Jackson Pokress enlisted in the Army after hearing about the...

Jackson Pokress enlisted in the Army after hearing about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Credit: Pokress family/David Pokress

Jackson Pokress, a 67-year member of the North Massapequa Fire Department, challenged the conventional wisdom that everyone is replaceable. 

“The reality is people like that aren't replaceable,” North Massapequa Fire Chief Mark Frascella said. “We're never gonna be able to replace what he knew, what he brought to the table.”

Pokress, a three-term North Massapequa fire commissioner, World War II combat photographer, and local newspaper owner, died of natural causes on May 13. He was 102.

Pokress was born in Manhattan on June 27, 1920. His love of photography began as a teenager when he would walk around the city snapping photos.

“His father bought him a camera in the middle of the Depression when nobody had any money,” said his son David Pokress.

He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1938 and received his bachelor’s degree from New York University in 1942. He enlisted in the Army after hearing about Pearl Harbor, skipping his January college graduation.

“Fifty years later, NYU invited him back to graduation to walk across the stage and get his diploma in person,” David Pokress said.

After completing basic training, Jackson Pokress asked to be assigned to the Signal Corps due to his interest in photography and cinematography. He trained to be a combat cameraman at the Army Pictorial Center in Astoria, Queens, before heading off to Myanmar.

Pokress’ task was documenting Merrill’s Marauders, an all-volunteer Army regiment, as they navigated the jungle of Myanmar -- then called Burma -- trying to recapture Japanese-held territory.

Pokress was honorably discharged in 1945 and headed home to Manhattan. In 1946, he married his wife, Wilma Cutler, a longtime Plainedge High School teacher who died in 2001. Along with David, the couple had another son, Robert. The family moved to North Massapequa in 1954.

Everlast, the sports equipment company, enlisted Pokress to make a boxing film called “You’re In The Ring,” which features heavyweight Joe Louis. His documentary “Lipstick and Dynamite” followed female professional wrestlers of the 1940s and was remade with updated perspectives for theatrical release in 2004. He produced “When Seconds Count” about the North Massapequa Fire Department and “Wheels of Steel” for the Pennsylvania Railroad.

“Every year when I was in elementary school, the teachers would always say, ‘Could you bring in the train movie?’” David Pokress said.

Jackson Pokress gravitated back to still photography, capturing presidential inaugurations, the Apollo 11 astronauts, World Series winners, Stanley Cup champions and many more historic moments.

He was a staff photographer for the now-defunct Suffolk Sun, the first daily newspaper in Suffolk County. For over two decades, he was the publisher and editor of the Observer newspapers, which covered Wantagh, Seaford, Bellmore and Merrick.

He passed on his passion for photojournalism to David, who had a 34-year career with Newsday before becoming a photo editor for the New York Daily News.

“He would take me on assignments with him — ‘Carry the bag, hold the light,’” David Pokress said. “I just realized how much fun it was for me to be witnessing history.”

Shortly after moving to North Massapequa, Jackson Pokress needed an ambulance. After the fire department responded, he learned they were looking for new members due to population growth in the area.

Pokress joined in 1956 and was a founding member of Engine Company No. 3. He spent 15 years as fire commissioner, followed by 15 years as the fire district secretary, and also served as chaplain.

“He always did the right thing for the community and the firefighters,” North Massapequa Fire Commissioner Ralph Raymond said. “He would always put safety first.”

That showed in his dedication to rescue-first aid services. Pokress won six New York State Championships as co-captain to the Witch Doktors, the department’s rescue competition team.

Jackson Pokress was elected president of the Association of Fire Districts of Nassau County in the 1980s.

On his 100th birthday, fire trucks paraded by his home in celebration.

Pokress is survived by his sons, two grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. A service will be held June 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Chapey & Sons Funeral Home in Bethpage.

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