As I Remember It, 2014
Cast Polyurethane, 16” x 14” x 8”
By Christopher B. Wagner
There is a lifetime of experience separating the Vietnam vets we see from who they were when they went to war. The events that piled themselves onto young men, younger than I am now, shaped the much older men who are sitting in front of me. I am only now coming to understand how young those men were who went to war. I am only now about to turn thirty and I look at who I am now versus who I was at eighteen, two completely different people. I can’t help but think back at that age and see myself as a kid. So as I listen to the stories our two Vietnam vets tell I can’t help but try to put the mental image of who I was as an eighteen year old in the situations that they themselves where put in. To empathize with someone is all well and good but sometimes there can be such a gulf of experience that you can’t help hitting a wall.
They talk about decisions that they are proud of and those they regret. The entire time I can’t help but think how the men in front of me could be the same people who did the things they describe. Their narratives will swing from building a work bench to capturing a village or playing squash to almost triggering a trip line to a booby trap. It is easy to keep the distance between us, to say, “I cannot put myself in their younger shoes so how can I remotely understand what they went through?”
Undoubtedly that is true, but it doesn’t mean you don’t try, that you don’t listen. I can respect who these wonderful men are now and see how events experienced a lifetime before helped shape them, whether they are who they are now because of what the experienced or in spite what they experienced.
Our veteran portrait project, Between Here and There, is made possible by a generous grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council.