a bit and when it’s really over, en masse, the herd moves slowly to the tunnel and up onto the street and home.  I remember one year in the tunnel, someone began with a typical cow moo, long, waning and frustrated; it wasn’t long before the sounds of a stockyard came from everywhere in a chorus of understanding.

 

“…It always seems to me, like an invisible witness, I am in America’s living room; all of the living rooms, put together and at the same time…”

 

After 15 minutes, or the time it takes to walk the 5 blocks back to the house, I am standing on the driveway as what I witnessed in the morning is played in reverse but without the bursting enthusiasm.  Like Napoleon’s army fleeing back to France from Moscow, they pass, dragging their feet and rubbing their eyes.  The smell of ocean, campfire and fireworks is strong in our clothes, noses, throats and thoughts.  Sandy feet and damp clothes capitalize the feeling.

 

The firework show at the San Clemente Pier.When I was 7 to 10 years old, I’d be up at 5:30 or 6 the next morning and down at the beach to look for the lost flotsam of Independence Day; Firecrackers, sodas, sunglasses and towels.  We would finish with a slow walk up “Beach Hill”, eyes glued to the gutter and asphalt, looking for the bills that came out of pockets with the car keys.  We never found less than $50.00 and I think we hit 100.00 a couple of times. 

 

It was all gone in a few days, spent on slurpees, army men, necca wafers and lemon drops or candy cigarettes.  Our first purchase was tea at the counter of Landel’s diner up on El Camino Real; we were big spenders and we wanted everyone to know it (50 cents with tip).

 

For me, it was true independence not to have to rely on a 35 cent per week allowance.

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Ruaridh (Rory) Stewart (shown at left photographing a car at the recent LA Car show), 37, of Laguna Niguel, knows the business of what makes photos work.  He describes a photo of a Vietcong guerrilla captured by US troops photographed by Philip Jones Griffiths, a Welsh photojournalist from the 60’s and 70’s.

 

“Griffiths set the standard for what makes a news photo…how he shot events, no one had done before, his approach…everything…students of photography should begin with his books and photos, he started it all really…”

 

 

Griffiths published Vietnam INC, and the book had major influence on American perceptions of the war and became a classic of photojournalism with astounding and compelling images.  All qualities that Zuma Press, a full service photo agency based in Dana Point and where Stewart works as News Director, look for when they license photos for magazines like Time, Newsweek and National Geographic. 

 

 

This image conveys the tragedy that is war, there are multiple elements to his images that cause the viewer to really pause and look…”

 

Stewart, born in Perthshire, Scotland in 1971 is tall, lean and serious, but not without a certain kindness in his gaze.  He pauses between points and reflects, seemingly editing his words one last time, just before telling you what he thinks.  It’s his thoughts on photography and how he got started that you realize his greatest trait must be his innate compassion.

 

“I was always taking photos when I was young and while traveling in India over the summer in 1993, I was doing travel photos, I knew it was what I wanted to do, something just clicked …I traveled all over Asia and it was the people…taking pictures of the people….you just have to go for it and make it work and that’s what I did…”

 

Stewart’s work at Zuma Press as News Director is what you might think at first to be the standard faire of deadlines, fact checking and the eenie, meenie, miny, mo of where to send which photo to which publication.  Consider that Stewart deals with over 700 contract photographers from all over the world and in every possible situation at any one time and delivers to hundreds of magazines worldwide; there is no doubt that many of the photos you see in your favorite magazines, he sees first.

 

It wasn’t too long ago that Stewart was looking through the lens and seeing it all first hand.  In 2000 he was selected as Photographer of the Year by the Hong Kong Press for a photo that depicts children praying at an assembly after their Principal has just shared that the Chinese takeover in Hong Kong would no longer allow English to be taught.  Stewart had the opportunity to work for several newspapers and magazines in Asia and traveled extensively on assignments that included sports, politics and earthquakes. 

 

 

“In 1999 I was assigned to cover the aftermath of the earthquake in Taiwan where over 2000 people died…the devastation was impressive….to see people in those conditions was humbling…”

 

Stewart had the unique nuts and bolts experience of literally working through the change from film to digital.  Assigned to cover the fall of  President Suharto of Indonesia in the spring of 1998, he was given a digital camera to take with him along with his equipment for film; that first digital camera cost more than $10,000 dollars and had less than 2 megapixels; soccer moms would scoff at anything less than 6 megapixels today.

 

“We would shoot maybe 5 rolls a day of the rioting and protests and then return to the hotel room to process the film in the bathroom and use the hotel hair dryer to dry the negatives….eventually I ran out of chemical and so I started using the digital camera…the image quality was terrible but it was that immediate result and even more I appreciated the speed”

 

Stewart explains that after returning to the hotel and developing the film it still took hours to edit the photos down to two or three that would get sent out to the paper.  He details the methodic orgy of using the bathroom as a darkroom, developing in the bathtub, drying the negatives on the shower rod with the hair dryer, scanning the negatives into the computer, getting a dependable international phone line, usually splicing the lines himself and then spending 3 hours to download 3 images.  The confusion, chaos and imminent collapse of President Suharto’s regime made for excellent and emotionally charged photos but wasn’t the safest spot to be.

 

“ I was shooting from behind a crowd, towards the government troops…I was getting the rioters throwing rocks when the soldiers began to shoot into the crowd…it all broke loose at that point…there was a wave of people…everyone was scattering, except for me…at one point I looked out over the top of my camera….in front of me just 10 feet away was a soldier…he was franticly trying to pull out his pistol from its holster but he had forgotten the little leather strap that held it in…he kept trying to get it out and then he was working on the strap…it just wouldn’t come…I just stood there watching until a hand from behind pulled me out…an Indonesian photographer I think…I don’t know what would have happened…”

 

Stewart is in the office now mostly and likes it better that way because now he can pick the assignments he wants to do and at the end of the day he goes home to Laguna Niguel, his wife, Sylvia and his little girl, Ailee, 18 months.

 

Stewart has had an ongoing assignment at US military installations photographing, the  Army as they train and prepare for duty in Iraq.  It keeps him close to home, it’s safer and it’s an easier commute but it’s not the only thing that’s easy.

 

 

 

 “When we first got the digital stuff…the image quality was not that good and the batteries were huge and we had to carry extra batteries where ever we went…now the cameras are just phenomenal…the point and shoot cameras that we have today take better pictures than what I had in Indonesia…”

 

Stewart feels that with the quality of digital cameras today, there is no reason why a reasonably skilled photographer couldn’t take a shot where you would be unable to tell if it were color film or not; digital only keeps getting better every day.

 

“There are some great digital cameras out there right now but, you know, I still have all my film cameras…”

 

Stewart knows what he’s doing; he’ll make it work out.

 

Ruaridh Stewart:

http://www.ruaridhstewart.com/

 

Philip Jones Griffiths:

 

http://www.magnumphotos.com/Archive/C.aspx?VP=XSpecific_MAG.PhotographerDetail_VPage&l1=0&pid=2K7O3R149GCO&nm=Philip%20Jones%20Griffiths

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/20/arts/design/20griffiths.html?scp=3&sq=philip%20jone%20griffiths&st=cse

 

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2008/03/19/arts/20080320_GRIFFITHS_SLIDESHOW_index.html?scp=4&sq=philip%20jone%20griffiths&st=cse

 

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,905816,00.html

 Zuma Reportage:

http://www.zreportage.com/

  

 

 

 

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