Sunday, December 18, 2011

Math and Art: Word Problems for the Visual Learner

My math education did not go well at all. When, in 3rd grade, we learned "times tables", I had such problems that Miss Finch, a first-year teacher, called my parents in to let them know they had better think of technical school for me rather than college. While calling a 9-year-old an intellectual loser is a bit presumptuous, Miss Finch had me dead to rights on my math skills.

Miss Finch's Class Photo
 I would also guess that I have thought of Miss Finch over the last [you figure it out] number of years about a bazillion times more than she has ever thought of me. It's time to rid myself of the resentment at last.

While I'll go on to say that not only did I finish college, I did so in 4 years, one summer, and 8 majors. In addition, I went on to get a Masters in Fine Arts in Photography. You wondered when I'd bring in the art, didn't you? So here's the deal, while math scares me and those who know me who no longer ask me to add numbers, I do use math - complicated algorithms - on a daily basis. Most of my art takes place on the computer in a program called Photoshop. There I can create images, manipulate them, assemble photomontages, and ready photos for printing on textiles.

I will confess to not knowing one single complicated algorithm, but the point is, I can use them to my advantage - take that Miss Finch. I also know that I can ask the scientists with whom I work to draw a simple flowchart or diagram to clarify their research for me in order to better edit it.

Where is this all going? Let's call it a short essay on recognizing that skills of any type range along a spectrum and it's important to know how you learn as well as how to explain what you know to others. I'm getting ready to impart some WWII art/theatre/history knowledge to some really smart middle-schoolers and I need to remember that some of them will be good in math and some in art, and that all of them will most certainly teach me something.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Daughters, Sisters, Friends

I took my family to the Vietnam Wall on Friday, November 11, 2011.

There were a lot of "relatives" and "friends" along. I use the quotes because while the Vietnam Vets had their brother Vets with whom to share the occasion, I am not a Vet. I am a daughter of a name on the Wall. I couldn't share stories of war, of injuries, of death. I did know what SOS meant as a breakfast meal.

I did find other daughters, who I find are now my sisters. We had never met before Friday, but we found we had stories to share; similar stories of war and of death. Who knew? When you're the only person you know who has a Father killed in a war, you're the only person you know - there's typically no clubhouse.

As for the friends I mentioned in the title of this post . . . I have two new ones as well. One is my bus seatmate. A man about my age, did his duty in Vietnam and moved on with his life. Friday was the first time he had ever seen the Wall. I don't know if he was scared; he was sometimes quiet and sometimes very talkative. We sat together during the ceremony and made the occasional comment to one another. He reminds me of me, my husband, my father. The second new friend is a high school classmate. I have not seen her in over 40 years, but she made the over one hour drive into D.C. to attend the ceremony and meet me at the wall. If that's not friendship, then I don't know what is.

There are good good people in this world.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

No One Wall is Big Enough

to list even one name of a soldier killed in war . . . any war. I'm talking about several walls, some large, some small, but each carrying the names of men and women killed in Vietnam.

The photo above is from a Wall here in Chicago, just south of the river, almost touching the river; lots of green, lots of traffic noises, and the occasional jogger. Today it was the scene of a celebration of remembrance - for the men and women of Illinois who made the "ultimate sacrifice." There are more than 2900 from Illinois and 900 of those from Chicago.

Today's celebration, The Call for Photos, is a collaboration between The History Channel and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. This initiative has as its goal a photograph for every name on the Vietnam Wall - over 58,000 of them. These photographs along with other memorabilia will be housed at the soon-to-be-built Education Center at the Wall.

Readers of this blog and those of you who know me probably know by now that my Father was killed in Vietnam in 1967. His name is on Panel 25E, Line 94. I wasn't much interested in Vietnam until I got closer to the age he was when he was killed. Then, it became imperative to find a way to make sense of someone my age dying in a war; I use art and writing - it probably makes less sense now than it did. I'm almost 20 years older than my Dad was when he was killed. One of the speakers at the ceremony today was born the year I graduated from high school; his Father fought and came home. It wasn't until after the son had served three tours in Iraq that he could sit and have a beer with his father and understand. The son said that he still doesn't feel like he gave as much to his country as his father did. He's a nice young man, I met him, he's the same age my Father was . . . time has its own sense of humor and irony.

So, along with the art, I've been involved with a group called Sons and Daughters in Touch. These are all kids, and now grand kids, who are related to a name on the Wall. In Houston in 1992 there was a huge celebration. It was close to the 20th anniversary of the end of the war and the 10th anniversary of the Wall. I got to ride in a parade, I got to represent a lot of kids. I heard people cheering for the same men and women who were disregarded when they came home from Vietnam. Now we're closing in on the 40th anniversary of the end of the war and the 30th anniversary of the Wall.

I'm still not quite sure how I got involved in today's event except that I answered a notice for The Call for Photos and someone called me back. To be honest, I didn't know there was a Wall here in Chicago until three weeks ago when this all began to unfold. But if I can share my photos and my stories I will. Today there were lots of those around. A group of maybe 30 people, mostly Vets, and me with a caring friend, sat in the pouring rain to listen to speakers, mostly politicians - but interestingly enough, most of them Vets. They got to sit under a tent, we sat under enormous umbrellas provided by The History Channel.

I was impressed and moved by a lot today - the Chicago Army Recruiting Battalion Color Guard who presented colors (they didn't have large umbrellas) and the 85th Army Band from Arlington Heights who played The National Anthem (no umbrellas) - but ultimately by a woman who sat in the back row of speakers. She was an Army nurse. She served in Vietnam. She was at the field hospital in Pleiku where my father first went after he was injured. I showed her a photograph and told her I didn't expect her to remember. She was silent for a moment before she told me that every soldier who came through her hospital was loved.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Will They Ever Learn?

                                             Photomontage: Gail F. Wilson

I have never considered myself a particularly political person, but my views on war are becoming more concrete and clear as I get older (and wiser?). I recently became involved in a cool project, sponsored by History and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, whereby every name on the Vietnam Wall will have a photo associated with it. A gentleman involved with the project called to interview me about my experience of losing my dad in Vietnam. He then went on to question me about our more recent conflicts. While it's difficult to answer the question, "Knowing what you know now, would you still have supported [fill in the blank]?" what I can answer is there has got to be more thought given to our intentions, our expected consequences, and any potential unintentional consequences.

I recently heard a reporter state that Iraq and Afghanistan can never happen again, as in, they won't because we'll talk things through. Based on my increasing jaded and cynical outlook on war, I don't believe that and here's one reason why. In 1958 my Father was sent to Vietnam as an "Advisor", he went back 10 years later and was killed. Our country just sent 100 "Advisors" to Uganda . . . what are the consequences? Are they there to "talk"? Or are they there to stay and escalate in numbers?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lessons on My Ladder to Dreams

                                         Elizabeth Borden Goodloe, circa 1932

Square dancing
            12 string (acoustic and electric)
Charm school
            Word processor
            2 ¼
            Large format
            Super 8mm
Jewelry making

Shouldn’t I be able to do a pliė?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Corps

My husband says you have become my friends. Can I have friends who are dead?
I know a lot about the wall of you, albeit dressed alike. One West Pointer after another - the Long Gray Line.
In your yearbook every one of you has condensed four years of your life into a paragraph.
I know the activities in which you participated:
          Press Representative
          and girls
I know your nicknames:
I know one of you piloted "Puff the Magic Dragon".
I know one of you thought Cam Rahn Bay was in North Jersey.
I know one of you was my grandfather; one of you was my father.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beautiful Young Men I

I have been sitting here, staring at you, waiting for you to tell me what to say. You’re going to make me tell a story aren’t you? I use the phrase “a story” rather than “the story” because any tale I tell will be made from your memories, your musings, and my questions about my part in all of this.
My grandfather starts my journey with his diary, buried in the Philippines, discovered later, finally transcribed by me.
Forty-one of you served in the Philippines. You were at the first American surrender. You marched in the Bataan Death March. Some of you made it to a POW Camp. Some of you made it to a Hell Ship. Some of you almost made it home; one of you did.
I know all of you men; you appear on a roster completed by my grandfather in 1946. I know how far you made it in your journey. I know some of your stories from journals and documents collected at the end of World War II.
After 1942 you got a respite, you Beautiful Young Men. But, then from 1945 through 1952 your numbers decreased in Korea – the proxy war.
And then Vietnam; the first American Advisors were there in 1958, less than a thousand. My father was one.
The word “escalate” means to become more intense or serious; those were the looks that passed between my parents in the mid-1960s as U.S. involvement increased.
The deaths started happening – random, senseless, from a sniper or helicopter crash, a grenade.
I know you too, not as well because I don’t have your diaries or documents, but I know your sons and daughters, and I am one of you.

Monday, September 19, 2011

"The War Department Won't Promote Dead Men"

Quote from correspondence between Zero Wilson (my Grandfather) and General George Parker, 23 May 1946.

Really? No promotions for dead men? But what if they were supposed to be promoted before they were dead, they just happened to be incarcerated as a POW? For the War Department in 1946, and I suspect today, it doesn't matter - dead, then no promotion.

It's an interesting concept, promotions, and I suspect it is as similar in the corporate climb to success as it is in the military. My Grandfather, along with his best friend, "Dinty" Moore (at West Point everyone gets a nickname) and many others received what are called battlefield promotions. Available to enlisted personnel as well as officers, these promotions are typically awarded for behavior in combat. What they don't tell you is that after the war, the War Department may decide to take yours away. So Granddaddy and Dinty got demoted in 1946 after all their hard work (rather an understatement for POW Camp, the Hell Ships, and Manchuria).

Promotions are awarded at specified times throughout a career; the better you do at your job, the more responsibility you take on, etc. helps in the promotion decision. I find it ironic that while my Father loved his country, wanted nothing more to be than an Army Officer, expected to receive a promotion upon his return from Vietnam. Unfortunately, he was killed in action and we all know what the War Department says about Dead Men.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Curt came to see me at Ragdale yesterday. We had lunch in Lake Forest and then walked back here so I could show him my studio. He asked about every single image I had on the wall, and I showed him the big-ish installation piece I'm working on. As I continued talking about the men on the wall, Curt said, "You've become friends with them." I guess I have. In some cases I still am in contact with them, in other cases I know some of their stories, and some I've just met these past two weeks.

My dad had two best friends, Ted Lilly and Frank Loyd. They practically grew up together; they left the Philippines together in May 1941 while their dads stayed behind. Chris Schaefer, in Bataan Diary, tells the story of what happened to the senior Loyd during the war, I write about my grandfather, but I'm not sure about the senior Lilly's story - I'm sure there is one. But back to the boys. They sailed home to San Antonio together, they went to high school together, and they were in the same class at West Point. BFFs, right? Ted and Frank were killed in Korea right after they graduated. My father was killed in Vietnam in 1967. I guess depending on what you believe, they will always be BFFs. Rest in peace all of you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"I never have any problem getting enthusiastic with a good song and a good band"

Waylon Jennings, originally from Littlefield Texas, said this . . .  who knows when. But I wanted a good Texas quote to accompany this photo of the Cabanatuan Orchestra taken sometime after 1942, photographer unknown.

Based on Chuck Kaelin's letter to my D-day, I can tell you the names of some of these fine musicians: Johnny Katz, Director; Fran Boyer, Arranger; "Pappy" Harris and Eddie Booth, Pianists; Darnell "Red" Kadolph, Drums; Larry Parcher and Martin "Si" Silas, Trumpets; Kenny Marshal, Sax; Clare Kuncl, Trombone; Mel Reinhart, Boyce Strickland, and Chet McClure, Guitars; Louie Bauer, Miles Mahnke, Hank Rule, and Chuck Kaelin, Vocalists.

Evidently, the musicians hummed, whistled, or sang any bits of songs they knew, while Fran Boyer captured it on paper. Greats, such as The Dorsey Brothers, Debussy, Wagner, Benny Goodman, and Glen Miller "appeared" on a regular basis. Also included were excerpts from Porgy & Bess and Rhapsody in Blue.

Second trumpet from the left looks exactly like I remember my Grandfather and I had always imagined it was him, and while Chuck's document would have me believe otherwise, I'd still like to think that he picked up a trumpet one day and blew.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Show Must Go On

On the inside back cover of my Grandfather's diary from Cabanatuan POW camp, he has a list of shows the Mighty Cabanatuan Art Players performed during their internment. Theatrics included: Our Town, Gone with the Wind, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and (I have this on good authority) Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. I'd like to claim knowledge that my Grandfather starred as Scarlett and Snow White, but I cannot say for sure.

All gatherings had been forbidden by the Japanese, but where this is a will, there is a way. And, even the guards realized this kept their prisoners entertained and "off the streets."

A gentlemen, Chuck Kaelin, wrote to my Grandfather in 1971 his recollection of the Orchestra and Art Players. Permit me to post a few kudos to these intrepid artists:

     American salesmanship overcame the Asiatic/Oriental reasoning in spite of East is East and West is West. Inf fact, they [prisoners] were so convincing that they were given permission to set aside an area for entertainment and to erect a stage. There was no lighting in the Camp at that time, so generally at nightfall everything sort of ceased with the exception of the mosquitoes and bed bugs . . . suddenly some Houdini showed up with a couple of Coleman lanterns for the new "Open Air Playhouse!!!" Planned programs were scheduled for each Friday and Saturday nights . . . strictly musicals on Fridays, and Variety or Stage Shows on Saturdays . . . the expansion naturally produced a need for additional equipment and supplies such as: sheet music, pens and pencils, guitar strings, reeds for saxophones and clarinets, material for costumes, etc., and last but not least a PIANO!!! POW's going outside the Camp on work details began showing up with various items that could be used (the methods used in the acquisition of these items were never questioned, altho' I'm sure that the Chaplains kept busy transmitting Forgiveness prayers UPSTAIRS!!). Yep, you guessed it - the piano arrived also!!
     Behind all of the plans, expansions, and the initiation of the whole program was a guiding hand, one who had the unenviable chore of coordinating between the POW's and the Hosts; a soft-spoken, witty Texan, a true friend, a gentleman from the "old school" - Col. O.O. Wilson, USA . . . the Director.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Empy Blog

There's nothing more intimidating for me than looking at empty space and writing the first words. So here goes. As many friends know, I have been writing and making images of my links to my military past; specifically war. More specifically, war in the Philippines and Vietnam. My grandfather was a survivor of the Bataan Death March in 1942. My father was KIA in Vietnam in 1967. I started to see through the haze of it all in the early 1990s.

I ask that you indulge me as I share my musings, bits from my grandfather's diary that he kept while a POW, and images that seem to come out of it all.