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Jessica Hines, My Brother's War

Things are not as they seem. Nor are they otherwise.—The Lankavatuara Sutra

IT WAS IN 1967, during the Viet Nam War, that my brother, Gary, was drafted into the US Army. The Viet Nam War, a Cold War Conflict, was occurring not only in Viet Nam, but also in Laos and Cambodia; it lasted from November 1st, 1955, until May 15th, 1975. When vacancies in the US armed forces could not be filled voluntarily between 1962 and 1973, American men were drafted. It has been said that by 1967, almost half of the enlisted men were draftees. This was the case with my brother.

When Gary entered the army, I was a young child living with my parents. Since our parents were ill and Gary had been our caretaker, my parents had to make arrangements for me to live elsewhere when he left for the army. My brother and father’s attempts to convince the military that Gary was needed at home failed. A letter from Senator Stuart Symington, regarding Gary’s deployment to Viet Nam stated, …we regret that it could not have been more favorable to your wishes. I can only imagine how devastated my family was after they opened that envelope. On November 4th, 1967, Gary arrived in Qui Nhon, Viet Nam.

During the time period of Gary’s departure, I was sent to live in several different households, as it was difficult to find someone willing and able to take me in. It was a horribly confusing time. At the young age of seven and eight, I had no understanding of my brother’s destiny to fight a war in a faraway place I knew nothing about. On top of that, I missed my family terribly. Finally, an aunt and uncle, living in another state, offered to let me live with them for the long run. I remained there until the year before I began high school.

Gary’s departure for war devastated my parents. To make matters worse, they knew that I was to grow up living away from them. During summers and Christmas, I visited my parents but I rarely saw Gary until I was much older.

Gary sent many letters and pictures home while he was stationed in Viet Nam. In his letters, he described his first job as a door gunner that led to his job as a crew chief for the Chinook helicopter. Gary spoke of his living quarters and described his missions to the front lines to deliver and pick up soldiers and equipment. He rarely discussed the dangers.

Honorably discharged from the army in December, 1969 with a service connected nervous disorder, we later came to know his condition as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My pre-war brother, a normal and well-adjusted person had become, according to the US Veteran’s Administration, 50% disabled. He took his own life 10 years later. My brother, Gary, along with everyone else who was sent off to war, became a victim of history.

During the summer of 1975, I visited Gary who was living in Littleton, Colorado. It was a memorable trip for me because it was one of the few times in our lives that Gary and I were able to spend time together. I include one image, Untitled 9 from Chapter 7 titled I Pray For Your Spirit, in which an old photograph of Gary and me is incorporated into this work. In the snapshot, I was about 15 years old and Gary about 29. This is the only photograph I have of us together when we were older.

Twenty-five years after his death, I discovered among his belongings, a memo pad that revealed the names and addresses of his wartime friends, some of whom, I have managed to contact—thirty-five years after the war. I discovered that he had fallen in love with a Vietnamese woman and they had planned to marry. Gary returned to Viet Nam in early 1970 to live and work as a civilian. He never told any of us of his love. His reasons for leaving Viet Nam and the identity of this woman will likely remain a mystery.

Through the remembrance of his comrades and through my own journeys to Viet Nam in 2007 and 2008, I retraced Gary’s footsteps using his letters and photographs as guides. I decided to take these to create images of something that no longer existed. These images reflect an illusion of a memory, a feeling—what I imagine may have taken place in the past. I continue to make discoveries about wartime in Viet Nam as experienced by its veterans. The visual record of those experiences continues to unfold.

My Brother’s War, is a reference to the other families worldwide who have lost and are presently losing loved ones as a result of war.

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