Born: Wrightsville, Georgia, 1948 Served in Vietnam, U.S. Air Force 31st Security Police Squadron, K-9 Section, Tuy Hoa Air Base, Sentry-Dog Handler and Trainer, 1970-71
From the Artist:
From two letters, 1987 and 1996:
I began working on paintings relating to my time in Vietnam out of a desire to project flashbacks into images. I wanted also to share my experiences with others. The influences on my work are both political and personal: as an artist, a black American, and a Vietnam veteran, I naturally have been concerned with these issues. When the question is asked, What did you do in Vietnam? my response is: There it is; look at it; check it out; the art speaks for itself, and for us. The subjects of my paintings are all small events; they deal with the day-to-day process of trying to survive under adverse conditions. The motivating sources of my work are more difficult to pinpont: it is hard to recall memories and mixed feelings that I've worked so hard to suppress—moments that were intense, spontaneous, fleeting, jarring.
I started the Vietnam paintings some four or five years after I left active duty. I can only assume it took that long for my mind to decipher information and put it into concrete images. Vietnam memories last forever; the slightest stimulus projects me back, in country. I can still tell by sound the difference between a Huey and any other kind of helicopter, especially at night.
Children Reaching and Playing is one of those small events. There were always local kids from Tuy Hoa around the base. GIs would throw c-rations over the perimeter fence to them. The perimeter was guarded and mined. Sometimes cans got caught in the fence and kids would come close to pick them out. Once a girl came too close and stepped on a mine and was killed. That event took place inside the barbed-wire barrier, where the mines were buried underneath the fence line.
Bombing Cambodia secretly, racial strife within the base—a lot went on on our side of the fence line. As a sentry, I patrolled the perimeter, mostly on night duty. I remember the fireflies and tracers.
...How do you measure bravery? The Viet Cong were willling to do anything. I remember seeing a U.S. helicopter laying down fire one night, and a lone line of tracer fire rising from the tree line: one guy was trying to shoot down the helicopter, even though the tracers gave away his position.