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May 23, 2019

5/15/2019 1:21:00 PM
Take ferry to Viet Nam vets photo exhibit
REMEMBER VIET NAM VETS AS MEMORIAL DAY NEARS – Viet Nam war scene. Photo by Donald Cordi in “A War Never Ends,” presented by San Juan County Viet Nam Veterans. Co- exhibit with “My War: Wartime Photos by Viet Nam Veterans.” – Photo courtesy of SJIMA
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REMEMBER VIET NAM VETS AS MEMORIAL DAY NEARS – Viet Nam war scene. Photo by Donald Cordi in “A War Never Ends,” presented by San Juan County Viet Nam Veterans. Co- exhibit with “My War: Wartime Photos by Viet Nam Veterans.” – Photo courtesy of SJIMA

By Craig Barber
Saturday I ventured over to Friday Harbor to visit the San Juan Islands Art Museum exhibit, “My War: Wartime Photos by Viet Nam Veterans,” curated by Marissa Roth and June Berg.
This was my first visit to the San Juan Museum of Art; I wasn’t sure what to expect but was quite pleased upon my arrival. The museum is intimate and divided into two galleries, each playing perfectly off the other to tell this story. The main gallery is quiet and somber, allowing this viewer time to reflect upon the story being shared by the 22 veterans selected to share the photographs they took while on tour in Viet Nam.
Full disclosure: I served two tours in VN during the 1960’s so I approached “My War…” with my usual trepidation regarding all things revisiting “Viet Nam”, always concerned over who is being or will be exploited.
I was pleased this was not one of those moments. “My War…” is much more contemplative than that and does not revel solely in the carnage or the daily nightmare of war. This exhibition focuses on the daily routine of existence in wartime Viet Nam. It shows not only the relentless patrols and encounters and hardship, but also daily life in base camp.
Young men (our average ages were 18 to 20) worn old by war and young men standing around for group photos with their buddies. Smooth, toned bodies reminding the viewer of how young our men and women are when we send them off to foreign lands to fight America’s wars. Children, really. Singular images jogged memories of choppers filling the air with their whump whump whump sound; the portrait of a Vietnamese boy which reminded me of all the kids who loved to hang around the Marines drinking lukewarm sodas, near the base camp; captured Viet Cong soldiers; looking out from a chopper while flying over a quiltwork of rice paddies; the list goes on.
Adjacent to the main space is a collection of artifacts from several local vets who served in Viet Nam, all with their special history and all adding to the story; diaries, uniforms, sandals fashioned by the Vietnamese and made from recycled truck tires, even a box of “C” rations – beef stew – I hate to think of how many “C” rat meals I ate in my time over there.
The ritual of opening a new case (12 meals), flipping it over so no one knew which meal they were grabbing – much more democratic. Entrenching tools (foldable shovel) and Zippo lighters, the list goes on with each item adding context to the things we carried (nod to Tim O’Brien).
There are also several scrap books worthy of looking through. One photo story telling the bittersweet story of a young couple, he a soldier, she a nurse being reunited at a hospital in Hawaii where he is recovering from battle wounds, the nurse tending to his wounds so he can return to Viet Nam.
Each gallery felt stand-alone but also each was supported by the other. Each provided context to the other. Each providing companionship.
SJIMA felt the perfect place and the perfect size for this thoughtful and quiet exhibition. Not too big, just right for the intimacy this viewer needed to deal with the feelings and thoughts I carried through the space and out into my day.
It closes June 5th and is worth a visit.
SJIMA is open 11a.m.-5p.m. Friday-Monday. Information: https://sjima.org/my-war-photographs-by-vietnam-veterans/.
La Conner resident Craig Barber has published a book of his photographs, “Ghosts in the Landscape: Vietnam Revisited.”

Related Links:
• Ken Stern

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