Memories are tricky. Often we push the complicated ones to the back, past the to-do lists, embarrassing moments, and funny anecdotes. But when we're ready to revisit these tougher moments — and all of the pride, regret, hope, and pain locked inside them — the result can be cathartic.
Skogen, now 29, was introduced to VetsRoll after moving back to her hometown of Madison following internships in New York and Los Angeles. The organization gives World War II and Korean War veterans an opportunity to travel by bus from Beloit, Wisconsin, to Washington D.C., where they spend four days visiting the city's memorials, before returning to a "hero's welcome." The best part? It's free of charge.
"I tagged along to a meeting, and it sounded like it would be a great experience," Skogen says. "So, I signed up to be a volunteer."
Skogen's trip, in 2011, consisted of about 200 veterans and nearly 100 volunteers, spread over 10 charter buses. While the photographer was unable to meet every single vet on the trip, she tried her best.
One of the toughest parts of photographing the journey, Skogen says, was balancing her own emotions with those of the veterans. One traveler's wife had recently died, but his daughter was also named Beth, and he began opening up to the proxy-Beth on his trip.
"I asked him about his wife and wondered if he had a photo with him," Skogen says. "He said he didn't, but later on the trip, he called me back, and he pulled two photos out of his wallet that were wrapped in plastic wrap."
Other travelers found common ground with each other beyond their shared wartime experiences. On Skogen's bus, five men discovered that they were all originally from the same small town, and that they had attended the same high school.
"One of them said, 'What's the percentage that we would meet like that?'" Skogen recalls. He went on, "'You think there would be a bunch of war stories, but we are talking about our childhood!'"
After touring the war monuments in the nation's capital and traveling back to Wisconsin, the veterans were physically and emotionally exhausted. But once home, they were met with one last surprise — fireworks, a band, and family members holding banners and posters marking their loved ones' triumphant return.
For Skogen, the moment was bittersweet. She has always hated goodbyes, and saying farewell to 80-year-old friends leaves no guarantee of a reunion. Still, the veterans showed that their loyalty did not end with the wars.
"I received thank-you notes (after the trip)," she says. "One guy even sent a photocopy of the newspaper clipping with the story and our extravagant return. Another called me about a year after the trip to see how I was doing. That really got me."
Learn more about VetsRoll here