Born: Pontiac, Michigan, 1949 Served in Vietnam, U.S. Army 2d Battalion, 502d Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Camp Eagle, Phu Bai, A Shau Valley, Quang Tri, Grunt, Point Man, and Ground-Pounder, 1970-71
From the Artist: From a letter written in Vietnam, 1970:
Last night we set some booby traps and a poor deer walked into one and was killed. He was so torn up that we couldn't even get the meat off for some steaks. The guys just buried him....Don't worry about me—I'm keeping my s*** in order. I just pray that I haven't changed when I come back. This war is cruel, but in a funny way. It's hard to explain: we're not fighting every minute; we're just conscious of the enemy every minute....
From a series of letters written in Australia, 1984,1988,1992, and 1996:
After one day, I hated being in the rear. The field was my home. I felt I had some control over my life when I was walking point; in the rear we were sitting targets.
You know, I never wanted that "war"; if I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn't have gone—all those dead and walking wounded. But I'm not ashamed of what I did: I'm proud. I did my best. I did what was asked of me by my country. I saw death and pain, but I also saw great strength....
If my country feels shame or guilt because of its involvement, tough s***. I refuse to share that feeling any longer. I've been there and now I'm back.
I paint every day—cheap junk for the locals—cake-and-ice-cream art, but I also lay out and plan some big, good, meaningful stuff. Living in Australia, lately I've been painting the reality of the Anzac vets—why they went, their courage, male images, history—it's all so, so different from ours. Mention Vietnam here and, man, does one get some funny looks. So much for a cupcake-and-ice-cream war....All I want is a chance to show the world that the lowly grunt has insight, feelings, an understanding of life and death that few others have. Do I want to be remembered as a Vietnam vet artist or as an artist? Do I paint my anger to attack the public or to educate it? Do we think of Goya as a painter of the disasters of the Napoleonic wars, or as the painter of the royal family of Spain?
I'm told, my first wife says the guy she married died in Vietnam (ha); I'm a cute ghost, for sure....
At times I wish I could turn off my mind. I believe I'm toooo emotional about my world. All wars are hell, but the losses aren't just in the number of body bags that come home. You have to count everything that happened—all this muddy s***, these foggy years. I'm tired, at times so tired. All the pain, all the loss—I wish at times I could turn it off. I'll try to paint it and touch a few hearts and maybe heal mine.
War was always shown to me as the proper, moral, and American way to deal with international problems—heroes, glory, black-and-white answers. After serving in Vietnam, I knew war wasn't like that. In The Vietnam War I hope the contrast of colors, the pain of the wounded, the compassion of the medics, the contrast of lettering, and the indifference and ignorance of those who weren't there can all be seen together.