‘‘I don’t regret being there,’’ White says of Vietnam. ‘‘There’s a lot I wish I could have done. I got off the plane, did what I could. I got back on the plane and came home. Some people didn't. So this artwork is like leaving a sign behind that I was here. It’s like a cave painting. I never intended it to be that, but in a way it’s a legacy.’’
A toy soldier is trapped in an orange pill bottle, the lid screwed on top. His arms are raised over his head, his rifle is held high in one hand, his right knee is bent as if he’s trying to climb out.
This print — created on paper made from an old Army uniform — hints of Malachi Muncy’s two life-changing tours with the Texas National Guard in Iraq.
He was just 18 when he first deployed, and once in the combat zone, Muncy says he began taking sleeping pills to shut out the world. The constant dangers he faced on truck-driving convoys were overwhelming.
‘‘So much bad stuff happened,’’ he recalls. ‘‘Watching IEDs explode, and mortars hit. Being pinned down on bridges, you wonder where the fire is coming from. You just sit and wait to get shot at and you have no control over whether you’re going to live or die ... I was having nightmares. I really felt I was going to do stupid things and hurt the wrong people. I was having thoughts I couldn’t expel.’’
Muncy got into trouble, he says, pointing a weapon at a superior after a mission in which he went 36 hours without sleep.
When he returned home, life unraveled. He slept all day, he says, started hanging around with the wrong crowd, got hooked on methamphetamines, amassed a pile of speeding tickets and was arrested for shoplifting. He took an overdose of pills — he’s not sure if it was a suicide attempt.
And yet, almost inexplicably, he returned for a second tour in 2006. Muncy, who later was diagnosed with PTSD, says he wanted to get away from ‘‘the mess’’ and all the pills.
That second stint went far more smoothly and Muncy, now 27, began keeping a journal. When he returned to Texas — he works at a coffee house in Killeen, outside Fort Hood — he attended college and became interested in poetry, photography and other arts.
‘‘It’s about sharing the experience,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s not just something that haunts you.’’
Using a toy soldier and a pill bottle he'd kept on his key chain, Muncy produced one print showing the trapped soldier. A second one shows the bottle tipped over, the soldier crawling out on his belly. That one is appropriately called Escape.
‘‘They’re both me,’’ Muncy says. ‘‘It’s not then and now. It’s a back and forth. Sometimes I still feel like the guy trapped in the bottle.’’
A desperate Vietnamese mother clutches her starving baby on her chest as she flees her village. Looking back, she sees the chaos of her hamlet under attack. A Viet Cong soldier has his rifle pointed at the head of a villager on his knees, praying before he’s executed.
Title: The Refugee.
Richard Olsen created the yellow-and-black linocut after returning home following a year’s tour as an Army helicopter pilot with the 33rd Transportation Company in Vietnam. He came back in 1963, and the war in faraway Southeast Asia was not yet fully on America’s radar, so producing these images was his way of sounding an alarm.
‘‘It was like, ‘Hey, you guys, there’s a war going on,'’’ Olsen says. ‘‘Why make pictures of flowers? Why not make pictures of war?’’
Olsen had always wanted to be an artist growing up in Wisconsin — he earned a master of fine arts degree — and Vietnam allowed him to create works that he says reveal a ‘‘little man swept into a world beyond his control.’’
‘‘I had to tell the story ... the valiance, the heroism, the sacrifices, the personal giving for causes bigger than yourself,’’ says Olsen, now a 76-year-old professional artist living in Georgia. ‘‘It occurs on both sides.’’
Olsen’s work — paintings, drawing and prints — is ripe with pain, sacrifice and patriotism.
There’s a POW, viewed from behind, on his knees, his hands bound behind his back with his shoe laces, waiting to be killed; an eerie bluish outpost at 4 a.m., illuminated by a searchlight; a tender portrait of his bunk mate, a lieutenant who didn’t make it home. And then there’s Hill 881, site of one of the bloodiest Marine battles in Vietnam.
The hill painting was created by copying stencil shapes onto a canvas. It repeats the same scene of three soldiers: one climbing a hill, one higher up, tumbling down after being hit, and the third at the top falling backward as he’s shot. That final image was inspired by the famous Robert Capa photo of the fallen soldier in the Spanish Civil War.Continued...