IT IS OFTEN said that photos tell a story. They do and some go farther; some tell a slice of history.

Last weekend, while digging through a pile of papers and assorted other stuff that has been collecting for umpteen years on one of my bookshelves, I found a photo that tells a story and lots of history.

I play a small part in it. The photo really is all about my dad, Uncle Neal and Jim Thomas. I am just a footnote to the picture, sitting in a canoe with the three of them standing in back of it, all of us holding some of the ducks we shot that day in North Dakota.

It was the only time in my 27 years of hunting North Dakota that I had all three of them in duck camp. Thomas is 83 and though he’s just starting the road to recovery from some health problems, I told him the other day I fully expect he will once again be part of duck camp as he has been for many years.

Dad and Neal lived into their 90s, and at the time of the picture being taken were in their 80s. Their smiles on that day were more like they were 12-year-old children again.

That was the year I had 14 hunters in camp at one time. That was my first duck camp, a large, old farmhouse located about 20 miles north of the little white house on the prairie I have called home away from home for going on 20 years.

That was the year we had three guys, my son and the infamous Petersohn twins shacked up in a 12-by-16 elk hunting wall tent in the backyard. Though the farmhouse was big, 10 or 12 guys was the limit for sleeping space.

We hunted, we ate extremely well and often, we killed ducks and we told stories. My, oh, my, were the stories flying that year. The best of them were told by the three guys — the old guys, not me — in the photo.

One night, for a few hours, the rest of us sat around the living room, some on the steps to the upstairs when we ran out of chairs, spellbound by the stories of three old fighter pilots.

My dad, an upstate New York resident prior to World War II, born and raised in Amsterdam, met Neal when both were fighter pilot cadets during the final year of the war. Of course, Neal was not my uncle just then, though shortly after the war, when my dad brought his sister, Aunt Betty, to Wisconsin for a visit after he moved here in 1947, Neal took one look at her and became my uncle as soon as she said “I do.” Except, maybe, for the fact that I wasn’t born until two years later, but I digress.

Thomas was a Marine fighter pilot during a time of peace, sandwiched in between the Korean War and the Vietnam War. All three of them had stories to tell that night and the rest of us listened, enraptured, all the time they were telling them.

There was a lot of humor, although for Dad and Neal, their time in the cockpit was a time of solemn preparation to fight against a tyrannical enemy. For Thomas, it was a time of preparation for any other fight for freedom that might come.

I’ve forgotten some of the stories they told that night, but I do remember a couple of my dad’s, one dealing with a 6-foot rattlesnake he shot with his pistol in Alabama where he underwent flight training. Another was about a daring trainee who thought it would be good humor to fly under a highway bridge, until he was immediately washed out of the program.

Thomas told stories of mandatory survival training in case of being shot down. During his sojourn in a wild area, of California I think it was, he spent a mandatory amount of time “hiding out from the enemy,” scrounging whatever he could find to eat, including insects and, if I remember correctly, rattlesnake.

I was witness to what I considered his best moment as a fighter pilot. That was on the day he and his wingman buzzed Plum Lake and the town of Sayner as they flew to either Duluth, Minn., or Gwinn, Mich., I can’t remember which.

Brian Long and I were fishing from a rowboat on Plum Lake at the time when the two of them roared down the lake right over our heads at what we swore was a height of 50 feet or so. Thomas corrected me the night of the stories when he swore they were more like 200 feet or more, high enough to avoid trees and fire towers and such.

Brian and I thought it was the coolest thing we had ever seen, but on the main street of Sayner, panic set in. A number of people ran into the street, jaws agape, dead sure the Russians were attacking Sayner. A prime target indeed for the Russkis, I’m sure.

The only time I’ve ever been closer to a jet fighter roaring over my head was at the old farmhouse in North Dakota where, every so often, fighters from the base in Grand Forks, N.D., would practice strafing runs as low as 100 feet over the house.

I learned from the guy I rented from, a major in the Air Force reserve and a bomber pilot himself, that because of the scarcity of population in that area, the pilots were authorized to use that as a practice area and fly that low. I remember the first time they strafed us that I thought it might be humorous to grab my unloaded shotgun and take a practice swing as a jet roared by. Barry, my landlord, assured me the outcome would not have been pleasant. Fortunately, I wasn’t quite dumb enough to actually try pulling off the stunt.

Bottom line is, that one picture of me and three old fighter pilots is about to be enlarged and framed, for the rest of my life featured in a well-deserved place of honor in my house.

Those three guys telling stories that night had always been duck hunting and life role models and mentors for me. For as long as photos live on, telling stories forever, they always will be.