"Among other stunning bodies of work, I was particularly captivated by Jessica Hines' project, “My Brother’s War.” ~ Caroline Hirsch, The New Yorker
In 1967 my brother, Gary, a soldier in the U.S. Army was sent to the American war in Viet Nam. Because our parents were not well and Gary was our caretaker, he made a request to Senator Stuart Symington seeking his help to avoid the order. A letter arrived on October 9th 1967, informing him “we regret that it could not have been more favorable to your wishes". He was instructed by the Commanding Officer to report to the United States Army Overseas Replacement Station in Fort Lewis, Washington for further assignment overseas. On November 4th, my brother arrived in Qui Nhon, Viet Nam. It was my eighth birthday. Because my parents could not care for me, I was sent to live with various relatives until I was in my teens. When my brother and I said our “good-byes” it would be the last time we saw one another for years.
Gary wrote many letters home while he was stationed in Viet Nam. Pictures arrived. Although he wrote about his living conditions and told us about his work experiences on board the helicopters he rode into the front lines, not wanting to worry us, he rarely discussed the dangers he faced.
Honorably discharged from the army in 1969 with a “service connected nervous condition”, we later came to know his problem as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. My pre-war brother, a normal and well-adjusted person had become, according to the US Veterans Administration, 50% disabled. He took his own life about ten years later.
More recently, while perusing Gary’s Vietnamese/English dictionary, I found hand-written declarations of love from a Vietnamese woman. The two had fallen in love and I have since confirmed their plans to marry. After his discharge, Gary returned to Viet Nam to live and work as a civilian. He never told any of us his love. Gary’s reasons for leaving Viet Nam and returning home remain a mystery.
A memo pad I found amongst my brother’s belongings reveals the names and addresses of his wartime friends. Thirty-five years after the war, I have contacted some of them. Many of his friends are now deceased – having died young.
In an attempt to better understand what happened to my brother, I made these photographs and journeyed twice to Viet Nam where I retraced Gary’s “footsteps” using his letters and photographs to serve as my guides. I continue to make new discoveries about what took place and am sometimes greatly surprised by what I find.
The process of making this work is healing for me. I hope that it sheds light onto the invisible side of the aftermath of war. In titling this work, “My Brother’s War”, I make reference to the other families worldwide who have lost, and are presently losing, loved ones in war.
Work from this series is available for purchase, licensing, and exhibition.
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