Derek Schwendeman of Newark, Del., was not expecting much when he logged onto Reddit on Feb. 15, a forum-based website that calls itself the “front page of the internet” and posted a picture of his grandfather Thomas Schwendeman preparing to deploy to Korea in 1952.
He says he happened upon a forum on Reddit called Old School Cool, dedicated to images at least 25 years old and posted the black and white photo of his grandfather in uniform on a whim.
After posting, he basically forgot about it. He did not check Reddit again until about 8 p.m. the following day, which was when he noticed it had gone viral, racking up over a million views based almost entirely on the attractiveness of his grandfather.
“It was a picture that I’ve always liked, and I’ve had it for about 25 years,” he says. “I liked a lot of the pictures that were on Reddit, and I thought some other people might like this one.”
He was contacted by “Good Morning America,” “Fox & Friends” and People magazine within days of the posting, all looking to do segments because of all the views and outrageous comments. Viewers wondered whether there were any pictures of his grandpa shirtless or if he had any male grandchildren. At first Derek was nervous, especially because his grandfather has always been an extremely private man. He had never intended to disturb him with the furor over the picture. “It’s finally dying down and I’m kind of relieved,” Schwendeman says.
Derek says the funniest thing about the situation is that there is not really anything remarkable about it all. His grandfather, who is now 86 and still happily married to his wife of 67 years, is a man of few words who worked hard to raise a family after serving his duty in Korea.
Schwendeman says overall his grandfather is amused by the photo’s success and just wants people to know that, after 60 years, he doesn’t quite look like that anymore. Once the picture began to spread beyond Reddit, his main concern became that his grandmother would see a 1950s picture of her husband float by on her Facebook feed before Derek had a chance to prepare her.
Derek hopes the photo will, however, attract more focus on the Korean War. Often nicknamed the “Forgotten War,” it gets lost in America’s collective memory between the end of World War II and the beginning of the war in Vietnam. “It’s not something that’s talked about a lot and it’s not something that he even talked about a lot,” he says.