The Unbroken Line: America's Veterans, Faces Behind the Uniforms
When she offered the invite I politely said, "I'll try to stop by" which is code for, thanks, but I'm a busy person, so it's highly unlikely. As it turns out I wasn't that busy, and I happened to be in the neighborhood of her show so I dropped in expecting to look around briefly and head back to my uneventful average Saturday in blissfully ignorant USA-land, but instead I spent a good amount of time soaking in the stories and pictures documented in her exhibit.
The gist of her project was to document a small portion of the lives of several American soldiers starting with WWII to the present. Her objective was to focus on the people and their stories and leave the political editorializing up to the viewer.
Some of the soldiers were family members, like her grandpa who served in WWII, while others were friends serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Still others were strangers who served in Korea or Vietnam and only grew to trust her over time as they began to recognize her familiar face at their VFW gatherings. Through interviews, news clippings, personal letters, and photos taken by the soldiers themselves, bits of their lives and service to country began to emerge.
As I happened to be the only one there at that time Jennifer walked me through the exhibit and personalize the lives of each soldier even more for me. She talked about the tears or distant stares from the older vets as they recounted certain details to her, yet often failed to bring words to whatever their mind was trying to cope with. She elaborated on the anger and frustration many of today's vets face as they struggled to do their risky thankless job, while their country doesn't seem to be paying attention. She recounted recent returning vets who were having a hard time adjusting to normal life. Many were contemplating what the appropriate level of support was for their government and how it might effect those still in harm's way. At the time they did what they needed to do to survive and keep their buddies alive, but now back home things didn't seem as black and white any more.
One set of disturbing pictures in the exhibit were tragically graphic and unlike any most of us would see in our sanitized coverage of war by the American media. The photos showed the god awful reality of two American land mine victims as they underwent amputations and drastic surgery to salvage their lives.
I guess my point in recounting this is to remind myself and anyone who might happen to read this how much we owe to others and how much we can give back if we make up our mind to make a difference somehow. It's easy to go about our daily lives and forget what's happening thousands of miles away in some distant desert, but the effects are long term and they're right here in America.
A no-brainer way to respect these men and women would be to make sure they get the medical and psychological treatment they need upon return. If we're going to send our sons and daughters into harm's way, we damn well better live up to our end of the bargain and make sure they're looked after when they're back. That sounds so simple, but nothing is simple in Washington.
I imagine some of us have some other 'crazy' ideas about what we can do to make a difference, but I'll leave that for another day.