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The Vietnam veteran experience is in stark contrast to that of the 500 WWII veterans I photographed over the four-year making of my book, “The Last Good War: The Faces and Voices of WWII.” WWII vets came home as glorified heroes; the Vietnam vets, as we all know, experienced a much different reception. WWII vets volunteered because their country came under attack: it was a war of good versus evil. Vietnam vets volunteered for different reasons. Some of the Vietnam vets volunteered because they wanted to follow in the heroic steps of their WWII veteran fathers. Others knowing they faced the draft, volunteered so they could get their pick of the military branch. Some dodged the draft, and others were drafted or were to serve jail time.
The south bay is home to the third largest Vietnamese population in the world (Vietnam being first followed by Orange County). There are tens of thousands of Vietnamese immigrants and southern Vietnamese veterans that left Vietnam to come the U.S.A for a better life. I have seen numerous art series on war and veterans, but I have seen none intermixed with veterans, allies, and immigrants that were affected by a war.
I photographed the portraits in a surreal jungle environment. I want the viewer to feel the darkness and uncertainty of what those who experienced the war might have felt. In different scenes, the subject is holding an object that correlates to their role or experience during their time in the service. I also included war objects by themselves to add nostalgia and mystery, and to further historically educate the viewer about the Vietnam War. The objects help tell a deeper story of a dark and confusing war: the common cigarette pack smoked by the vets while in the jungle, a grenade made by the northern Vietnamese made of a milk can, bamboo, a wick, fish hooks and screws, and a very real “order to report” document – a piece of paper that truly changed many a life.