a photograph of my father

This is a photograph of my father. I have a block about him and he died very young. I was never close to him. I have never been sure which war he was in. This week working with veterans making books I met Ted Engelmann who is a veteran of the war in Viet Nam. I asked him if he could tell me anything about this photograph of my father. Was he in Korea or was he in Vietnam? As Ted said that it looked like Viet Nam. The uniform was the old style uniform from about 1964 (updated by the 1978 when Ted was there). My dad’s stripes are E4 airman first class. My dad is probably not doing combat duty because the rifle he is holding doesn’t have a strap for combat. It’s was probably more for show and is a modified M16 with no magazine. Dad’s polished leather boots and his white T shirt (instead of green) indicate it’s not a combat situation. He noted that my dad was not wearing his uniform to code—rolled up sleeves and “play hat” that was not part of the regular uniform. This makes sense considering my dad’s rebellious character.

The Veterans Book workshops are collaborative so I worked with Ted to help him flesh out his story and get it on the page in a solid form. We spent several days working closely with his material and looking at the photographs he took while in Viet Nam in 1968-69 and also the photographs he has taken on his many trips to Viet Nam since then. Since 1968 Ted is in the middle of a re-photographing project of Viet Nam. This is in  part  a way for him to  disconnect his own emotions from his turbulent past and orient his understanding of himself in Viet Nam to peacetime situations. He finds that he is welcomed to Viet Nam as a returning American veteran. In the past few years Ted has been traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan as an imbed photographing soldiers lives as they deal with displacement from home. As a veteran and a photographer, he seems to have a special eye for the emotional life of soldiers in combat situations far from home. I’ll show some of his work in the next post. Working with Ted has helped me to understand some of my history as a military brat.

Last night I read a book in this series that was written by a young Iraqi woman, a civilian, who lost her legs when an American bomb dropped mistakenly into her bedroom while she slept.

About Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is the director of galleries and curator of exhibitions at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. She writes the blog "Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes" about visual art in her community.

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