Born: Durham, North Carolina, 1946 Served in Vietnam, U.S.M.C. A Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines 1967
From the Artist:
Biographical sketch written Oct. 2005
The reasons I went to war seemed to pale quickly into insignificance after my first firefight. Honor and duty as I was taught digressed swiftly into a battle for survival, both personal and for the men of my unit. I was a rifleman, a grunt. My unit was 1st platoon Alpha Company of the infamous 1st Battalion 9th Marines, the Walking Dead. We acquired our battalion's battle name because in Vietnam we sustained the highest casualty rate in Marine corps history. A standing battalion numbers eight hundred and fifty Marines, we suffered seven hundred and thirty seven killed in action and forty five Navy Corpsman died trying to keep us alive. In the Walking Dead, it was taken for granted that you were bound to get hit. Everyone got hit, wounded or killed depending on luck. We made pacts with each other as to who would get first pick of our personal possessions, ammo, and c-rats when we went down.
To keep sane in that environment I became a master of denial. I denied the constant world of hurt, the exhaustion, the lack of sleep, the heat, the thirst, the saddle sores that never healed. I denied the jungle with it's vines, constant twilight, ambushes, hidden bunkers, tunnels, leeches, poisonous insects and snakes. I denied becoming friendly with replacements, always breaking them in as I was broken in, humping the radio, picking up body parts, and carrying the dead. I denied the elephant grass that would make my hands bleed and the night mortar attacks in the highlands of the DMZ. I denied the Street Without Joy and all the mines, the Bouncing Bettys and the Tomato Cans. I denied what the North Vietnamese would do to captured Marines and Corpsmen. I denied the never ending death and maiming that surrounded me. I denied that most people back in the world didn't care that we were dying like dogs. I denied that our own officers only had a vague sense of purpose stemming from tradition and the kind of war we were fighting was merely a trade. We kill them; they kill us; everybody dies, we are The Walking Dead. I denied that the longer I lasted, the more I was enjoying it; taking point, listening posts, setting ambushes, setting booby traps, life on the edge, lighting them up, the payback, catching the bastards and wasting them.
I had thirty seven days left in my tour of thirteen months when I got hit. I was finally wounded on the last day of a terrible four day battle. Two companies of the Walking Dead supported by six tanks assaulted two dug in North Vietnamese battalions. The NVA had a large complex of camouflaged and interlocked machine gun bunkers .We had to sacrifice Marines to find the bunkers. By the last day we had only two men left unwounded in my platoon.and three of our four Navy Corpsman had been killed. The Corpsman who kept me from bleeding to death was killed. I didn't get medevaced for almost a day because the battle was so fierce that anybody who could fire a rifle had to stay and fight to live. I was hit three times that day, gunshot , chicom grenade fragments, and friendly fire shrapnel, but I got out, I finally got out. The ground was hot and the trees were falling down and the medevac took a lot of fire pulling up but I got out.
During the next year in the hospital I saw the harvest of war; young men without faces, arms, legs,or hope. The burned were the worst. I was so wounded in my body and mind and so full of denial that I didn't really recognize the self healing process when it began. I started my making' writing verse and taking photographs. Making helped me start to accept instead of deny, and with acceptance my healing began.
I left the country after Vietnam because I needed a place without rules. I drifted through the Caribbean, living on the edge, drinking and drugging, carrying a weapon, not fitting in anywhere. I would take hard dangerous jobs that no one else would do. I could carry every possession that I owned just like I did in Vietnam. I lived on the beach and was homeless and feral, still a grunt.
I felt driven to make stuff. I first made small objects to give away and to trade for food. I found that people would give me money for the stuff I made. I always worked intuitively and if the object pleased me, it would please others. In time I taught myself to work with with horn, bone, leather, iron, coral, and wood. As my making continued, it became apparent that my extended combat experience had changed me, so that the normal stuff, like settling down to family life, getting a job, becoming a member of society, never happened to me. But I continued to make, and came to realize that for me making was healing.
I met the woman that I'm sharing my life with because of the healing that making allowed. I was able to build my studio for the same reason. I know I've been damaged by my experience in Vietnam, but my making has shown me a way to live with my demons. If I can continue to transform the demons that drive me into positive objects that make the world a better place, my mission in this life will be complete.I have no choice but to be a maker, I'll be a maker until I die.