I’m proud that I answered the call to serve my country. Sacrifice and honor are a big deal to veterans. I’m proud to wear my veteran hat, Purple Heart insignia, and stand tall. Freedom is the backbone of America, and I’m part of the great tradition of helping America stay free.
I was in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. We flew in helicopters all over Vietnam, and we were dropped off for weeks at a time into the jungle. We’d return to the Saigon area for several days for showers, hot food, and entertainment. Then it was back to the jungle to fight.
Freedom is the backbone of America, and I’m part of the great tradition of helping America stay free.
When I returned from Vietnam in 1968, it was hard times. Being in war changed my life—I’d come close to being killed many times, been wounded, and seen death all around me. I was traumatized. The age was full of protest, including personal attacks on returning veterans. Therefore, I was advised not to advertise that I was a veteran.
Thankfully, today that fear is no longer present. It makes me proud, and I often have tears leaking out of my eyes when people approach me with kindness and respect rather than hate and name-calling.
How do you talk about taking another’s life?
I returned with post-traumatic stress issues, having problems attaching along with relational issues. I became a loner, isolated, and struggled for years with a sleep disorder and high levels of anxiety. I was a functional mess. Another component that often is not addressed is the issue of guilt. I know survivor guilt is well-known, but addressing moral guilt is just now emerging as a vital part of treatment. For me, even though it was war, killing is not a natural act. Every time I defended myself and took a life it took a part of me away. It changed me forever. It’s no wonder those of us who were in combat find it hard to discuss or address what we experienced. How do you talk about taking another’s life?
Art helps me channel those struggles into something productive.
Art helps me go to safe places. Anxiety and trauma take away safety. They’re disruptive and chaotic. Art is soothing, quiet, and relaxing. My photography is mostly nature based, so I feel grounded and in tune with the hum of the earth. Being calm to the forces of trauma lets me heal. Art literally helped me survive PTSD by helping me refocus. I use my art to express emotions without words and utilize my creativity to find healing.
My photography tells my stories, gives me strength, and helps me connect. I wondered if I could ever love again when I returned from war. I have found I can love in spite of the struggles while embracing the universe with all its resources. It has taken me more than a decade of art therapy to feel like I am “normal” to the extent I can be.
I have found I can love in spite of the struggles while embracing the universe with all its resources.
After I engaged in therapy through art I began to seek support by being with other veterans and accepting my family’s willingness to help me. I would never have recovered to a functional state without these supports. Yet I had to educate my family on the changes I experienced. If I need to be alone or disengage or avoid crowds or loud noises on holidays it is not because of something they did but something internal in me that I need to calm. Once they accepted my changes and I accepted their support, my healing increased.
Recovery is complicated to say the least. My trauma attacked my body, and I was infected by Agent Orange—a toxin used to defoliate jungles in Vietnam. My ischemic heart disease is linked to my exposure to Agent Orange. I have survived multiple heart attacks, a stroke, and have five stents in my heart. I will also have to take heart medication for the rest of my life. I’m susceptible to anxiety. As a young man I was an avid athlete, but today I must be extremely careful with my level of activity and diet.
I am new to the group ArtLifting, but I am honored to be part of an organization that elevates the homeless and disabled as productive human beings. To me, it exemplifies the oneness of humanity, revealing that we all have gifts that need to be seen and shared. There is healing and love. And now many of us who are considered the disenfranchised, the dregs of society, have a medium to show the world we are human beings with gifts that can bless others.