Welcome to the Veterans’ Art page for the Providence Clemente Veterans’ Initiative. Expressive and creative artmaking are major components of the PCVI. All art featured on this page has been created by PCVI scholar-veterans. This gallery exists as a place of understanding and healing. Please, take a look through our gallery, and see if you can find work that resonates with you or helps you better understand a veteran’s perspective.
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Hello “Iron Mike!” I thought that you might get a kick out of that. I know that Mr. Garabedian doesn’t call you that anymore, but I remember how it made you feel when you were four, five, and six years old. Whenever the old man from across the road saw you coming, he would gleefully sing out “Iron Mike,” in a deep laughing voice that echoed from the shade of his old rickety front porch. “Iron Mike,” it was music to your ears. Those simple words had superhero written all over them and there was no doubt in your mind that Mr. Garabedian saw you, just as you were seeing yourself. In some roundabout way you took ownership of what “Iron Mike” suggested, and it provoked a kind of confidence that allowed you to step out of what is considered normal and comfortable, a little something that kept you reaching for an itch that you just couldn’t reach.
It is April of 1970. Welcome home and congrats on your making it back home from Vietnam. What a journey! You left home a little over a year ago not knowing what was in store for you or how you would react to it. You knew that you were prepared in terms of training to do your job but weren’t sure about whether you would do the right things when called upon in a crisis. As it turned out, you did what was necessary when needed and maybe just a little bit more.
Dad had a distinguished military service in the 774th Tank Destroyer Battalion in Patton’s Third Army for which he was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Dad regaled us with his war stories, but his stories did not glamorize the service or his service. Most times he narrated self-deprecating fables to impress his impressionable two sons of the badness of mankind, the horrors of battle, and the importance of individual salvation – practically and metaphysically. The Third Army has been recognized as performing superhuman feats roaring across France and Germany to save Allies from a defeat at the Battle of the Bulge – superhuman because the American soldiers rallied themselves every day for over nine months of battle to liberate captive towns from another vision of superhumanity. Thereafter, I learned that General Patton also linked fear, battle, discipline and self-respect. “No sane man is unafraid in battle.”
When I arrived in South Vietnam in May of 1969, I was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group which was headquartered in Nha Trang, a city located in Khanh Hoa Province on the South China Sea. This lively and attractive coastal resort city then, as now, was known for its beaches, diving sites, and offshore islands. Unfortunately for me, I was not there to sightsee and didn’t really get to experience the sights and sounds of that well known vacation spot.
Six months ago, I was about to turn 80, or as my family likes to call this birthday a decade transition. My youngest sister, who hosted my mother’s 80th birthday celebration wanted to know what I was going to do about mine. My children wanted to know if there was anything I would like on my birthday. Normally, the family would have a party with all the brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, and aunts and uncles with the number approaching 35 or 40 people. I am the oldest family member and the only person other than my wife who would be at a party who had one vaccination shot with the second one scheduled. COVID had changed a lot of family gatherings, and this would be no exception.
Beirut is a beautiful city, a mixture of the new, the old, and the ancient. It has been referred to as the “Paris of the Middle East,” with beautiful beaches, modern hotels, universities, and businesses to support tourism. Cedar forests surround the city and lead to majestic mountains just an hour, or two, drive from the beaches. The great cedar forests are intertwined in Lebanon’s persona, and a single cedar tree is the centerpiece of the Lebanese flag. The mountains are home for skiing and other activities during the winter months. The neighboring city of Byblos has been continuously occupied for 7000 years; and considered one of the birthplaces of humanity. Life has endured throughout the cycles of violence in the country’s long history.
“Welcome to IHOP, how many in your party?” asks the older woman at the counter as she ushers in the all-night partiers looking to sober up, early risers looking for a caffeine fix and families looking for a meal after a long flight. Each time the door opens the sounds of traffic is mixed with the sounds of planes landing and taking off from the airport, not a quarter of a mile away. I cannot seem to hear anything but the blood swelling my veins. The thump, thump, thump of my heart is getting louder as my scope of vision is narrowing. I try to revert back to my training to slow my breathing and open up my field of vision; I know that if this was taking place in a combat zone this could be deadly, but this isn’t a combat zone, this is at home in IHOP on a peaceful Sunday morning.