Pinups for Vets
Supporting the Troops: Part 1
By Daniel Muniz
Gina Elise wanted to show her appreciation to the people who has served their country in our armed forces and especially to our troops deployed overseas and to all of our injured vets in VA hospitals. So she decided to create the “Pin-Ups For Vets” project which consists of calendars and posters featuring herself as the model for all of the photographs.
Gina Elise chose the pin-up art that was popular back in the forties as the central theme of all her modeling. Since the pin-up girls of that nostalgic era boosted the morale of our troops who served in WWII, she believed that this project could the same for our vets of today. This native Californian then set out to find a way to recreate the image of that bygone era. The result is the “Pin-Ups For Vets” project which pays tribute to our troops and helps raise funds for our injured vets in veteran’s hospitals.
The photography is elegant and tastefully done and truly reflects the innocence of the “greatest generation”. In fact, Gina’s modeling and layout is so classy and well-done that many wives and girlfriends of vets have bought them as gifts to their loved ones who are deployed overseas.
Below are the responses from our interview with Gina about her pin-up project.
Web Site: PinUpsForVets.com
Q. Please give us some personal background about yourself.
I am a native of Southern California and graduated from UCLA with a degree in theater. I always loved the arts and spent about 17 years in dance classes. I think that the idea for the “Pin-Ups For Vets” project probably was helped along by the fact that I was always comfortable in front of a camera. You can’t be self-conscious when you are acting on stage or in a film or performing in dance shows. I currently work in the hospitality industry and love interacting with people from many walks of life.
Outside of my work, I love visiting our veterans in VA and military hospitals to bring them the “Pin-Ups For Vets” poster and calendar gifts donated by the calendar project’s supporters. From very early on, I learned the importance of helping others and have always enjoyed volunteering and doing community service. It really is an honor for me to support our hospitalized veterans and Wounded
Q. Your pinup calendar is a great way to show appreciation to everyone who is currently serving or who has served in our armed forces. How and when did you come up with the idea for the “Pin-Ups for Vets” calendar?
People ask me all the time how the “Pin-Ups For Vets” calendar project came to be…
A few years ago, I started seeing news articles about under-funded veterans’ healthcare programs. Then, there were stories about older veterans who lay in bed day after day, never receiving any visitors.
Reports started surfacing on TV about the severe injuries sustained by our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The more I heard about the uphill battles of our Wounded Warriors, the more convinced I was of the need to produce a project that would bring in funds to support all of our hospitalized veterans.
My late Grandpa Lou served in the army for four years during World War II. I wanted to do something to honor his name. I always loved the romance of those bygone eras – especially the 1940’s – and I drew inspiration from the World War II pin-up girls, whose photos and paintings boosted morale for our soldiers fighting overseas.
Q. Since your grandfather was also an inspiration for this project, tell us a little bit about him and about his service to our country.
My late Grandfather Lou was part of what many refer to as “the greatest generation”. He was very proud to have served his country in World War II. He spent four years in the army during that time. Because of his background in pharmacy, the army officials felt that the best place for him to serve would be in actually preparing medicines for our ill and injured troops. This was in the days when pharmacists had to compound or put together the medicines themselves. He was great at what he did and was always commended for a job well done. He took a lot of pride in every job he did.
Q. You picked some great locations for your photo shoots. How did you find them and tell us more about some of the places where the photography was done and which sites were your most memorable.
I grew up in what is called the “Inland Empire” of Southern California. I lived in three different cities. The Inland Empire sometimes is referred to as “Hollywood’s Back Lot” because it offers such diverse and scenic locations. I was lucky enough to be personally familiar with a number of locations because I lived nearby, and other locations I found through word of mouth.
People were so incredibly generous to allow me to do the photo shoots in each of these locations… from private homes with awesome vintage collections, to a beautiful mansion, to a wonderful ranch, to a privately owned fire engine collection, to restaurants with retro decor, to the March Field Air Museum, and to scenic orange groves. People were very excited about the calendar project and all expressed a desire to support our hospitalized vets and deployed troops!
Q. Your nostalgic outfits for the calendar look great! How did you come up with the vintage clothing and which outfits are your personal favorites?
Thank you so much for noticing! Well, I wanted to have a good mix of looks because I wanted the calendar to have something for everyone! Some people like blondes, some like redheads, some like black-haired girls, and some like brunettes… so, I took it upon myself to become all of those girls to give the calendar photos a good variety of looks.
The old pin-ups from the 1940’s featured sexy lingerie-clad or bathing suit-clad ladies, or party girls, or the “girl next door”, so I, of course, had to include a couple of those nostalgic photos. Then, I also had to show that working girls can be sexy, too– from waitresses, to firefighters, to ranch hands. And of course, it wouldn’t be a calendar for veterans or troops without featuring sailor girls and air force girls and army girls. I just scoured the local area for outfits, both new and used; that I thought would compliment the themes. I actually had fun posing in them all… that must be the actress in me… trying to get into character for each different pin-up girl.
I also wanted to keep these pictures classy. The 1940’s pin-up “cheesecake” photos, as they are often called, can be much sexier than the bare-it-all photos of today. Many of the troops have written me great letters expressing how they loved seeing these photos that didn’t expose everything and left something to the imagination. I knew I had done something right, when those letters starting coming in that all expressed the same sentiments about the classiness of the photos. I was so gratified to hear that! I am thrilled too that wives and girlfriends of veterans and active duty military are ordering these calendars for their guys who enjoy pin-up art.
Q. When you first began, what kind of obstacles did you encounter in getting this project off the ground? And what has been your biggest challenge to overcome?
Well, I’ve always been a person who likes a good challenge, even with all the obstacles. When I first came up with this idea to produce this pin-up calendar, I had never done anything like that before. It was a huge undertaking with so many things to coordinate. There was a lot of risk involved and I had to figure out a way to produce the 2007 calendar on a shoestring budget. I didn’t even know if people would like something like this.
Some people asked me, “Who wants to buy a pin-up calendar today?” Some people suggested that I bring in other models instead of just doing it myself. I had to figure ways to convince each of my friends with special talents to donate those talents to this project because the project had a good cause. I was very lucky and these people all came on board to help me.
I convinced American Legion Post 360 to be my sponsor to lend the project credibility. Commander Nick Nerio believed in this project right from the start and he knew that it would be a great way to help raise funds for our hospitalized veterans and it would be a great gift for our homesick troops. He liked the idea of the hospital visits to our veterans, and he helped me get seed money funding. The 2007 “Pin-Ups For Vets” calendar fundraiser was a success for me and for Post 360, and we were able to donate the proceeds to a local veteran’s hospital program that needed funds to care for our returning ill and injured troops.
So far my biggest challenge to date has been getting the word out there about this calendar fundraiser project. I am indebted to internet bloggers like you, who have helped me spread the word about the “Pin-Ups For Vets” project. This is really a grass roots project that depends on word of mouth from one person to the next. I am grateful to everyone who has encouraged family and friends to donate calendars to our hospitalized veterans and to our deployed troops and also to our homeless veteran’s shelters!
Q. You have received terrific support from a wide array of people and organizations. Describe some of the contributions of effort, talent, and resources that have made your project a success.
I could never have done this project alone. My photographers, graphic artist, stylists, designers who donated outfits, people who let me do the photos shoots in their special locations, American Legion Post 360, the bloggers, the Wal-Mart Foundation– they all lent their time and talents and funding to this project that they all believed in. They are all to be praised for their generous spirit in helping to support our hospitalized veterans and deployed troops. I was blessed to find such wonderful people who believed in me and this project.
Q. What kind of feedback have you received from our troops who have enjoyed your pinup calendars?
I have received hundreds and hundreds of letters of appreciation from the active duty military who thank me for creating this project to help their wounded brothers and sisters and for honoring veterans from all wars, past and present. I have kept every letter I have received because they all mean so much to me. I have been absolutely humbled by the certificates of appreciation and the three American flags that have been flown over military bases in Iraq to honor the “Pin-Ups For Vets” project.
So many letters express the fact that the pin-up calendars have given the military units such a great morale boost, as they deal with long days and difficult situations. The letters from the troops have been respectful and full of admiration and encouragement to produce a calendar for the coming years. I am so very grateful that I can give something back to these brave heroes who sacrifice so much of themselves.
Q. You have a section in your web site, In The Field, where you post the photographs of the people who have enjoyed your calendar. How do you feel about the kind of positive support you have received from your fans, especially from the ones who are deployed.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much those photographs mean to me. To see the smiles on the faces of hospitalized veterans when I visit them is priceless to me! To see the photographs sent to me from the troops and knowing that the “Pin-Ups For Vets” calendar is bringing a bit of happiness to our active duty military who are operating under such difficult conditions– well, there are no words to describe how happy this makes me feel.
I first set out on this project to give something back to our brave heroes and when I see all the photographs, I know that the project is helping to do just that. I am also so appreciative of the civilians and retired veterans who have sent in photos to me because it lets me see the faces of these awesome supporters. I have come to know many of them through e-mails and it is wonderful to finally put a face to a name.