Born: Vallejo, California, 1946 Served in Vietnam, U.S. Army 8th Radio Research Field Station 509th Radio Research Group Phu Bai, Hue, and Camp Evans Security Guard, 1967-70
From the Artist:
I stayed in Vietnam for three years because I felt guilty--guilty for being part of it all, guilty for not being more a part of it. Mostly I felt guilty for not being one of the oozing gray bags of human matter stacked in the chilled Conex boxes across Highway 1 near the Phu Bai airstrip. For over ten years after I returned I found myself constantly explaining my role in the war--apologizing for coming back relatively unscathed, I guess. For another ten years I tried to make sure that every kid I taught art to in the schools knew that the war was wasteful and an admission of failure; that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Nixon were scoundrels; that Sylvester Stallone and others of his ilk were opportunists;* and that if a few of the sons and daughters of our senators, congressmen, and business leaders had returned in rubber body bags the war might have ended sooner.
Today my gait is wobbly and painful, a memento of an April Fool's morning near Phu Bai in 1969, and I do odd-looking paintings of flawed landscapes, dead plants, and old toys framed in lead and clad in beeswax. Sometimes, as I drive through a barren mountain pass in Nevada, when it's drizzling rain and the light is just so, I am surprised not to see a bunker, swathed in barbed wire, looming from the crest of the hill; not to hear the chattering staccato of automatic weapons and the thump of mortars wafting through the mountains; not to see an arc of tracers splattering through the advancing night.
And when I hear the marching band at a high-school football game, for an instant I am once again huddled in the corner of a backhoe trench on a cold, dark afternoon in 1968, next to the runway at Camp Evans. The air vibrated like a tuning fork after a series of 122mm rockets had skipped across the steel airstrip. An army band practices a few hundred yards away as the crew chief gives us the signal, through the roar of engines, that it is time to scramble out of the ditch and run for the yawning ramp of his C-130 transport, dive past the rudely stacked body bags, crawl under one of the red nylon straps on the floor of the already moving plane, and pray that the pilot will guide us safely through the torrent of rockets, mortars, and sniper fire. Most vividly of all, I recall a stuttering, bawling, milk-cheeked grunt with century-old eyes clinging to the wall of a trench, babbling about how he was the only survivor of an ambush on his outfit that morning, and now they were going to get him.
*The star and creator of the Rambo Vietnam War films, who was of draft age during the war, did not serve in Vietnam.