Served in Vietnam, U.S.M.C Suicide India Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines Machine Gunner, 1966-67
About the artist:
Erkki (Eric) Nevatie was born and raised in Helsinki, Finland. As a young boy, he had a dream of becoming a commercial artist in California someday like his Godmother was. Eric was blessed with a gift of art since he was born, always drawing and doodling something. His grandmother was going to put him through art school in Helsinki when he finished his regular schooling. At the young age of 9, he went to the U.S. Embassy and filled out all the applications for a visa to immigrate to the U.S. Everyone sort of chuckled and figured that it was just one of those stages a child goes through. At the age of 14 he joined the Finnish Merchant Marines on a ship destined for the U.S. His desire to come to America was overriding everything, even art school.
His first port of call was in Houston, Texas. He went on to spend about 3 years working on cargo ships all over the world, visiting just about every place imaginable except the Soviet Union, Autralia and New Zealnd. When the visa came through the first time he was in Bombay, India with an aid cargo from the United States. He could not get off the ship because he could not afford to return to Finland at that time to acquire a visa. When President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Eric was two days out of Las Palmas, Canary Islands heading to Togo, West Africa. In the midst of a civil war in Togo, they picked up a cargo of chemicals headed for the U.S.
In 1965, he finally got close enough to Finland to go and get his visa. He got on another freighter from Helsinki, sailed to Antwerp, Belgium. He then spent a week there looking for a ship that would take him to Los Angeles. He would sleep the nights in a Rose's bar in Antwerp after the bar closed.
Not speaking English well at the time, he would run into occasional problems. Finally, he settled for the Norwegian freighter, Ingwi, out of Bergen to take him to Detroit. In May 1965, Eric landed in the U.S. at the age of 17 by himself, with $62 to his name. Bus fare at the time was $90 to L.A., which created a dilemma. What could he do to get to Los Angeles where his Godmother lived?
On his way back to the ship from the immigration building, he stopped at a small cafe to think things out. As he was sipping on his coffee, a young lady who was washing dishes at the end of the counter kept looking at him and finally came over and asked in Finnish if his name was Erkki Nevatie.
Considering that he had never seen this woman, and he was halfway across the world, in the city the size of Detroit....it turned out she was married to an American Finn. She had gone back to Finland to visit her parents, and had casually flipped through her brother's photo album. Erkki and her brother used to go camping together and the brother had one photo of Erkki in the album. The photo was old, she had no reason to remember ever seeing his face, let alone remember his name, but she did.
Talk about a divine intervention! God wasn't going to let Erkki be stranded in a new country. She called her husband, they got his gear off the ship, and that night, Mr. Alholinna made a few phone calls, and Erkki got a job at Jerry's bike shop in Detroit and made more than enough bus fare to L.A.
After arriving in L.A., he stayed with his Godparents in Encino and worked with his Godfather in construction. But everyone around him spoke Finnish, and that was frustrating because he wasn't learning English fast enough. So he moved to Long Beach, and shortly thereafter went to see a Navy recruiter. He took the test. It was all multiple choice, so he just guessed where to put the x, and got 22 right out of 197 questions correct. The Navy said he had to wait to learn English, but Eric insisted on serving and learning English being surrounded by only English speaking people.The Navy recruiter pointed to the next door and said, "Try them, they might take you." The door had an emblem with an eagle, globe and anchor.
So right after his 18th birthday, Eric signed up with the U.S. Marine Corps, went through boot camp in San Diego in Oct-November 1965. Precisely a year after he arrived in America, Eric found himself fighting a war in Vietnam, trained as a rifelman, but due to shortages, ended up with a machine gun team, Suicide India Company.
He had a chance to use his artistic talent while in Vietnam. There was an observation post called, "Grape Myrtle India Eyeball," a high hill overlooking the villages and rice paddies near Son-Tre-Bon river in land from Chu-Lai. An Artillery forward observer knew about Eric's artistic side, so he had Eric draw a picture on a C-ration case sleeve that was quite long. He drew an intricate picture of the landscape as far as he could see. Then he numbered all the kep points and the Lt. used the photo to place artillery fire marker rounds on each key position. Once there he wrote the coordinates down, and then made a copy to the fire base, if there was any enemy activity in the area, they could call in the artillery with pinpoint accuracy.
While in Vietnam, Eric participated in numerous combat operations from Quent Nai to DMZ where his unit participated in operation Prairie 1 and 2 attached to the 3rd Marine Division. While in the DMZ, one of the supply helicopters had a large envelope for young Eric. In Finland, every boy turning 18 is required to serve a minimum of one year in the Finnish Army, so this letter contained nothing less than the Finnish Army draft notice.
Those who served there at the time might recall a newspaper article in both the Stars and Stripes, and the Sea Tiger about "Finn being drafted too late, too busy fighting a war to worry about being a draft-dodger," Eric wrote back. Eric had his 19th birthday in the DMZ jungle.
The 13+ months in combat had done what it did to many other combat infantrymen before him and after him. It had taken its toll, although he only turned 19, it was more like he was 50.
Eric did learn English while in Vietnam, except he's probably the only Finn in history to speak American English with a Vietnamese accent. Eric returned to the U.S. and was based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. and his unit was slated to go to Cuba. The thought of another sandbag city, barbed wires and live ammo, snapped something in Eric. He wanted out of this situation any way possible. Someone suggested geting an early discharge on the grounds that he is an alien. Officials warned that doing that would jeopardize his ability to become an American citizen, and that if he left the country he would never be able to return. Pretty harsh for someone who just fought for the country and put his life on the line.
Eric had met a supply officer while in Vietnam who was also of Finnish origin. He said he could have him transferred to his unit and go on a medical cruise. Sounded like an answer to a prayer. Except a couple of days later, one of the Captain's aides showed up and tried to make homosexual advances, and that broke the camel's back. Eric took the alien discharge much to regret it later.
Eric went back to Finland to sort out the draft and other problems. While there, he got a job in the U.S. Embassy. The only reason he got the job was because he had been a Marine. He worked for them for 9 months and got married to his childhood sweetheart. With a heavy heart not being able to return to the country he loved, He and his wife got a visa to Canada and have lived in British Columbia ever since.
Eric has won awards in B.C. for his art and has had numerous shows. In 1987, he first encountered other Vietnam Veterans through a group called Vietnam Veterans in Canada. It was like homecoming. At last, someone to talk to. PTSD had been playing a big part in Eric's life in all these years. Plus, he had to look over his shoulder to sneak across the border for counseling at the Veteran Center in Bellingham, Washington.
Eric and his wife Tuula both became committed Christians and that has helped Eric to keep things together as well as he has. In 1987, he started to paint pictures of Vietnam, most of which have been sold to veterans.