Photographer Documents WWII Veteran’s Life, Turns Passion into Business

Robert Stapleton has always loved two things: photography and Alaska. From a young age, scenes of sweeping arctic landscape and wild winter mammals captured his imagination and instilled in him a sense of adventure. Now a full-time freelancing photojournalist and Alaskan resident, Rob is preparing to document the life of a pilot and his third favorite thing: flying.

“I grew up in California, but it has been a lifelong dream to move to Alaska,” says Stapleton, now 62. While attending university, Rob studied and worked in photojournalism, honing his photography skills and developing his portfolio. After moving to Anchorage to work for the Anchorage Daily News in 1975, Rob began doing freelance photography on the side. In 1980, Rob left his job to freelance full-time.

“I have photographed for Time, LIFE, People, Sport Illustrated, NewsWeek, and some international publications as well,” says Stapleton. “I’ve covered the Sled Dog Races from Anchorage to Nome for 20 years, been Moose hunting with Native Alaskans, and I documented the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.” Since founding his freelance career, Rob has also become an avid pilot, and has combined his love for photography with his hobby for flying through his work in aerial photography. That is how he met World War II Veteran Mike Hunt.


Colonel Mike Hunt is a 95 year-old retired Air Force pilot and resident of Anchorage, Alaska, and Rob Stapleton is telling his story in a video documentary. “I know Rob through the Alaska Aviation Museum,” says Hunt, “and we’ve been working together for the past four years.” The documentary, produced and funded by Rob’s personal resources, tells the story of Hunt’s career as a A-2O Bomber pilot during World War II. As an Air Force pilot during the war, Hunt completed countless delivery missions across the United States Midwest and Alaska, and has flown missions across the Bering Sea to Krasnoyarsk, Russia. Hunt has recorded almost 19,000 flight hours in his log books, making the interview process for the documentary detailed and in-depth.

“Mike speaks well and has a great memory,” says Stapleton. “He even fits in his original WWII Uniform all these years later!” To ensure the quality of the documentary, Stapleton’s production and planning has become more of a focus in the past few months. Last month, he created a crowdfunding campaign through Moon$hot stories, a feature provided by Moonlighting. The app and web platform connects freelancers trying to hire or get hired. The Moon$hot Stories feature helps small business projects get started through the personal donations of the crowdfunding model. Stapleton is attempting to raise $5,000 to pay for local equipment, production and services. He uses Moonlighting to promote his video and photography services in the Anchorage area as another means of supporting his freelance career.

“He is a man of his word, has never tried to hustle me, and we get to talk aviation with one another,” says Hunt, who now considers Rob a good friend. The documentary, expected to be released in the Summer of 2018, will be used to induct Col Hunt into the Alaska Aviation’s Hall of Fame in March 2018. Stapleton continues to work towards finishing the documentary, all the while enjoying the work he has always loved to do.

This article was originally featured in the USA Today.

Leave a Reply